Constable: Are you there, God? It's us, Americans praying for smite
With the great differences of opinion among people in the United States, the political divide in this nation seems almost biblical. So, is it OK to pray for God to smite the leaders on the wrong side?
"That is a great question," says Rabbi Morris Zimbalist, the head rabbi at Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove. "That is a very hard question to answer."
There is precedent for divine smiting. The Old Testament of the Bible gives us plenty of times when God, not willing to let the wrong side get an upper hand, jumped in to deliver some smiting.
"For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD," God says in Exodus 12:12, when He clearly sided with the Israelite slaves against an oppressive pharaoh.
Of course, there is the famous story told in Genesis. "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven," reads Genesis 19:24.
God didn't just smite people. In Zechariah 12:4, the Lord promises to "smite every horse of the people with blindness."
Some of the smitings were excessive.
"And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter," reads Samuel 6:19, making us do the math to come up with 50,070 people smitten.
When Elisha was on his way to Bethel to do God's work, "there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him and said unto him, 'Go up, thou bald head! Go up, thou bald head!'" reads Kings 2:23-24. "And he turned back and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two shebears out of the wood and tore forty and two children of them."
The idea that we can invoke God to maul kids who make fun us of draws a chuckle from Rev. Alex Lang, the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights. "I don't see God working that way," Lang says. "My understanding of God is a lot more nuanced."
Still, the idea of two shebears showing up at the White House or a Democratic debate to enact God's wishes surely has some bipartisan appeal. And you can pray for God to smite a politician without calling for his or her death, or the blinding of his livestock.
In Exodus 7:20, God made a point when "all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood." When that didn't convince the pharaoh to let Moses and his people go, God vowed in Exodus 8:2, "If thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs."
Could an invasion of frogs in Washington, D.C., encourage some politicians to change their positions on environmental issues? It certainly seems kinder and gentler than shebear avengers.
The Bible is filled with examples where God smited "in the knees, and in the legs, with a sore botch that cannot be healed," (Deuteronomy 28:35), or "with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew." (Deuteronomy 28:22).
Would mildew be enough to make politicians see the right way to vote on gun regulations?
As much as people might like to see some fire and brimstone, shebears, or mildew attack the politicians who enrage us, Rabbi Zimbalist offers a different option.
"The challenge is to look at each other and see the godliness within each other," Zimbalist says. "Inspire each other to make a better, more just and more fair society. We have to inspire ourselves to make the right choices."
Presbyterian Lang says we shouldn't just pray for God to fix politics for us by way of smiting. The Bible can be a valuable resource, but "the truth is it's on us to right the wrongs of the world," Lang says.
These religious leaders make excellent points.
But it would be easier (and much better column fodder) if God would just fill one side of the legislative aisle with frogs.