By GEORGE MOMBI
IN MID-2019 James Marape replaced Peter O’Neil as Prime Minister.
Upon becoming the Prime Minister, he declared to make ‘PNG a rich black Christian nation on earth’ and ‘to take back PNG.’
His statements have become the catchphrases of all Papua New Guineans in every sector of life. PNG as a Christian nation could not agree more with its Prime Minister to make PNG become the rich black Christian nation on earth.
Thus, some have echoed what many have being saying that the Government should declare PNG a Christian nation and thus make every other religion illegal. This will include the Melanesian primal religions. In this vein, a committee under the Government’s directive is revising/amending the sections of PNG constitution so that Christianity will be the only legal religion in PNG.
When this happens, I wonder whether Christianity will become vibrant or superficial. Let’s pray for the former so that PNG can be a blessing to the nations of the earth. At this juncture, the term blessing introduces my discussion on blessings and curses.
On Aug 26, 2019 National Repentance Day, Prime Minister Marape in his address to the nation, pronounced blessings and curses on everyone especially the public servants and political leaders who engrossed themselves in corruption. Pronouncing of blessings and curses could be seen as spiritual step toward taking back PNG from societal evil and make it rich black Christian nation on earth.
However, some may see this as a psychological technique employed to command submission, obedience and to control and instill fear over those whom one leads. The use of blessing and curse language is fast becoming a norm in the political arena. Not long ago Ginson Saonu, the Governor of Morobe cursed the journalists in his province.
Before the language of blessing and curse becomes a common tongue we need to look at what the Bible has to say about it. We need to ask, who has the ultimate right to bless and to curse? What authority do civil servants and the Christians have to pronounce blessings and curses? How is the language of blessings and curses supposed to be understood by the civil government and the church?
The term blessing in Hebrew is beraka meaning ‘bestowal of good and usually conceived as material good.’ In Greek it is eulogia meaning ‘spiritual good brought about by the gospel and material blessing generally.’ There are number of words for curse in Hebrew language – arar, qalal, and ala. These words correspond with the Greek terms – kataraomai, katar and epikataratos. Another group of Hebrew words for curse are heherim and herem, corresponding the Greek terms anathematizo and anathema.
Blessing and curse are key concepts in scripture. Biblical characters offered prayers to God to show kindness to some people and to punish others. This shows that they recognised that only God has the ultimate authority to bless or to curse people.
Outside of the Bible, the general life of the Near Eastern culture was dominated by terrifying threats of curses and omens which individuals invoked to harm others or in self-defence. In the non-biblical cultures, they call on their gods to curse others.
Hence, the actions caused by the curse were thought to be carried out by the god(s). This is also true of the general life of the Melanesian communities. Melanesians called on their ancestral spirits and the spirits of the dead to bless or to curse others.
In scripture, curses relate to three contexts. First, is the creation curse. The effect of creation curse is to be cut off from one’s natural community as seen in Genesis. The serpent was cursed from among all other animals (Gen 3:14) and the ground was alienated from Adam who would no longer have easy access to its produce (Gen 3:17-19). Later Cain was also alienated from the ground and from his people (Gen 4:11-13). Creation curse implies alienation from one’s natural community.
Second, is the interpersonal curse. It is a humanly initiated curse against the land and the persons or people. In the OT curses were sometimes retaliatory speech-act (Josh 9:23; cf. Gen 9:25; 27:29). The biblical idea of interpersonal curse is distinct from the non-biblical parallels. The latter was magical whilst the former was theological. The biblical writers replace the magical origin of the curse with a covenantal context.
But not every curse in the Scripture was done in reference to God. There are instances where curse was a synonym for ‘taunt’ or ‘slander’ (e.g. Exod 21:17; 1 Kgs 2:8; Ps 37:22).
Third, is the covenant curse. The language of blessings and curses dominates the Siniatic or Mosaic covenant. In the Abrahamic covenant God said, “I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse those who curse you” (Gen 12:3). And in the Mosaic covenant God as a suzerain king promised to bless his vassal (servant) Israel if Israel obediently keep God’s laws and to curse Israel if they disobey his commands.
So, God’s covenantal blessings and curses bore on every sphere of Israel’s existence (Deut 27-28). Should Israel depart from him and go after other gods, Yahweh will send upon Israel curses (Duet 28:20).
At stake is Israel’s identity, whether Israel will be the head or tail (Deut 28:44), or recipient of God’s blessings or curses. The primary focus of blessings God promised for the Israelites is not material even though blessings were expressed in material terms. It is about relationship. To be in relationship with God is a blessing but to be out of relationship with God is a curse.
Being in right relationship with God doesn’t mean that there will be no suffering. God is sovereign to show mercy to whom he wants to show mercy, when and where. In the Mosaic covenant, blessings and not curses were significant to Israel. OT shows God blessing individuals, families and the nation. Only rarely that God curse human beings. Instead of using the language of curse the Scripture, the prophets used judgment and punishment terminologies in the context of people’s sin.
When we come to the NT, the language of blessing is more common than cursing and is used in relational terms. Those who are in relationship with God are belonging to his kingdom have God’s blessings. These blessings are linked to life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has enabled both Jews and Gentiles to inherit the blessings promised through Abraham.
Believers also receive the blessings of the new covenant (Jer 31:31-34) and every eschatological blessing inaugurated through Christ’s redeeming sacrifice (Col 1:12).
So both Jesus and Paul command every believer to bless and not to curse (see Luke 9:51-56; 1 Cor 4:12). Turning another cheek, love your enemies and pray for them imply blessing and not cursing (Matt 5:39, 43-45). We are to bless those who persecute us and not to curse (Rom 12:14). Why do we see the language of blessings is predominant in the NT? The sacrificial death of Christ as Paul understood dealt with the curse of the law. When Christ hung on the cross, he became a curse so that the promised blessing to Abraham might come to all who believe (Gal 3:13:14). So in Christ, the believers are freed from the curse of the Law (Gal 3:10-12). Rarely Jesus and Paul spoke the curse language. This was due to unbelief (Matt 11:20-24) and/or sin (1 Cor 5:5; Gal 1:8-9).
When the Prime Minister pronounced blessings and curses on the civil servants or the nation, what context was he coming from – creational, interpersonal or covenantal? The context of his utterance suggests it’s covenantal. So the next question will be which covenantal context – the Mosaic covenant or the covenant PNG signed in 2007?
When Christ died on the cross he took away the Mosaic covenantal curses. This means that the language of blessings and curses the Prime Minister spoke especially curses is found wanting. How then should the language of blessing and curse be used by the civil government and the church?
To curse or not to curse?
The Bible commands the Christians not to curse other people whether believers or non-believers. They are to speaking blessings on everyone including those in authority.
How about the civil government? Government is God’s agent of blessings and curses (see Rom 13:3-4). In other words, the Government is position to execute blessings and curses.
How? The civil authority is to translate the language of blessing and curse into practical reality. Instead of uttering blessings and curses, I believe the civil government is to apply the blessing and curse through the judiciary system.
Judicial system is one of the mediums that practically apply the language of blessings and curses. This arm should be well-resourced to carry out its duties and functions efficiently and effectively.
In this way the law-abiding citizens will enjoy peace but the law-breakers will be punished – blessings and curses. So the civil government is God’s agent to practically administer the blessing and curse language.
- George Mombi, PhD is a lecturer at the CLTC Port Moresby campus.