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On Oct. 1, the world was rocked by President Donald Trump’s announcement that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19. As of Wednesday evening, at least 34 others associated with the White House have tested positive and countless others have been exposed. Many claim the Rose Garden nomination ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett was a “super-spreader” event, as the majority of the attendees, though they were outdoors, were maskless and packed close together.
The president’s tweet Thursday night was met with a wide range of responses. Some claimed his diagnosis was fake, many called it “karma” and still others expressed well-wishes and hope for a quick recovery. As followers of Christ, we should be engaging with this news from a spiritual perspective.
REAPING THE CONSEQUENCES
However, this is not karma. Trump is simply reaping the consequences of his actions. He has been woefully negligent of coronavirus safety protocols and has purposefully downplayed the severity of the pandemic, rarely wearing masks in public and mocking those who do. He has hosted or attended indoor and outdoor events where very few people wore masks and socially distanced. In the face of a public health crisis, he also undermined medical experts and spread misleading and false information about the virus.
The mainstream Christian response to Trump’s announcement has been a knee-jerk reaction to pray. According to Christianity Today, a popular verse being quoted by many online is 1 Timothy 2:1-4, which urges the body of Christ to pray for those in authority. There have also been calls to “set aside your partisan politics” to earnestly pray for his recovery.
This response is easy to conjure up if the president’s politics have no direct impact on your life. Though praying like this has biblical foundations, some of us have a livelihood that is so deeply politicized we have no choice but to engage in politics. The rights of marginalized groups are debated within the political sphere. We have had to fight for the right to vote, the right to get married, and even now human rights like immigration and whether or not Black lives matter are debated like political ideas. If our being is politicized, then our spiritual health will inevitably be touched by it.
Those who do not support Trump and who see him as an enemy of justice are turning to different portions of scripture for guidance right now. We should not wish death on him, so we have to biblically frame how we see him. That should lead us to engage in the parts of the Bible that instruct us on how to love and pray for our enemies.
CALL FOR JUSTICE
Musician and activist Andre Henry has given a voice to how many Black Christians feel in his article, “Stop telling Black people to pray for Donald Trump.” He lists an array of reasons why Black folks would be wary to pray for Trump’s recovery and asserts that God can actually “hold space for those emotions in prayer.”
For those who consider Trump an enemy, there are more dynamic ways to pray for him than out of a lighthearted love that petitions for his full and speedy recovery.
Imprecatory psalms offer a way to express our rage and desire for justice in a biblical way. According to author and speaker Greg Jarrell, “The imprecatory psalms are prayers that highlight the works of enemies and ask for relief and for God to mete out some measure of justice.” Psalm 94 is an excellent example of this, with verse 20 hitting close to home: “Can a corrupt throne be allied with you— a throne that brings misery by its decrees?” Jarrell focuses on Psalm 109, highlighting that God “stands at the right hand of the needy” (verse 31). Mary’s Song in Luke 1 is a beautiful New Testament illustration of this as well.
As Wheaton professor and author Esau McCaulley points out, “our Christian responsibility as citizens” is to pray for sick leaders and to stand firmly against injustice whilst fighting for peace. “Those two callings are not in competition,” he says.
We can, without shame, pray for our leaders to reap what they sow, that they might know God. We can pray that their afflictions bring humility and a desire to govern justly. Again, we should not wish death on him. Our charge is to pray for God’s kingdom to come now, and part of that is praying that our leaders would “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9). God will enact whatever justice he sees fit.
YOUR EMOTION IS OKAY
Each of these perspectives are valid and hold pivotal truths. Once we cry out to God, we have to surrender our burdens to him and trust that justice and healing will come in his time. We should always feel the freedom to express how we feel in prayer, but we should genuinely conclude in humility, “thy will be done.”
You have full permission to feel pity, compassion, rage, indifference, fear or any other emotion that may arise during these next couple weeks as Trump’s diagnosis progresses. God is big enough to handle all of what you bring to him in prayer.