As you know, an evil coward slaughtered dozens of innocent people at a Texas church on Sunday. Children, the elderly, and pregnant women were among the victims. I am heartbroken. I am angry. I am sickened. I am exhausted. I am almost out of ways to communicate my grief and fury about these kinds of things.
Unfortunately, the internet is not experiencing the same loss for words. As soon as the news broke, many people rushed to social media to communicate a point of view that the shooter himself likely shared: Christians who pray are stupid.
It has become a favorite pastime of the Left to gleefully deride anyone who sends “thoughts and prayers” when tragedy strikes. Naturally, they found no reason to lay off the “haha prayers don’t work” shtick even after a massacre at a church. Indeed, the anti-Christian camp saw this as all the more incentive to express their anti-prayer point of view. We were reminded immediately that prayers “don’t do anything” and they’re “not enough” and they “don’t cut it” and if they were effective then this wouldn’t have happened. All you have to do is spend 30 seconds on Twitter to see this kind of idea repeated over and over again. As Keith Olbermann so eloquently summarized the position: “shove your prayers up your ass.” This, again, is the first reaction of countless leftists when a bunch of Christians are killed while praying. The word inappropriate just does not do this justice. Disgusting may be a more apt term. Revolting probably captures it a little more.
Now, although this should not be at all necessary, let me say a few things in defense of “thoughts and prayers”:
1) Nobody is claiming that all we should do is pray. When somebody promises to pray for a certain cause or make a certain petition to God, that doesn’t mean they’ve ruled out every other course of action. I pray for the spiritual and bodily well being of my family every night, but I also work actively and physically to ensure it. I pray for the sick but I still think they should go to the doctor. I pray for the hungry but I still donate to Food For The Poor. There is no conflict here.
Only a fool would chastise me for praying for the sick and the hungry as if doing so precludes all other steps. Only those who never pray and don’t understand prayer feel the need to clarify that prayer should be accompanied by action. Everyone who prays regularly already comprehends this simple and obvious point. It doesn’t need to be said. It especially doesn’t need to be said over and over, in the shrillest and most condescending manner, and even in the immediate aftermath of the bloodiest church shooting in modern history. If for some bizarre reason you are avidly opposed to prayer, maybe you should consider just shutting your mouth for 10 seconds and saving the anti-prayer crusade for another time.
2) Prayer is important and there’s never a bad time for it. Suggesting that it’s somehow inappropriate or useless to pray in the wake of horror is like saying it’s inappropriate and useless for your children to talk to you when they’re faced with a personal crisis. Unless you’re the worst parent on planet Earth, you would tell them exactly opposite. Come to me, you say. There’s never a bad time to confide in me. And God says the same to us.
To pray is to enter into intimate conversation with our Father in Heaven. We should always be carrying on this conversation — “pray unceasingly,” Scripture commands — but there’s a reason why people cling all the more to God when tragedy strikes. It’s the same reason our children, especially when they’re young, run to us when they’re afraid or in pain. We cannot help them if they don’t come to us. If they hide, if they refuse our help, if they shut us out, then there isn’t much we can do. Again, this is the case with God.
3) Prayer does work. Death does not debunk prayer or reveal it as ineffective. That the Christians were slaughtered while at prayer does not mean that their prayers were in vain. Far from it. Heaven is the eternal prayer. It is the completion and fulfillment of every prayer uttered on Earth. The efficacy of prayer is not called into question when a Christian goes from Earthly prayer to the Heavenly, perfected form. Exactly the opposite is true. I’m betting that if we could peek into the next world, we would not see that the prayers of these murdered Christians have gone to waste. Rather, we would see that they have all been finally and eternally and gloriously answered.
We were never told, and no Christian believes, that praying will forever inoculate us from suffering and death. Even if we pray all our lives we will still die, just as we will still die even if we eat well and live a healthy lifestyle. But prayer is not meant to save us from death anyway. It is meant to bring us closer to God. In that sense, all prayer “works” and all prayers are answered.
Of course, the skeptic demands more than that. He demands proof that God has listened to a specific prayer and answered it in a demonstrative fashion, by causing some miraculous thing to happen or preventing some horrific evil from happening. “Show me that prayer works,” he scoffs, “and then I’ll believe it.”
He’s lying. He will not believe it, even when he’s shown.
The world is full of miracles. Throughout history and still today miraculous and inexplicable events occur, and the people who witness them testify publicly. Yet the scoffing skeptic still dismisses. He still does not believe. God gives him proof and he still rejects it. God could appear before him right now, descending from the clouds, and he would still look for some other explanation. He asks for proof but he has already ruled out the possibility of proof. He demands to be shown something, and then proceeds to shut his eyes.
4) It’s not true that these things continue to happen even though Americans pray all the time. Americans do not pray all the time. Less than half of us pray every day. And when we do finally come to God in prayer, it’s often to request a winning lottery ticket or some other dumb and prideful thing. This passage in James seems written particularly for us:
“You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
It is simply false to suggest that we are plagued with these tragedies in spite of being a deeply prayerful people. We are anything but prayerful, generally speaking. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. I’m not saying that God would have prevented this atrocity had we all prayed harder. I am not God so I cannot say for sure what He would or wouldn’t do, and I cannot explain why He chooses to intercede miraculously sometimes and not other times. But here is what I will say: the chaos in our culture is certainly not evidence of the futility of prayer. It is evidence of the futility of avoiding prayer.
So, with that in mind, I offer my prayers for the families of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. May God grant them peace and comfort.