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May 10, 2010

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Thomas McDaniels

Please do not write so closed minded. Me and my Pastor friends, and most Pastors I know honor their businessmen, pray for them regularly and even hold seminars for success and the Kingdom. I think the world thinks the clergy is not involved and the clergy think that the laymen are not involved enough. I know both that are doing a great job.

Your blog is very informing and I appreciate most of the articles.

Travis Greene

This raises a question, though, about what it means to pray "for" some entity. I think I know what it means to pray for the government: that it performs its functions justly and well, and succeeds in its good endeavors. I might also implicitly or explicitly pray that it repents of things I think are bad.

But even that can be confusing. How do I pray for the military? That they succeed? I think the war in Iraq was and is a mistake. That the soldiers are kept safe? Sure -- but their safety may depend on killing others. Am I praying for Iraqis to die? Do I pray for a war that is somehow safe for everybody?

And how do I pray for business? Do I just pray generally that the economic climate improves? But even if economics is not zero-sum, it's still true that one man's trash is another man's treasure. High home prices are good for sellers, bad for buyers. Do we just pray vaguely that it all works out for the best?

If I know someone who works for Blockbuster, do I pray for Blockbuster to succeed? But Blockbuster sucks. Maybe they need to go out of business because they can't keep up. Do we just pray for the individuals involved?

It seems to me that these kinds of prayers end up doing one of 2 things:
1) vaguely asking for God to be sovereign, which is a good prayer and frequently the only thing we can say in a given situation
2) invoking some Masonic god of American civil religion to bless us and our activities, but not to get in the way

All that to say, I agree with your point that theologians have ignored/maligned the economic world, but I want to draw attention to a corollary: I don't think we can pray for business until we have more sustained thinking and ethical discernment about it so we know what to pray for.

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks Thomas. I know there are pastors out there like you. I know many business people from across the country who do not have the experience you're talking about ... particularly in the old mainline denominations like mine.

I did say most, not all, in my comments. Part of what comes across is probably my frustration on behalf of how I see so many business people treated.

Sorry if I set the flamethrower a bit too high. :;-)

Michael W. Kruse

Good points, Travis. I agree.

Josh Rowley

I, too, agree with the points Travis makes above. As a pastor, I find that the question of "what" to pray for is more difficult than the question of "whom" to pray for (followers of Jesus are called to pray for anyone and everyone--even their enemies). When I pray for government leaders, for what should I pray? Given the fact of government corruption, perhaps I should pray that they repent. When I pray for soldiers, for what should I pray? Given the fact that neither the war in Afghanistan nor the war in Iraq meets the criteria of the just war tradition, perhaps I should pray that they refuse to fight.

JMorrow

Good points about the ambiguity of prayer. I think the same challenges also present themselves in all areas of our social life. It's difficult to know what praying for the "best" means were you are praying from the consciousness of just one individual perspective. Often needs and desires of multiple people seem to work at cross-purposes. As Lincoln reminded us, "Both prayed to the same God... the prayers of both could not be answered."

In addition to focusing on God's sovereignty in prayer, I think its important not so much to ask that our enterprises be blessed, but pray that our thinking be redirected toward the will of God. Prayer, in that sense is not wish fulfillment but discipling the desires of our hearts in the way of Christ.

I really do wish our economic practices as consumers, producers, employees and creators were more often the subject of that kind of prayer. Pray for a curious, questioning disposition that would seek to prevent or mitigate the harm we cause or better yet, turn weeping into gladness for those whose lives touch us and whose lives we touch.

Michael W. Kruse

Apart from the specifics of what we pray for I think the bigger question is what message do we send about various types of activity that occupy our daily lives. My experience is that a great many people in business experience the church and worship world as adjuncts to what happens in their "real" lives. And churches frequently reinforce that message. We are talking about making disciples and the overwhelming majority of us will be doing that discipleship in a day to day business environment. Yet so many spiritual disciplines and Christian life issues are addressed as if they are lived only at home or in a vacuum.

How do we help bridge the gap? I think that is the big question.

Chuck Tackett

Why is it so difficult to simply pray that God's will be done? If we name the good and bad points that we are praying for, isn't that just another way of trying to maintain control over the request and turn it into a wish list as JMorrow points out?

God is sovereign and our prayers will only be heard where they are consistent with His will. I would think that discernment would be a good starting point if we don't know what to pray for. Building real, non-judgmental relationships with the people we are trying to pray for would be another.

Humility is absolutely required and when we pray for someone's success or to repent of their evil ways we risk replacing God with ourselves. Those sort of prayers can only be made by people that are closely involved with whom they are praying for.

