There is nothing particularly novel or profound about telling people that prayers do not excuse inaction. In fact, that notion is built into Christian theology. In James 2, he writes that faith not accompanied by action is a dead faith. Yet we hear politically motivated individuals angrily reminding people that two hands at work are more effective than a thousand hands raised in prayer. The driving force behind this is the idea that we need to be more receptive to legislation that restricts access to firearms. After the heart-wrenching church shooting, and after seeing many attacks on “soft-targets,” people say that their hearts are broken and that they are praying for the victims. But, comes the objection, is it not hypocritical to have your heart broken over an event but refuse to look to the government for a solution? Well, I do not think so. I have very little confidence in legislation. In fact, I would prefer prayers to legislation.
I think the overreaction to prayer is part of the blame game. It fits with an “us vs them” narrative, and every tragedy furthers the case against “them,” as if “they” are complicit in the tragedy. This became particularly evident after the church shooting in Texas yesterday. 26 people were murdered, including toddlers and senior citizens. Perhaps the greatest irony is that it occurred on All Saints Day, where churches around the world marked the death of those who have been martyred for the faith. Shortly after these 26 church-goers were murdered, distant tweeters began treating their lives as an abstraction rather than real people with intrinsic value as they mocked prayer. The very faith being expressed in that church as the gun went off was mocked by those who claim empathy. It is not empathy. It is politically motivated, noxious garbage. Beyond that, there is no latitude behind what is being said because the proposed solution – legislation – is a non-solution while prayer is a real solution.
People Appreciate It
If you are completely motivated by a political agenda, it might surprise you to learn that people actually appreciate being told that they are prayed for and thought of. This is true even when nothing is going on. It is a reminder that somebody is there and cares for you, even if you do not know that person well. When somebody literally loses their entire family, all of the sudden, in an act of violence, it will lead to anger, despair and loneliness. If I approach them and say, “Don’t worry; my political agenda will prevent this from happening again,” guess what? They are hardly going to be consoled. But if I tell them that I am praying for them, then they know that I am there for them.
You see, human beings are social creatures. From a theological perspectives, we were created to reflect the interpersonal relationship of the trinity. We are relational because God is relational. From a scientific perspective, we evolved with a need to cooperate with one another. During troubled times, emotions matter. People are emotionally and spiritually broken, and they need somebody there. Future legislations are not the only thing that matters. What matters is binding these communities together and grieving together.
As the apostle Paul said in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Our agenda is not political. It is personal. When a stranger or a famous figure says something like, “I am praying for the families,” these people see that there are many around the world who care for them and who are grieving with them, even if they are not present with them. When it gets the attention of the members of Senate and the President of the United States, people appreciate that. They appreciate knowing that everybody – the entire world – is there for them, from top to bottom. They do not appreciate using the tragedy or the prayers of others to score cheap political points. When you mock people for prayer or telling others that you will pray for them, you are saying that the victims do not matter and their emotions do not matter. All that matters is your political agenda.
Rejecting One Solution Is Not Inaction
In recent years, we have seen a man walk into an elementary school with an automatic weapon and shoot little children. More recently, a man on the Las Vegas strip posted in a hotel above a concert and unloaded on innocents. A US Navy veteran walked into a church with tactical gear donned and weapon in hand. The idea that this sort of deranged behavior begins and ends with access to guns is extraordinary. Anybody who thinks that is a solution has never heard of the black market or looked into the history of prohibition. If there is a market for a product, somebody will be there to sell it. Whether it is legal or not is irrelevant. Another law is not always the answer.
So here is my point. People who take this approach are not guilty of inaction. Again, harking back to the “us vs them” narrative: we have this tendency to ascribe the worst of motivations to other people. We might think that politicians who oppose gun control recognize that it could help, but the political ramifications would ruin their career, cut off funding, and a host of other selfish reasons. So they opt for what will help them and essentially sacrifice the innocents who are slaughtered. That is an inappropriate way to look at this issue.
What needs to be understood is that there are different political philosophies. Some philosophical frameworks entail a stronger central government, while others do not. Those that do not recognize that another law will not solve a problem. For them to refuse to implement another law is not inaction. It is the recognition that those laws will not be effective and will do more harm than good. What we can all agree about is that something needs to be done. But the answer is not profaning the faith of those who were murdered ad nauseam until somebody starts to take you seriously. The answer is also not another law.
Prayers And Action Are Not Mutually Exclusive
This error has become popularized. I am not totally sure how it happened. But people have this idea that if you are praying, that means you are not doing anything else. They might think that if we expect God to act, that means that we are not going to act. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of Christian theology. In Philippians 2:13, the apostle Paul said, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
God is working through his creation to accomplish his will. It is not that we expect an abstract miracle. Even in times when we literally do not have a solution, James tells us to pray for wisdom (James 1:5). Prayer in this context is about asking God to give us direction so that we know what to do and strength so that we can accomplish it.
If I say, “I am praying for the victims,” then I am literally praying for them to be comforted, perhaps through my words, actions or their communities. Anybody who objects to that is a political hack treating human beings as abstractions, not people with real emotions and hearts that need to be mended.
What Is Freedom And How Far Does It Extend?
There is a concept known as the Non-Aggression Principle, which essentially states that citizens should be free to do whatever they like so long as they are not harming another person. This even includes purchasing and owning items that can be used to harm another person. The question that is raised is whether the consequences of restricting freedom is greater than the consequences of freedom.
The answer, of course, is it does not matter. There are certainly different models of value. But mine is that human beings possess intrinsic moral value, which is to say that they are valuable in and of themselves. For another person to violate their rights would be a moral crime. This extends even to members of the government. Insofar as one is concerned with preserving liberty, limitations on what people can own is a breach of a feasible societal model. That is not to say that we have to just throw up our hands in despair. But it is to say, once again, that laws are not the answer. In this case, they  do not work and  violate basic human rights.
Prayer Is A Reminder of The Kingdom of God
As is often quoted in time of tragedy, the Lord Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble. But rejoice, for I have overcome this world” (John 16:33). If your only interest in the Texas shooting is to further your political agenda, then you probably do not resonate much with this statement. When your world is falling apart, it is hard to remember that there is beauty or joy. The very thought of joy will hark you back to better days, and in the midst of tragedy, that can yield overpowering despair. I would rather have prayers than legislation because prayers remind us that there is true, tangible beauty in the world that is not constrained by the shifting sands of suffering and well-being. There is the gospel.
The incarnation, death and resurrection of the God-man depicts the cycle of life for human beings and the promise for this world. Christ felt the pierce of his enemies and suffered helplessly. Then he died the death of a man. When he rose from the dead, never to die again, he displayed what our resurrection will be and the sort of world we will inherit.
When we tell somebody that we are praying for them, we are essentially reminding them that there is a better world and that Christ is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). We will inherit a world where loved ones do not die, where there is no sickness, derangement, hunger or pain. But it is more than just a reminder. Praying for the suffering is literally the kingdom of God invading into this world. As JR Daniel Kirk put it, it is like the future invading the present; Christ’s kingdom is here on earth in us when we pray for others and offer those comforting words.
Why I Prefer Prayer To Legislation
When I tell you, “I am praying for you,” I could have several different intentions. I could mean that my prayers will be accompanied by actions. There is nothing mutually exclusive about those two concepts. I also probably mean that I recognize that your world has fallen apart and I want you to know that I am here for you, just as the rest of the world is. If I tell you that I am praying for you, then you are a real human being. You are not an abstraction to be used for political agendas.
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