Monday, March 31, 2008

Praying in the Name of

Having examined the logic of the Why Doesn’t God Heal Amputees? argument, I want to move on to address the specific verses misquoted during the course of the argument. The main verse that we will look at here is John 14:13—“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (ESV).

As a result of the above verse, the tradition has become that virtually every Christian prayer ends with the words, “In Jesus’ name, Amen” (or some variant thereof). This, however, is a misapplication of the passage.

Indeed, even a cursory reading of the Scriptures will show us that the use of a name is far different than a “tagline” at the end of a prayer. God is infinitely concerned for His Name. For instance, Ezekiel tells us twice:

You will know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name's sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices, O house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD.' " (Ezekiel 20:44)

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.” (Ezekiel 36:22)

Furthermore, Jeremiah pleads on behalf of Israel:

For the sake of your name do not despise us (Jeremiah 14:21)

Daniel states:

O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name." (Daniel 9:19)

Even the first petition of the Lord’s prayer is “Hallowed by thy Name.”

The examples could easily be multiplied. And before we get further, one thing ought to be glaringly obvious already. When Jesus commands His followers to ask for things in His name, He is claiming divine authority. This passage is first and foremost an indication that Christ did indeed view Himself as divine. (Another indication that is often overlooked is the fact that all the prophets who spoke from God would says, “Thus says the LORD” whereas Christ always said, “Truly, truly, I say to you…”)

Any Orthodox Jew alive at the time of Christ would have recognized that Christ’s words were blasphemy…unless He was God. No mere man has the right to have petitions brought before God in his name. Consider for example what is being said if we use someone who is not divine: “In the name of Todd, I ask for this.” This illustrates how ludicrous this would be in any other context. The only explanation that makes sense is if Christ is claiming divinity.

The second thing to note about this passage is what it means to pray “in the name of Jesus.” This is not simply adding the words, “In Jesus’ name” at the end of a prayer. Instead, praying “in the name of” someone has a more legal sense. While this isn’t used as often these days, it is by no means absent from English either. For example, Rage Against the Machine has a song called Killing in the Name with the chorus “Killing in the name of” with the implied philosophies being the reason for killing (yes, I own Guitar Hero II). And of course there are other songs that fit this: Stop in the Name of Love for instance.

Our legal system still uses this concept. Judges act in the name of the law such that judicial pronouncements must be obeyed. When a judicial order is executed, the authority of the order comes from the law. But consider what would happen if someone served a judicial order that did not come from the law but instead was invented whole cloth by the person serving the order? What happens to that person?

He himself is judged by the law. Now suppose what would happen if someone prayed for something in the name of Jesus when Jesus Himself does not want it. Would that prayer be answered in the affirmative? Obviously not.

(By the way, using the judicial example above could cause some confusion here, so I want to be clear: praying for something that is not God’s will is not inherently evil, as masquerading as a judicial employee is. After all, Christ prayed that the cup be taken from Him. However, the key is that in all things you end the same way Christ did: “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.” A Christian can pray for what he wants regardless of whether it is in the will of God as long as he remembers that in the end we have to submit to God’s will, not our own.)

Again, praying in the name of Jesus is not the adding of magic words to the end of a prayer in order to get the formula to work right. It is to submit to the will of Christ and to pray for what He wants to occur. Praying in the name of Christ is not a trick way of getting whatever you want; the terminology is precise and accurate, regardless of how badly the words have been misused by atheists and Health & Weathers. When we pray in the name of Christ, we are praying with His authority, His will, and His goals in mind, not ours.