Prayer Slapped

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I was recounting to a friend recently about my first trip to Israel in which I did a shocking thing: I tasted a sip of wine at an Israeli winery.  I was traveling with a group of Baptists.  I hadn’t known that they were Baptists until the moment when I was one of only two in the group who agreed to taste the proffered wine.  Scandalous!  The rest of the day we were shunned and avoided and given the hairy eyeball by the others.  Happily, the other sinner was my roommate, and this incident served to seal our friendship forever.

The next morning on the bus we prayed as usual before setting out for our day.  Well, I guess you could call it a prayer, but it felt more like a verbal slap to us: “Lord forgive us for having transgressed . . .” etc.  Everyone knew which of us had “transgressed.”  Prayer slapped!

Please allow me to interrupt my narrative here because this is important: the Bible does not forbid drinking wine.  How schizophrenic would God be to change water into wine[1] if wine was forbidden?  And how schizophrenic for Paul to advise Timothy “drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach”? (1 Timothy 5:23).

And if the Bible called grape juice “wine” as some claim, then explain why the Bible says: “Do not join those who drink too much wine . . .”? (Proverbs 23:20, NIV).  Nobody has ever warned me against drinking too much grape juice.  And if you read on to the end of the verse, it continues: “. . . or gorge themselves on meat.”  By the same logic, if this means that we can’t drink any wine at all, then it also means that we can’t eat any meat at all.

Some also claim that the “wine” of the Bible times was watered-down.  If so, then why did Isaiah lament for Jerusalem?

Once like pure silver, you have become like worthless slag.  Once so pure, you are now like watered-down wine, (Isaiah 1:22, emphasis mine).

Remember the conversation between Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden:

“Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied.  “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat.  God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die,’” (Genesis 3:1-3, emphasis mine).

That’s not what God said.  He said:

You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die, (Genesis 2:16-17).

God didn’t say anything about not touching the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  I think of the total prohibition on wine as something like Eve’s exaggeration[2], or like the “fences” of 613 rules the rabbis made to “protect” people from breaking the Ten Commandments.  In other words: manmade.  Not that that’s necessarily a bad or evil thing, it’s just not quite as good as the God-made rules.  Where it becomes a bad thing is when it becomes legalism (see Galatians).  Manmade rules tread so closely to that legalistic line that I, personally, wouldn’t even risk it[3].

So back to my narrative (and please pardon my rant!  I do feel better.): so I told the story of the prayer slap, and my friend was so surprised at the concept that I felt compelled to explain and to further illustrate.  I’ve had people pray about “someone that had hurt them” in prayer meetings, knowing that the “someone” was me.  That’s a prayer slap.  What they should have done is come to me privately, tell me that I had hurt them (I hadn’t realized that I had until the prayer slap), and give me the opportunity to make things right with them.

A prayer slap is a public assault on someone, disguised as a prayer.  A prayer slap is not a prayer.  Even though the prayer slap is addressed to God, the message of the prayer slap is not directed at God, but at another person.  Therefore, it is not a prayer[4].

My friend continued to be amazed—obviously she hadn’t stepped on toes like I had.  So I told her that I had also been sermon slapped.  That really blew her mind.  Yes, a sermon slap is a sermon where the preacher is preaching to you telling you how wrong you are—all but naming you, and all before the entire congregation.  I wasn’t present for my sermon slap, but it was delivered, and only a few people present knew that it was directed at me.  It may be in the church’s online archives, but I really don’t need to hear it.

For my part—because there are always at least two sides to every story—I have blog slapped people.  Don’t look for them because I have taken them down, feeling appropriately ashamed of my behavior.  The only thing I can say in my defense is that at least I didn’t pretend that my blog slap was a prayer.  Otherwise, I recognize it as an indefensible act.  And lots and lots of people Facebook slap (and slap through other social media), even Christians.

Whatever the issue is, we need to go directly to that person with our grievances.  To air them in public is wrong, and to couch them as a religious act is downright reprehensible.  And we really need to give each other as much mercy as we hope to receive, ourselves.  Nobody is always right besides God.  God is good!

[1] John 2:1-10

[2] Or perhaps it was Adam’s exaggeration.  After all, Eve wasn’t even there when God gave the warning against the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

[3] Of course the exception here is people who have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism or who simply lack the self-control to stop after one glass.

[4] New Age people also write lovely “prayers” that are not prayers.  One such prayer that I read went something like this: “I see you wrapped in light, and this light is from the father of lights, etc. . . .”  It doesn’t even pretend to be addressed to God.

 

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