Our Teenagers Need to Pray Angry
Anger is good. It means you care. Anger that hates what God hates should not be silenced (Psalm 139). Paul commands us to not let the sun set on our anger (Eph 4:26-27). He even seems to suggest that there’s something demonic about being placid, when anger is called for.
As Christians, we fear leaning into anger. At least, I do. Besides, as youth workers, we’re often in the anger-restraining ministry. I’m most used to playing the role of water to my students’ emotional fires. When young disciples James and John wanted to invoke a pillar of sulfur on a Samaritan town, Jesus – rightfully – doused their pride. Often enough, our students’ anger at whatever social cause, political target, or friendship tiff needs to be soaked in water not gasoline. But that would be a mistake in the case of COVID-19.
Right now, there is a lot to be angry about. In just a few months, over 70,000 tombs have been dug. Domestic violence has spiked in the cities hardest hit. Over twenty-five million people have filed for unemployment. Not to mention anger directed at the lesser losses of parties, graduations, dances, and sports left unattended. Anger is appropriate right now. The Bible’s good news for angry people is that God doesn’t want your indifference or calm. He wants your anger.
Scholars call our angry prayers “imprecations.” More familiar words might be “curses” or “woes.” Imprecatory prayers are not prayed about our private vendettas or the injustices we alone experience. Imprecations are directed against the enemies of God. The proud, the oppressor, the corruptly rich, the wicked, the hypocritically religious and the Evil One are all cursed in the Bible. Many, if not most, of the Psalms include some prayer for the destruction of one foe or another. And since Genesis 3:16, curses or “imprecatory prayers” have been part of all God-fearers’ vocabulary.
Teens stuck in homes need to hear this. They need to hear that all of their emotions can be brought to the Lord, not just the pretty ones. Teens with dying grandparents or out of work parents need to know they can pray angry and that God will hear them. While I don’t know of any specific times in which the Psalmists prayed angry at a virus or death, I know Jesus did.
When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus went to his tomb both “weeping” and “deeply moved.” Like us, Jesus saw the devastation that death and disease caused, and he wept. But also like us, he saw a friend and a family torn apart by sickness and was outraged by it. He wasn’t mad at God or the government, as we often are; Jesus went to the tomb eyes red with tears and cheeks flushed in anger at Death and its friends Sin and Suffering. The moment he called Lazarus out of the grave wasn’t simply a miracle, but a living imprecation, an embodied curse against death, disease, and the Serpent who first introduced us.
Ironically, death is normally what you’re asking for in a Biblical imprecation… “Death to enemies! Death to oppressors! Death to the wicked!” That’s because no ruler, no oppressor, and no virus has ever, or will ever defeat death. On our lips, imprecations ask for ultimate destruction and ultimate death of what harms us. But ironically, on the lips of Jesus, imprecations bring life – a death to death itself.
When we pray angry, we are not asking simply for the death of our enemies, but for new life to fully bud and flower from the grave. COVID-19 is not over. Thousands of tombs are yet to be dug. Teenagers have the clearest sense of the way the world should be. They are perhaps most naturally equipped to pray with righteous anger – and they need to pray angry. We don’t need to stamp out James and John’s fury; we need to redirect it, away from Samaritan villages and onto the things God hates.
God invites our students to bring all their emotions and feelings to him. Because God will respond to our vulnerability, to our deaths, with nearness and life. God wants life for this world. It’s not a stretch to say that through our teenagers’ imprecations and by Jesus’ power, death itself must and will stop. Both Lazarus’ resuscitation and Jesus’ resurrection guarantee that new life wins when imprecations are prayed in Jesus’ name. Prayer does not change God’s mind, but it is God’s chosen tool for new life. As teenagers learn to pray angry, they will become agents of resurrection in a world of increasing COVID deaths.
If you are a youth worker, remind your teenagers that new life hangs on their angry prayers. Their imprecation are God’s appointed means to bring life to a world in need of healing. Also, remind them that even if their angry prayers remain unanswered, they will have exposed the deepest parts of themselves to a God who delights in nothing more than binding up (rebuking, reconciling and calling beloved) the broken hearted.