Engine Against the Almighty

Michael Wilcock

Read: Luke 18:1-8

This widow keeps bothering me. (v. 5)

Think Middle Ages. Think warfare, and a walled city, and besiegers attacking its fortifications with catapults and scaling ladders and battering rams. These are what Herbert means by the word “engine”—siege engines, constructed by the army’s engineers.

But what sort of prayer is this? “Engine against the Almighty”—attacking God, as if he were an enemy?

Jesus’ parable about the widow who was determined to get justice for herself does say exactly that. He describes her besieging the offices of the “unrighteous judge” day after day, while the clerks whisper to one another, “Here comes that dreadful woman yet again!” It is of course one of the “how much more” parables. If a judge who is corrupt will in the end do what’s right out of sheer exasperation, how much more may we expect from a loving God? So we should come to prayer with the determination that we would exercise if he really were an enemy with whom we were at war. “We threaten God in prayer,” said Herbert’s contemporary John Donne, in one of his sermons. “Prayer hath the nature of violence . . . we besiege God, and God is glad to be straitened by us in that siege.” He was one of the greatest preachers of the age, and we may hope that his congregation at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was duly fired to practice what it had heard him preach. —Michael Wilcock

Prayer: Father, I know you’ll do the right thing, but I shall keep on asking for it all the same!