The people who are criticizing Christians and politicians for sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida but aren’t doing anything tangible or practical, are exactly right. Such is the backlash against supposed followers of Jesus in this country who offer their prayers but no real work toward real solutions that “thoughts and prayers” is trending. It’s a hashtag.
And they’re right.
When we pray to God we pray through the name of our Lord Jesus. And we are ordained by God’s Holy Spirit to act as our Lord’s body — his representatives, his ambassadors — on this earth. We are the Body of Christ and it’s on us, Christians, to do something. That’s how prayer works. We ask God for the boldness, courage, and power to do what needs to be done. And then, by his grace, we do it.
I think about Jesus telling his disciples to pray for workers. In Matthew 9 and Luke 10 he tells his followers “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest , therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And then the very next word is “Go!” Jesus says in the very next verse, “Go! I am sending you!”
Pray for God to raise up workers. Oh, by the way, YOU ARE THE WORKERS!
I think about the inspiring prayer of Paul at the end of Ephesians 3. The apostle prays to our God who, yes, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” But how does God accomplish his will? How does God work in the world? “…according to his power that is at work within us!”
As part of the curriculum for the Transforming Community experience I’m in, I’m finishing up a book this week by Ronald Rolheiser called “The Holy Longing.” He addresses this near the beginning of a chapter on Consequences of the Incarnation:
“Not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer. To pray as a Christian demands concrete involvement in trying to bring about what is pleaded for in the prayer.”
We must put skin on our “thoughts and prayers.”
If I pray that more young people would be involved in our church, but I don’t seek out any young people for friendship or don’t give young people any opportunities for service or leadership, I’m not praying like a Christian. I’m not concretely involving myself in trying to bring about what I’m asking God to do. If my daughter is sick and I pray that she gets well but I don’t drive her to the doctor, I’m not praying like a Christian.
So, it is good to pray for the victims of the shooting and their families. It is good to ask our Father to bless those children and their loved ones with his merciful healing, comfort, and peace. It is good to lament the tragedy and it is good to pray for the soul of the shooter. But we’re not praying like Christians, and we deserve the criticism from non-Christians, if we’re not attempting to do something about the problem.
I understand it can seem hopeless. We live in a sick society with a fetish for guns. We drink the water and breathe the air of violence in the U.S. — it’s “our thing.” But Christians are a people of peace, not violence. Followers of Jesus are reconcilers, not dividers. What does that look like in your context as it relates to what happened at Douglas High School on Ash Wednesday and what keeps happening every week in this country?
This is not meant for prescription, but for discussion. And reflection.
If you vote, maybe you cast a ballot for politicians who might change some gun laws. Maybe you stop giving money to organizations that promote the easy access to and proliferation of assault weapons in our cities and neighborhoods. Take the violent and divisive bumper sticker off your car.
If you don’t vote, maybe you stop going to violent movies. Maybe you destroy your own guns. You might speak against violence when the conversation at work turns to war or crime. If you’re praying for peace in the world, maybe you can start doing something real by forgiving your own enemies in your family or at church, being kind to people who are different from you, reaching out to the lonely and depressed people around you with love and grace and friendship.
Thoughts and prayers are good. To be Christian, though, it cannot stop there.
Just for perspective (and for the purpose of being a pain) on the same day as Parkland, over one hundred people died in America in auto accidents. The same was true the day before Parkland and the day after Parkland which had no Parklands. We could get upset about this and get rid our car and urge others to do the same. But we like our car. We don’t have a gun so let us get upset about what someone else likes. Why is it always the other guy who is wrong? Why is what we do always right?
In this country, one must pass a drivers test to obtain a drivers license. The government doesn’t allow those with certain physical or mental disabilities to operate motor vehicles. For example, a person with epilepsy must prove an absence of seizures for five years before being allowed to drive. But it seems we let almost any Tom, Dick, or Larry buy an AR-15 assault rifle.
More importantly, a car is designed as a conveyance, to move people from one place to another. It has flaws, to be sure; but it is invented and manufactured for the purpose of transporting people. The government writes and enforces laws to make the operation of cars as safe as possible. Those laws are sometimes inconvenient and never unanimously celebrated — speed limits, seat belts, cell phone restrictions — but we’re trying to prevent death.
A gun is designed to kill. That’s the reason a gun is invented and manufactured. That’s the purpose of a gun. An AR-15 assault rifle is designed to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. It’s the very nature of the tool.
It’s not quite the same thing.