On the 2 Maccabees thread, my friend Dick Martin is hard at work trying to convince that praying for the dead is wrong. He’s done his research on Catholicism, and has a passel of quotes from Scripture. But his case for making an absolute prohibition on praying for the dead remains unconvincing.
I’m aware Protestants, especially evangelicals, avoid praying for the dead. My sense is that they do so more to define their non-Catholic spiritual chops than anything else. Praying for the dead is not forbidden by the Christian or Jewish Scriptures. Therefore it remains in the realm of possibility. Likely a matter of taste. That said, I’m sure it can be done to an extreme. But we’re not discussing obsessive spirituality in either that thread or this one. Excess is generally wrong, not matter what it is.
I’m not willing to let my experience of prayer or my interpretation of it remain purely functional. In other words, I don’t only pray for events that have a prayer of working out favorably. For example: I pray for world peace. By the looks of things in Syria, Egypt, select countries in Africa, and in simmering sections of large nations, this prayer is in vain.
I might choose to continue to pray in vain. Why? Because sometimes I’m praying for myself and the people around me. In the words of the song, peace must honestly “begin with me,” because that’s the only person over which I have any smidgen of control. And even though I still offend with words and actions, praying serves to remind me of a godly orientation. On that note, when I pray for the dead, I orient myself to God’s mercy. I acknowledge my powerlessness over my mortality. And I express a public hope that dead people will be taken care of. At the risk of nyah-nyah-ing the issue, nobody gets hurt when I take the time to pray for my own consolation or edification. I’m still a Christian, even though I perform a practice from which some Christians run away for partly political reasons, not spiritual ones.
Christian prayer for the dead is not only intercessory. To identify it as such scratches the surface and misses the mark. Prayer for the dead can be cathartic. It helps us just by doing it. Prayer for the dead can be formative–it reminds us that we are dust, and our physical bodies and earthly existence will return to dust. By mentioning God, death, and a deceased person in one breath, we also conduct a conversation with the Divine. God knows what he will and won’t do. We don’t. But the teaching of the Lord is clear.
In Luke 11:1-13, Jesus says to be insistent in prayer. That’s enough for me. I pray for the dead maybe in a small fraction of my own prayer life. It doesn’t harm anyone. It doesn’t damage my soul. It might not have any effect. But I’m not going to quit because a Protestant brother or sister turns a nose up at it.
In sum, there is no tradition that forbids it, other than as a political stance of the Reformation. And Jesus seems to lean toward the encouragement side of praying for whatever we want. I think I’m going with the Lord on this one.