PamBG

I spent over 20 years in finance and I do not believe that the financial markets are either unequivocally good or unequivocally bad. (I believe that capitalist financial structures could certainly be used for much good if we wanted them to be.)

However I also do not believe that many people in finance see many - if any - ethical problems in the overall activity that financial markets are engaged in. They may see problems of execution, communication, decision-making and tracking information and they may see ethical issues within those activities. I think that we could certainly do some interesting theological reflection on the fact that markets move according to the spirits of fear and greed, for instance.

Although I'm fairly confident you disagree, it's actually not the case that to be knowledgeable about business is to think that it's basically morally good. Neither, of course, should we have the knee-jerk reaction that it is evil. Both mind-sets will hinder effective ethical reflection.

Which doesn't address the issue of prayer which is an interesting one. "Dear Lord, may the businesses of all our employers flourish and may our 401Ks yield a bountiful harvest of profits"? It might actually be interesting to try to model the sort of prayer you'd want prayed.

How about "Dear Lord, may we use all our resources to your Glory?" What Business would Jesus own? (WBWJO)

Michael W. Kruse

Pam, it is indeed important to define terms. Loosely I'd call the the transformation of matter, energy, and data from less useful forms to more useful forms primarily for exchange.

PamBG

I'm not sure what that comment is intended to convey?

Is the production of heroin from poppies a good thing because value has been added and people "employed"?

Michael W. Kruse

Well of course not. Nothing I've said even remotely hints that it would be. Do I really have to state the obvious?

Anything good can be twisted into idolatry or something perverse. Sex is a gift from God. It is good. That some people use it outside its proper bounds doesn't change that.

Food is a gift from God. It is good. That some people use it outside its proper bounds doesn't change that.

Government is a gift from God. It is good. That some people use it outside its proper bounds doesn't change that.

Likewise, business is a gift from God. It is good. That some people use it outside its proper bounds doesn't change that. Transforming matter, energy, and data form less useful forms to more useful forms is an expression of being made in the image of God. We mirror God's creativity. The fruits of labor used in exchange is in an important way that we become interdependent and benefit from each others labors.

My point is that business, as an aspect of human dominion, is inherently good and worthy of our prayers and honor. It isn't evil nor neutral.


Chuck Tackett

I agree, Michael, so why is it that we find business difficult to pray for or so easy to overlook?

If we seek out God's grace in our activities instead of overlaying our bias on to them shouldn't it be easy to bring these to the forefront of our prayers, regardless of the subject?

PamBG

Well of course not. Nothing I've said even remotely hints that it would be.

I apologize. I should simply have said that I do not understand what those short sentences were meant to communicate.

My point is that business, as an aspect of human dominion, is inherently good and worthy of our prayers and honor. It isn't evil nor neutral.

Ah, OK. Interesting. I would need to unpack that word "inherently".

I come at theology with the assumption that human life is imbued with both the Image of God (Imago Dei) as well as the ability to do evil (What some might term "Original Sin" but what I prefer to call "sinful nature").

So I assume that human beings can do both great good and great evil with their tools, activities and pursuits. The same with business: it is capable of great good and also of great evil.

I do not see business as exclusively good any more than I see myself as exclusively good.

I might argue that the financial markets even recognize this when they speak of risk and reward.

So of course, I would want to pray that business use its power for the sake of good and not for the sake of evil.

To believe that business can be used for evil is not necessarily to be uninformed about business or uninformed about theology.

Josh Rowley

If government was created by God, then it was created good (just like everything else created by God). But government is also a fallen power, just like all of the powers and principalities. That government is among these powers (or, perhaps better, one manifestation of these powers) is especially clear in Paul's letter to the Colossians, in which the Roman Empire (its way, at least) is among the powers that Christ defeats.

Michael W. Kruse

"I come at theology with the assumption that human life is imbued with both the Image of God (Imago Dei) as well as the ability to do evil (What some might term "Original Sin" but what I prefer to call "sinful nature")"

I would shade it slightly differently. We are created in the image of God but the image is corrupted. Despite being in the Reformed tradition I'm not persuaded of original sin in the Augustinian sense or total depravity.

Despite being corrupted, human beings are still God. We still retain the image of God, even if it is marred. All the activities that are consistent with our role in exercising dominion and serving as vice-regents with God over creation are also good. Those roles include governance and creatively transforming matter, energy, and data from less useful forms to more useful forms.

Col 1:15-17

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. NRSV

Christ created these powers. They are good but they have twisted toward evil. I'd say the Christ conquers purges the evil within them as he restores them to their glorious role. We participate with Christ in that liberation.

