“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room!”
It seems that Christianity has yet another new movie to fixate it’s attention onto: War Room. I haven’t seen it – and I don’t plan to. For one, it seems like re-telling of the main theme of Fireproof, that is, of going to certain lengths to fix/restore a marriage, just from a different perspective and cast. For another, war-related metaphors really get my goat.
Part of the movie is about an older woman advising a younger woman to try to save her marriage by establishing a war room and a battle strategy from which she can fight the spiritual battle to fix everything that has gone wrong as a prayer warrior using prayer as a powerful weapon. It’s presented as if the wife does x (empty out a closet in which to pray and tape up verses and prayers on the wall) and y (creating and carrying out a prayer strategy), then God will do z (take action to fulfill one’s prayers – even in unexpected ways). It’s a fail-proof formula for summoning God and making God do what you want. It seems that somebody forgot to mention that God doesn’t work that way. Surely, if God did work that way, then everybody would be a Christian x-ing and y-ing their way to God z-ing them wealth, health, employment, success, winning every game, etc.
I also think America Christianity is often too eager to fight and not eager about teaching the more peaceful aspects of Scripture. For one, Jesus didn’t rely on battle metaphors, but he used a variety of things to say different things to different people. We might be predisposed to prefer battle metaphors over servant metaphors, but the degree that Christians deal with the world shows that we’re more apt to battle the world than to serve the world. What would have been so wrong with cutting out the battle terminology altogether?
I don’t have a closet, but if I did, I wouldn’t tape up prayers on the wall – and certainly not in English for just anybody to be able to read. If I referred to it as my war room, then it would be my goal to keep the prayers coded and keep them secret. After all, an actual war room without coded intelligence and strategies seems like easy pickings. It’s also not unusual for misinformation to be a part of secret files so that if they were found then lies would be spread around and the truth would be spared. But that’s why battle metaphors are clunky when used in spiritual contexts. We only like the ones that ‘work’ for our application and we never really carry them out to any logical extent anyway.
Like King David, he fasted and he prayed – surely God will do whatever he wants because he didn’t eat a few meals, right? But what happened? The child for whom he was praying died, so King David went and got himself something to eat. And Daniel – he prayed in a rather public manner and got thrown in with the lions for it. He was not spared the consequence of breaking the law – just the death that usually came with it because God really liked him. We don’t need this movie to think about the prayers that have gone unanswered up to now. The ones where we don’t hear a word and ‘not yet’ sounds and looks an awful lot like ‘no’.
Perhaps some of the reason for that is that God ultimately likes to take credit for answering prayers. He likes to wait so that we can’t say ‘I prayed in my war room/prayer closet and I fasted for days so that God would give Me what I want.’ Perhaps he would rather hear: “I knew that I had no hope, that nothing I could do could get me out of the mess I made, but I cried out to God and He took mercy on me and helped me out.” I still think that for a lot of people, they still have to face the consequences of their actions – a great many do not really get to know God until they’re at rock bottom or behind bars. It’s not a failure on God’s part to prevent such things, but necessary for them to figure out prayer is not a ‘Get Out Of Trouble Scot-Free Card’. It’s also not a ‘Powerful Weapon’ – it’s so much more.
In a lot of ways I think Christianity would be better served to reclaim the pacifistic teachings of Jesus particularly in our violent and war-weary world. We’d also have to replace battle terminology and Christian soldier metaphors with those of other settings and types of jobs, for example, farming, fishing, shepherding, and serving. A subtle change in language can have a big impact in how you see the world and treat the people in it – as an enemy to conquer or fellow people to serve. Which will you choose?