Christopher Hitchens, the sharp-tongued atheist author and speaker, has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Hitchens’ situation has set an unusual discussion question flitting from blog to blog: should Christians pray for Christopher Hitchens?
The Jeffrey Goldberg post that kicked off the discussion muses:
In one e-mail to [Hitchens], I wrote, “I’m thinking of you and (insert prayer joke here).” Hitchens, who is America’s most famous and pugnacious atheist, has by now received several dozen variants of this same line, undoubtedly doesn’t want my prayers, and since I don’t necessarily believe, in any case, that God sits in heaven keeping track of the sick and deciding for whom chemotherapy should work and for whom it should not, I don’t feel overly compelled to pray for him. Though I might anyway.
My first reaction upon hearing this question was “Of course we should pray for Christopher Hitchens”—after all, Jesus explicitly commands us to do so. I like the way that Greg Kandra puts it in a blog post addressing this question:
Just because Hitchens thinks [that prayer is worthless] doesn’t make it so. And prayer isn’t a chore, or a favor we do to bail out someone. It is an act of faith. And it is a gift. It engages the one who prays in a divine conversation that may do as much for the pray-er as it does for the pray-ee. The entire world is uplifted just a bit if even just one person takes a moment to whisper an “Our Father” with an intention of love and joyful hope.
In other words, prayer isn’t a job that we do just for those who we think “deserve” it—we’re commanded to pray. It’s a privilege to pray, and earnest prayer for even “enemies of the faith” like Hitchens should be a reflexive action.
What do you think? Are you willing to pray for Christopher Hitchens’ health? Are there people you struggle to pray for? How would you advise a Christian who found it hard to pray for an enemy or a tormentor in their life?
(And if private prayer isn’t enough, there’s even a Facebook group for Christians who are praying for Christopher Hitchens.)