Martin Henry, Contributor
Eternal Father, bless our land/Guard us with Thy mighty Hand/Keep us free from evil powers/Be our light through countless hours/To our leaders, Great Defender/Grant true wisdom from above - Jamaica national anthem
Jamaicans are a praying people. Having chosen at Independence a sublime and covenantal prayer as the national anthem, the country prays every time we sing it.
Now a junior minister of government is beseeching prayer for the nation. After a speech delivered to a church congregation on behalf of the prime minister, minister of state in the Ministry of Finance and Planning, Horace Dalley, declared to The Gleaner, "I ... call upon the Church to pray for the country, pray for us as leaders, for the Government, as we proceed in getting the country on a sustainable economic path."
Unlike those who pray only for their side to win in sport competitions, the minister asked, "Pray for the Opposition and those in leadership positions that the Lord will grant us wisdom. We need wisdom to lead. We need compassion." ("Grant true wisdom from above. Strengthen us the weak to cherish. Give us vision lest we perish.")
Noting that Jamaica is "a very religious and spiritual country", Mr Dalley said, "I don't think any country can succeed or progress without the guiding hands of the Lord."
Very interestingly, Horace Dalley did not ask that prayer be made to 'God', sometimes just perceived as a generic abstract deity, but to 'the Lord'. Now 'Lord' actually means something and is a title of relationship. Derived from the Old English hlaford, it literally means 'loaf keeper', one who feeds dependents. Hence ruler, master, one having great power and authority to whom others are subject.
The call to prayer will resonate with Jamaicans, "a very religious and spiritual" people, if it is not overwhelmed by political divisions and political cynicism. The 33rd staging of the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast took place last Thursday. On that occasion, the prime minister repeated that an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is not the only solution for Jamaica.
Christians have been commanded, as a duty of the faith, to pray for the government under which they live, including governments like Emperor Nero's in ancient Rome at the time when the Apostle Paul wrote his instructions. "I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour." (I Timothy 2:1-3, NKJV). But note the purpose of praying: It is for the balancing of believers' lives - "that we may live a quiet and peaceable life" - not primarily for the balancing of the books and the "success" of government.
In the context of a covenant, which the anthem prayer suggests, the Lord of the covenant declares, "If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (I Chronicles 7:14). Crystal-clear "conditionalities" are here stated for "divine intervention". We have lived with various IMF "conditionalities" for 18 years between 1977 when the Michael Manley Government then entered into the first agreement and 1995 when the P.J. Patterson Government said ta-ta to the Fund. And now we are heading back to IMF conditionalities.
The principal architect of Christianity didn't only instruct prayers for rulers but commanded obedience to civil authorities. Paul wrote, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and the authorities that exist are appointed by God." (Romans 13:1, NKJV).
Some of his colleague apostles, including Simon Peter, entered the caveat that in a conflict of orders, Christians "ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29, NKJV). Jesus Himself had directed, "Render ... to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God, the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21, NKJV).
These directives have left the Christian faith in a conundrum over civil disobedience, which every generation has to decide about afresh. At some point, an unjust and oppressive government should be disobeyed. Last Tuesday, January 15, was the birth anniversary of that Prince of Christian civil disobedience, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mr Dalley is appealing to the Church to pray for the nation. In the Judaeo-Christian narrative, it is more often than not the actions of the leaders which bring the divine judgement of 'sickness' upon the nation. And it is the leaders who lead the appeal for divine intervention. There is no question that political action - and inaction - have been the principal cause of the wasting of the nation and the blighting of its potential.
In the Bible, effective prayer is always accompanied by confession and repentance. What do Mr Dalley's Government and political party intend to do about this? Their most recent accounting on the state of the nation and their proffered proposals for solutions suggest that they are faultless fixers with spotless hands. IMF, Is not My Fault. On the streets and in the graffiti after the 1977 deal with the IMF, IMF was widely held to mean 'Is Manley Fault'.
One of the great cases of the nation appealing for divine intervention which is recorded in the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures, in which Minister Dalley believes, is the case of King Jehoshaphat facing a multinational attack (II Chronicles 20). When the news reached the king, Jehoshaphat "feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judea". The king himself led the prayer meeting, recounting what God had promised if his people, when in trouble, would humble themselves, and pray and seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways. Jehoshaphat cried out: "We have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You."
The prime minister has, in the past, relied upon prophets who turned out to be losses. But according to the scriptural narrative, a narrative as tautly dramatic as any action movie, a young prophet, without any self-proclamation, arose to give very specific information and instructions for a thoroughly ridiculous battle plan.
The badly outnumbered army must go on to the battlefield but would not need to fight. "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord." A choir of priests was to lead the troops! When the choir began singing, "Praise the Lord, For his mercy endures forever," the enemy coalition collapsed and slaughtered each other!
Though no prophet, as I have been saying for a while, perhaps our leaders are altogether too focused on orthodox economic solutions while downplaying the real sins and sicknesses of the State, many of them the products of our politics.
"Justice, Truth be ours forever. Strengthen us the weak to cherish. Grant true wisdom from above."
Suppose what the nation most needs is a correction of the injustices which have been heaped upon its people, from the post-Emancipation injustice of being denied land access, which continues until today, to the injustice of being slaughtered in record-breaking numbers by criminal elements, many of whom historically found succour and received aid from the politics of the country. The Judaeo-Christian scriptures talk with utmost seriousness of blood pollution and blood guiltiness which provoke divine judgement and block the development, the peace and prosperity of a country.
Jamaica has just celebrated its golden jubilee of Independence. The Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) was intended to be a time of economic and social realignment and restoration so that perpetual poverty would not be the lot of any family