I’m eating breakfast and I’m reading a headline that says five people have been shot at a “Black Lives Matter” protest in Minneapolis.
A couple days later, My newsfeed is filled with the crazed face of a gunman who stormed a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, killing three people and injuring nine.
By Wednesday, news breaks that 17 people have been killed in a mass shooting in San Bernardino.
Each time, my stomach turns and sinks within me. I feel helpless and desperate. What is going on?
Recently he news has become increasingly hard for me to stomach. From the horrific attacks in Paris and Beirut, to the ongoing Syrian Civil War, to abject debates over refugees, to gun violence at rallies and clinics and schools, I feel overwhelmed, perplexed and heartbroken.
In America, there have been more mass shootings in 2015 than there have been days in the year. People are at a loss for what to do, and they’re fed up with a lack of solutions. The Daily News delivered this shocking cover page two days ago:
Now, before we Christians jump headlong into defense mode, let me establish that I’m fairly certain this statement isn’t meant to criticize prayer or God specifically. It’s not even about the existence of God, as some have suggested. It’s a call to action directed at people in power. It’s a criticism of politicians who say via Twitter that they are praying for the victims of gun violence- politicians who have the very real power to act on behalf of victims- and yet are not taking steps towards stricter gun laws. Daily News isn’t bashing Christianity, they’re asking that #thoughtsandprayers be accompanied by practical steps towards a solution to this very real crisis.
Because without the willingness to act, the promise to say a prayer just seems like an empty platitude.
Lets put aside political differences for a moment. Regardless of what we believe about gun control, I think this newspaper brings an important question to light for Christians. Namely, what is the Christian response to evil? How are we to react in the face of terror, suffering and violence? Are our prayers spurring us on towards better works and changed hearts? Or do we allow well-wishes replace our urgency to work for change?
James 2:15-17 says “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things they need for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Jesus doesn’t want us relying on empty platitudes. Wishing someone well is not enough- we are called to action for the sake of others.
When it comes to injustice, Jesus tell us not to look the other way. Incredibly, we are called to love our enemies, mourn with those who are mourning, and turn the other cheek when we are stricken. We’re told to sacrifice our stuff, comfort, money, time and space for the sake of the needy, regardless of whether or not we think they deserve it. We are to speak up for the rights of the oppressed and do something about cruelty and violence.
All the while, we pray.
Most of us are not politicians with immediate influence on this issues. Most of us are grappling with how to deal with the news of these tragedies from a strange distance. Sometimes, there literally isn’t anything we can do in the moment except cry out to God.
When I kneel in prayer, I’m not necessarily asking God to fix something or grant something. I’m quieting my heart, stopping everything else I’m doing, and inviting God into the moment with me- a moment that may very well be shrouded with confusion and sadness.
I kneel in prayer believing that there is efficacy in prayer. I trust that God is listening, that he is real, and that his spirit is moving and working in the world, even when I don’t understand it.
I kneel in prayer recognizing that I’m incapable of solving the world’s massive problems. Prayer is humbling: it reminds us that we are not all powerful, that our opinions are not always right, and that we are not infinite. A strange comfort overwhelms us as we whisper to a God who is.
I kneel asking for those who are hurting to be comforted, and I remember his great love for them.
I kneel in prayer asking to God to ready my feet for action, asking I would not just be a hearer of his word but a doer also.
I kneel in prayer before God and I am filled with his love for people.
Prayer and action are never mutually elusive, they rely on one another.
I am reminded what CS Lewis said about prayer: that “it doesn’t change God, it changes me.”
As I sit at my kitchen table and type these words, my heart still aches. Sometimes violence seems unconquerable: all attempts to correct it feel like putting band aids on a gushing wound.
But in the Christian faith, I see a rare and undying hope break through the face of this darkness- a hope which is more substantial than anything I have found elsewhere.
Christians dare to believe that something lies beyond this chaos and disarray. The saints have long prayed for a day when this world, which is presently flooded with darkness, will be met with justice and mercy. All is not as it should be, but God is utterly committed to redeeming the earth and setting all things right. He calls each of us to participate in that restoration here and now; to be bringers of justice and mercy and love.
Pope Francis said “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”
Jesus said we should pray these words: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”