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Prayer at Ground Zero

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his decision not to include prayers as part of the official memorial event this weekend which has resulted in expected controversy.  The initial reaction for Christians might be related to Constitutional rights regarding prayer in public but deeper reflection is needed. Michael Horton digs in:

“It’s not a question of whether prayer at public occasions of this kind is sanctioned by our Constitution, but, for Christians at least, whether we can participate (much less encourage) such acts of “non-sectarian” worship.”

What purpose is prayer to fulfill?  A critic of Mayor Bloomberg argues that prayer has a subjective effect on its prayers that is healing and therapeutic: “Prayer is not always about religion, it is instead often about relief and repose.”  This perspective should not be surprising with our country’s plunge into moralistic therapeutic deism. Horton disagrees:

“Is the purpose of prayer mainly therapeutic: personal and national catharsis? Is it basically horizontal-human-centered (whether in individual or national images)? Or is it a solemn act of “calling on the name of the LORD” (i.e., Yahweh, the Father of Jesus Christ)? Does such an act have a personal object? Is that personal object the God who is revealed in Scripture as the Holy Trinity? Is the prayer directed to the Father, through the mediation of the incarnate Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit by whom we confess “Jesus as Lord”?

Imagine Elijah calling for a revival by trying to negotiate a public prayer or perhaps series of public prayers led by the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Yahweh. Israel, after all, has always been a religious nation. Isn’t it more important for the nation to acknowledge its piety than to become too obsessed with the theological specifics? The nation was divided, after all, and the point is to bring the people together through prayer, to bring them consolation in the face of national disaster. Of course, this isn’t how the story plays out at Mount Carmel, as the God of Israel proved that he alone is God and Baal is a helpless idol.

Read more here.

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