Nov 8, 2016

Praying for Nero on Election Day

By Heather Judd

Here’s a surprisingly uncontroversial statement for an election year: Things do not look good in the American political scene. Christians and non-Christians, Republicans and Democrats alike cringe at the probabilities of what is to come for our nation. What ought we as Christians to do? What can we do?

Of course, we know that we ought foremost to pray, but I have lately been reflecting that how we pray for our nation is important. The most specific instruction we are given about praying for the political realm is Paul’s urging to Timothy “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). What caught my attention is that we are commanded to pray for God to bless not our land or nation but our rulers—the people, not the place.

From a Christian perspective, this is perfectly fitting. Nations rise and fall. They are ephemeral, but people are eternal. Ultimately, should we care whether America survives if all her people are lost to sin and death? Of course not! We don’t want to be like the atheists or agnostics who see the preservation of the earth from environmental disaster as more important than the preservation of the people (present or future) who inhabit it.

Yet praying for leaders I dislike and distrust is a bitter pill to swallow. Much pleasanter to pray that God would bless America than that He would bless President Obama or Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump. Patriotism has imbued in me a trust that bad leaders can be weathered so long as I love my country dearly enough. And thus I reveal my own idolatry: I have placed my love and trust in my country when it rightly belongs to my God.

Shall I really pray and give thanks for my leaders even if they are misguided? Even if they are self-serving? Immoral? Yes. Paul knew full well about misguided, self-serving, immoral rulers. He wrote to Timothy during the reign of the despicable emperor Nero. Yes, pray for this childish, selfish ruler who commits unspeakable acts of immorality. Yes, pray for this man who instigates torture and persecution of Christians. Yes, pray for Nero because his authority is from God (Rom. 13:1).

Without the command of God, I’m not sure I would willingly offer such prayers. It is much more comfortable to pray for the idealized entity that is a nation than for the specific, sinful men and women to whom God grants authority. Democratic, American thinking only confirms us in such generalized petitions. Consider how our patriotic songs shun any reference to rulers—no monarchy for us!—and focus on the country as a whole. The British sing “God save the Queen.” We steal the same tune and substitute “God save the state.” Admittedly, this may have more to do with the poetic difficulty presented by the word “President” having three times as many syllables as the word “Queen,” but the substitution is still troubling. “God save the Queen” is primarily a cry for political stability (which is guaranteed to pass away—1 Cor. 2:6), but it also serves as a prayer for the person of the queen herself. “The state,” by contrast, is merely the temporary framework through which God keeps justice and peace in a certain time and place. Like it or not, we can know only one certain fact about our nation’s future: It will not remain forever.
To a Lutheran blessed with an understanding of the two kingdoms in which God works (the civil realm and the Church), this fact is not distressing. We have nothing to fear if our earthly nation crumbles or even turns against us, because our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), that “sweet and blessed country, the home of God’s elect…” (LSB 792, st. 4).

Thus, the Christian’s most fervent prayer is not “God Bless America” but “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word.” What matters is not whether America remains a great nation, but whether her people remain firm in saving faith. For, on the Last Day, the United States will be no more, but, as Francis Scott Key movingly writes, the Christians whose bodies rest in our land will rise to eternal life:

And when in pow'r He comes,
Oh, may our native land
From all its rending tombs
Send forth a glorious band,
A countless throng, 
With joy to sing
To heav'n's high King
Salvation's song! (LSB 966, st. 5)

With such a farsighted view, fearless of death and longing for our heavenly home, we will find it easier to pray for our rulers whose temporal power is granted by God to guide and reprove us. They are but God’s servants for our good (Rom. 13:4), and even should they use their power for evil, we need not fear, for we can be sure that “neither death nor life . . . nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).


Heather Judd is currently a sister, daughter, and teacher in a classical, Lutheran school in Wyoming.  The last of these vocations demonstrates the divine sense of irony since she (a) was homeschooled for her entire K-12 education, (b) only became a classical education enthusiast after earning her B.A. in education, (c) attended just about every denomination except Lutheran growing up,  and (d) had never been to Wyoming before moving there for the teaching call.  When she is not spending time in the eccentric world of middle school students, she enjoys reading, writing, acting, baking, playing organ, and pondering the mysteries of theology, physics, and literature.  


  1. Thank you for this timely article. It really helped me to focus on what is really important.

  2. Wow, you've really inspired me. God Blessless You!!!


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