A tragic shooting in Florida. I won’t comment on the event, the details or even the politics. The facts are just being assembled. The wounded treated. The bodies taken away. The families notified and broken.
And already, people are mocking those who say ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.’ Cruel comments, base comments, profane comments. ‘$@%^ your prayers.’ ‘Guess Jesus isn’t listening.’ ‘Stop praying and start doing something.’
It goes on and on. People are angry about the deaths. I get it. But they take their anger out on people who are just as upset, just as filled with sorrow. Furthermore, they take it out on people who happen to believe that their (that our) God calls us to pray. To intercede. This does NOT mean that we don’t care. Nor does it mean that we don’t act. However, to shut down prayer as an option is to say, ‘if you can’t change policy, you can’t do anything and you should just shut up.’ Worse, it’s to say to the weak, the powerless, the sick, the invalid, the aged, the paralyzed, ‘just sit there, or lie there and contemplate the horror. You have nothing to offer.’
This is small minded. It is also very judgmental. It says ‘if you don’t react the way I think you should, you need to shut up.’ It says ‘the thing you believe so deeply is merely worthless.’ It’s unkind. And to use the vocabulary of modern life, it’s entirely intolerant of a faith and (for instance in the Bible Belt) an entire culture.
I’ll even give you the thoughts part. It’s nice to think about the suffering of others in sympathetic ways. But I don’t believe that we ‘send thoughts.’ That’s rather bad theology. I do believe that we offer prayers. That we ‘send prayers,’ not so much to people but to God.
The non-believer is welcome to consider this poppy-cock. I understand that. Most (but not all) atheists have a poor understanding of Christian theology. As if our prayers were supposed to be like a list of things we take to the store, and when we don’t get them the prayer was stupid and God was just a mean, taunting parent.
However, prayer is part of our faith experience, and a command, and a comfort and a right and a discipline and a thing that shapes us just as we believe that it sometimes (not always) accomplishes what we wish for it to accomplish. We believe that it is a process, a relationship, a journey. We believe that God shapes us through prayer far more than we shape the world. We believe that when Jesus says ‘ask anything in my name and I will do it,’ that it isn’t an incantation or spell. It means, if we’re asking according to what he wants to happen, then he’s including us in the process. Teaching us. The way a father might apprentice his carpenter son, letting him do the thing he already plans so that he can understand for himself. God seems fond of carpenters. And lessons. Why doesn’t he just do it and keep us out of the loop? I don’t know yet. I’ll ask him one day when I’m in his presence. Suffice it to say, prayer is complicated; ask anyone who prays sincerely. It isn’t a nice, tidy formula, and so it isn’t subject to nice, tidy, simplistic critique.
People have been praying for a very, very long time. Before there were Christians. Before there were Jews. Before there were Hindus or any organized religion. For at least 20,000 years humans have worshiped. That’s a behavior pretty deeply ingrained in our history, in our DNA if you will.
That sort of thing is hard to simply dismiss as ‘antiquated and stupid.’ We jump when we see a snake. We run when we’re in danger. We pray when we’re in trouble, or sad, or joyous. Not everyone does it. But lots of us do. Oddss are our ancestors have done the same for eons.
Maybe it conferred a survival advantage by giving us hope! Maybe it bonded us by causing us to be concerned enough for others to take that concern to our deity.
Or maybe, on some neuro-psychiatric level, something happens to people when we pray for them and we’re just not smart enough to figure it out yet.
I think it’s all that. And that God acts in our prayers as he tries to make us like himself.
Should we try to change the world? Certainly. Prayer is only part of the work of redeeming a world. But it is part. And those who offer prayers for the suffering are doing so in love and concern. And for all anyone knows, they’re acting as well; by donations, service, advocacy. Who knows?
I don’t. And you dont.
So please, let them pray and be glad they do it. One day they may be praying for you.