PamBG

Despite being corrupted, human beings are still God. We still retain the image of God, even if it is marred. All the activities that are consistent with our role in exercising dominion and serving as vice-regents with God over creation are also good. Those roles include governance and creatively transforming matter, energy, and data from less useful forms to more useful forms.

So I'm not clear whether our underlying assumptions are far apart or not. (And I often feel that you are dancing around answering my questions.)

What's the practical consequence of this?

I find it difficult to believe that someone would want to make an argument that government or business or any other sector of society can do no wrong. In the nitty-gritty of everyday living the philosophical niceties of our static, unexpressed ontology are hardly as important as the consequences of our behavior.

Certainly, as Christians, we pray always to do God's will. And, at the very least, we pray that our behavior does not enable evil to be born or to multiply? If we're talking an abbreviated bottom-line, that's what I personally think is important.

David

Good conversation, but it's apparent that although Business may be good as created, it has like all creation been bent by evil (sin). (Michael I'm surprised that you don't hold to the depravity of man) Does this mean man can somehow assist in his salvation? ) maybe a dumb and not so fair question???

Business in a general way is driven by greed.. too many examples to list. Just look at wall street...

Should we pray for Business like we do other institutions. By all means yes. Although Pam makes some good points. I'm an artist and sell my paintuings at a local farmers market. We (some of us) get together before the market opens for prayer and normally pray for our customers and give thanks to God for the abilities he's given us to produce farm goods and crafts and art work etc. We pray for the people that they would enjoy what they purchase. I think this is great.

Not sure too many in business do this...well maybe those resturants that have scriptures printed on the bottom of there cups...!

Michael W. Kruse

"I find it difficult to believe that someone would want to make an argument that government or business or any other sector of society can do no wrong."

Let my try it this way.

Governance = The practice of developing and maintaining structures that facilitate human cooperation and safety.

Business = The practice of transforming matter, energy, and data from less useful purposes to more useful purposes, primarily for exchange.

These are spheres of human activity. There are some who argue that governance is the result of sin. Had there been no fall, there would have been no need for government. They say the same thing about market exchange. I'm saying these are activities we engage in as extensions of being made in God's image and in response to our call to exercise dominion. They are good and holy. They are ordained by God.

We are all sinners. We create the specific customs, laws, and institutions ... as sinners ... that enable us to carry out governance and business. Because of that, our every attempt to create these customs, laws and institution is always going to be some mixture of good and evil. And even if we should somehow stumble upon pristine customs, laws and institutions, the human beings participating in them will distort them toward some measure of evil.

Thus, most specific instances of government or business are simultaneously some measure of good (they reflect our image bearing nature) and evil (they reflect our sinful hearts.) A few are very evil, most probably not so much ... but still corrupted by sin.

Therefore, it is good and appropriate to generically pray for people who are involved in government and business. These are godly callings. But what we say and how we would pray about any particular situation depends on other ethical considerations.

My point is that there are those who will not pray for government or business (either intentionally or by default) because they believe them not to be of God. They view these callings with high ambivalence and can only talk about them in terms minimizing damage ... not in positive terms, affirming those who are called to this work.

Michael W. Kruse

"Michael I'm surprised that you don't hold to the depravity of man"

I hold to depravity. I used the term "total depravity." That has very specific meaning in Calvinist circles. Wikipedia says:

"Total depravity (also called absolute inability and total corruption) is a theological doctrine that derives from the Augustinian concept of original sin. It is the teaching that, as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin and, apart from the efficacious or prevenient grace of God, is utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to accept salvation as it is freely offered."

Original sin is the idea that we all collectively bear the responsibility for Adam's sin and some will say that it is in our genes to sin. I incline more to something along the lines of Roman Catholicism or Orthodox theology, where the image of God is still present in us, though we are hopelessly marred, and we each bear the responsibility for our own sins.

I wish I could unpack this more but I'm in very intense meetings this week with limited time.

PamBG

My point is that there are those who will not pray for government or business (either intentionally or by default) because they believe them not to be of God. They view these callings with high ambivalence and can only talk about them in terms minimizing damage ... not in positive terms, affirming those who are called to this work.

Thank you for this explanation. I'm a Wesleyan Methodist. I have never heard of this sort of mindset and therefore it was not on my radar screen in any way nor part of any presuppositions I hold about praying.

It sounded to me like you were accusing those who think that business is capable of doing evil of not wanting to pray for those engaged in business activities.

I can't imagine a more un-Wesleyan mindset than to believe that some area of activity is excluded from God's influence. My learning experience for today was that there are people who think this way.

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