When the World Doesn’t Seem to Want Thoughts & Prayers
Large-scale tragedy has always prompted thoughts and prayers from the faithful around the world. Lately, though, those sentiments are rejected or scorned. Let’s explore..
“What good are your thoughts & prayers when they don’t even keep the pews safe?”
Those who are agnostic or atheistic in their view of the Christian God, those with critical or skeptical viewpoints toward the whole project of theism, must be splintered in their reaction to the many words offered by Christians, Mormons, Muslims, and even nominally “spiritual” folks in the wake of each worldwide tragedy unfolds. Some, I know, tolerate it and think it at least a nice thought or a positive message. But others strike the same cord that AOC’s tweet does here, essentially challenging: “Where was your God then?” Or, “Prayer isn’t doing much, I guess. Maybe you should stop now.” Or, “Don’t just sit there and pray. Do something to help, because prayer won’t.”
And look, I get it. To an untrained eye, to a tired mind, to a grieving heart, God may seem absent and prayer may seem at best superfluous, or at worst condescending and harmful. For these reasons, reactions like AOC’s can be taken in stride. But what I’d like to do here is offer a fresh perspective on why serious Christians will and should continue to pray, and why they have reason to believe God is still on the move — and not on the move outta dodge, but on the move in exactly the places the world needs Him.
(As a preamble, have you ever considered what tragedies God may have actually stopped? We’d never know, because they never happened, and perhaps we move silently by almost-certain doom everyday without any awareness, thanks to the goodness of God. That’s a nugget to consider.)
Christians believe the Bible because, as pastor Voddie Baucham puts it, it is a reliable collection of historical documents, written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses, which report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies, and claim to be divine in origin rather than human in origin. I plan to write more on this particular topic in the future. But first you must understand why Christians have reason to believe there is an omnipotent God listening to their prayers.
And if this Christian narrative is true — God’s creation of the universe and all that is in it (space, time and matter); His making it all perfect from the beginning; the fall of mankind from God’s favor and blessing through a conscious decision, made of their own freewill, to make their own plan and disobey His commandments regarding what will lead to life; the people of Israel setting up the world for the eventual arrival of a Savior; the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth to allow him to be the bridge between imperfect people and perfect God; Jesus’ ascension to heaven and kickstart of the early church through apostles; and the God-breathed writings of Scripture, inspired by God and penned by men over hundreds of centuries, to keep track of it and explain it to us all as the church waits for Jesus to come a second time and wrap things up — if it’s all true, then that gives us much more than just a couple of new pieces of the puzzle. It’s called a worldview because it is a complete lens through which we can better understand reality.
In short, there is a reasoned expectation held by those with a high view of, and sturdy confidence in, the Christian scriptures that this world is super broken… but that God has written an incredible ending to this story, and it is still unfolding.
And specific to our reactions in the aftermath of tragedy, all of this means that Jesus’ words are true: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
The truthfulness of the Christian worldview means the words of St. Paul the Apostle are true: that humans can remain hopeful in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope, and hope does not disappoint. Paul spoke well when he told his hearers, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God.. in a warped and crooked [world]. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” And again when he recommended: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
The credibility of the Gospel message means St. John the apostle was right when he said that there is no fear in love, because perfect love drives out fear. (John knew when he wrote this that God is love in His very nature).
It also means that, just as a parent would do when his/her children ask him/her for things, God has responded to prayer throughout history (and in each of our personal lives) in various, relational ways and with various answers — sometimes with an immediate “yes;” and other times with a “hold on, not yet;” or a “no;” or a “you’re asking for the wrong thing” sort of answer. Yet those who pray are given the directive in scripture to pray without ceasing, including examples of how it worked out for those who persevered.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
When someone denounces, condemns, or scoffs at a praying person, perhaps they do not know this person is praying because they’ve concluded, often at the end of a very long road of research and deliberation and self reflection and struggle, that the Bible is an accurate recording of God’s historical interaction with mankind, including his instructions and expectations for all future generations, such as those about how prayer works and how it doesn’t work. Those vitriolic reactions show a lack of understanding of the position of the one praying. Such a display reveals a very short-sighted view of reality that only includes what the scoffer has personally experienced (or expected but not experienced) without taking into account factors unknown to, or un-researched by, the scoffer.
If you humbly admit to seeing yourself in that description, I would encourage you to ask the next friend you see offering prayers during tragedy to tell you the origin of their confidence, of their faith, that prayer is a good thing. Because you can be sure that when (unfortunately not if) the next national tragedy arrives, those who believe the truth about Jesus of Nazareth will be praying in love and genuine concern for those affected.
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