Every time we wake up to the news of another shooting, something in us aches. We sigh with grief and wonder again what it is in the heart of a man that he would so callously take the lives of people who had gathered in church for prayer.
When Dylan Roof opened fire on the church goers in Charleston back in 2015, we knew his actions were motivated by racial hatred. But when Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the motive was apparently more a more personal one, anchored in anger.
In both cases, as in every case where someone takes a human life for reasons other than self-defense, the crime has a spiritual root. The Apostle James says we murder one another because we “desire and do not have.” And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that anger and hatred are the root sins that lead to murder (Matt 5:21ff).
It is common for leaders and public figures to respond to tragedies like the Sutherland Springs shooting by saying “our thoughts and prayers are with the families and all who have been touched by this tragedy.” And yet as these events have become more common, and as our nation has become less religious, that response has stirred a backlash.
After House Speaker Paul Ryan called on people to pray for the Southerland Springs community, actor Michael McKean tweeted “They were in church. They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else.”
Other tweets followed: “They were already in a church. It’s almost like prayers do absolutely nothing and actual reform is needed.” Or this one: “Prayers can’t bring back the people who were taken from us at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX. We need laws enacted now!”
I’ve thought a lot about the “thoughts and prayers” backlash over the last couple of days. At one level, it lines up with what the Apostle James says about faith (thoughts and prayers) without works. It’s dead. Useless. Not real faith at all.
And I think we’d all have to agree that some people who talk about thoughts and prayers don’t seem to be people who spend a lot of time thinking or praying. In times of tragedy, many otherwise irreligious people talk about praying. But what they’re talking about is a kind of “faith” that ignores God until tragedy hits and then forgets praying altogether – un til the next tragedy hits. And that is indeed a dead faith – no real faith at all.
I wonder how many people who called for thoughts and prayers for the families of victims actually did any real thinking or praying for the heartbroken people.
I didn’t. Until today.
On the other side are people who see no use at all in praying. They see any real compassion or sympathy or intercession as meaningless unless it is coupled with support for the agenda they support. They would agree that faith without works is dead. But what they really think is that faith is superfluous in the first place. In their mind, it’s the works that matter, with or without faith. Turn to God or don’t turn to God, but do something. That’s their worldview.
And they are only satisfied if the something you are doing lines up with their idea of what need to happen.
The response of men and women of faith ought to be a response of sincere intercession coupled with some kind of thoughtful action. Believing and doing. Faith and works.
Praying for those whose lives were touched by the shooting is not an empty act. As David French writes “Either you believe that God intervenes in the affairs of men or you don’t. And if you do, then you know that no one and nothing is more powerful than the creator of the universe. That means that while prayer is not the only response to evil, it is both the most rational response and, in all likelihood, the most effective response.”
But along with our prayers there should be some serious thinking and soul searching about how we as a society can find the right response to these actions.
In our polarized culture, we can easily and quickly default to a set of talking points. One group rallies again for new laws that would make guns less accessible. Another group points to the fact that it was someone who had a firearm that ultimately stopped the shooter in Texas.
The thing both groups have in common is a desire to put an end to these kinds of tragedies.
In the face of these events, part of being genuinely thoughtful is to listen carefully to those who hold a view that is different from the view you hold. Good people can disagree one what is the best social policy in these matters. We honor God when we respectfully listen to and consider the ideas of men and women created in His image – even if we end up disagreeing with them.
Let’s be people for whom “thoughts and prayers” is not simply a cliché, but an actual response to tragedies when they happen. Let’s be both thoughtful and prayerful about these matters.
Ladies!! Here’s something to make sure you have added to your December calendar. The Redeemer Women’s Christmas Tea. Happens on Saturday, Dec. 9th at 10:30 am.
It will be a fun time of fellowship, encouragement and a yummy brunch will be provided. It’s a great event for inviting a friend. And Mamas feel free to bring your daughters nine years old and up.
We’re still looking for a couple of women to host/decorate tables and bake muffins and scones. Please contact Maria Goff if you’d be willing to help, or have any questions. 262-947-8114 or email@example.com
Kids Small Group happens next Thursday night, November 16 at church. The kids will start to gather at 5:45 and will wrap up at 8:15. Your kids will have a blast! Dinner is included. Contact Matt Gurney with any questions. Mattgurney77@gmail.com.
And speaking of Matt Gurney, this is your last chance as a church member to speak up if you have any concerns about Matt being set apart to serve as an elder at Redeemer. Our plan is to install him as an elder during our worship service on Sunday, November 12.
If any member has a concern about Matt serving, or knows any reason why he is not qualified to serve, please address them to Matt or talk to one of the elders.
How can we trust that God will keep His promises toward us as His children when it appears like God has reneged on some of the covenant promises He made to His chosen people – the Jews?
That’s the question Paul begins to address as we begin our study of Romans 9 this Sunday.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!