“[We] are fervently lifting up in prayer the children and families in the horrific shooting in Uvalde.”
That simple tweet from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) this week in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, predictably sparked a litany of angry responses dismissing prayer and demanding legislative action.
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Now, I don’t care much about people’s opinions on Cruz or his political postures, and this piece isn’t about the gun control debate. What I’m concerned with is contemporary culture’s overwhelming confusion about the purpose and power of prayer.
The “thoughts and prayers” mantra has become a convenient target for those feeling the emotional toll of gun violence. The immediate, guttural reaction is to lash out at conservatives and Christians — the vast majority of whom are authentically offering compassion to victims and their families — and mock or belittle their invocations.
“Your thoughts and prayers do nothing!” is the common rebuttal.
The immediate assumption is that offering prayer after a mass shooting is somehow an “awe shucks” moment in which conservatives lazily shrug while simultaneously hoping some magical fairy pops up and casts a spell imploring sadistic people to stop engaging in unfettered violence.
Sure, Christians would love nothing more than for changed hearts and minds to abound, but that’s not why people offer invocations after events like the horrors we just witnessed in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.
Critics fail to understand why people pray amid tragedy — why Christians turn to the Almighty on behalf of others. When I say things like, “Pray for Texas,” I’m thinking of…
- The parents and loved ones of the 19 parents and two teachers whose lives were tragically snuffed out
- The first responders who were forced to witness and handle the aftermath of the unthinkable
- The children in the room who survived and will forever be forced to deal with the images of evil and suffering that a maniac seared into their minds
- The school staff who made it out and are struggling with survivor’s guilt and terror over what could have been
- The nation so desperately in need of the only solution we keep pushing away and ignoring
My list could go on…and on. But the pertinent point: people are praying for peace, strength, and resilience. These prayers are compassionate and selfless acts, and the people offering them are taking the time and devoting themselves to seeking God on behalf of the bereaved.
This is a topic I spoke about in 2018 (see below) and it remains stunningly evergreen.
Even atheists should be able to appreciate these prayerful acts of kindness — a quest to see beyond the self and to seek the peace of others. Yet, our toxic and anger-fuelled culture misunderstands peoples’ purposes and seeks to use calls for prayer for political score-grabbing.
It’s unfortunate, disingenuous, and blundering, and the critiques do little to move society in the right direction. Beyond that, there’s a more sinister reality: prayer dismissals undermine the only proper antidote to the culture’s increasingly unrestrained hatred and evil.
If there’s a God who created and loved us — which there is — then we need Him. Our devastating cultural decision to ignore Him is exactly how we got here and these dismissals only fuel that horror.
Even “The Late Late Show” host James Corden had to get his ding in, proclaiming this week, “Words of thoughts and prayers will come from our leaders, but I fear change never will.” And Rep. Eric Swalwell (R-Calif.) tweeted, “Keep praying. We’re working.”
I understand the want for discussions about prospective laws and regulations, and I believe we are commanded to take action if and when possible. It’s unclear what that action should look like and if any measures would have prevented these recent tragedies, but that’s not really the core issue.
Keep praying. We’re working. https://t.co/RMzjnRE7BO— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) May 27, 2022
The deeper problem at the root of our crisis is that we’re a people who have fallen away from the eternal.
American culture continues to devolve at a rapid pace. We’ve told God we’re the arbiters of our own truth; we get to decide what’s right and wrong. We’ve abandoned a baseline built on a rock for one constructed on sand, and, unsurprisingly, we’re slowly sinking into the abyss.
It’s hard to listen to Corden, Swalwell, and others plead for “change” when our culture has so haphazardly opted for radical chaos. Weirdly, we somehow still anticipate and feel entitled to supernatural order.
We’re broken, tattered, beleaguered, and lost, sprinting in the wrong direction with glee. We cannot legislate our way out of cultural sepsis. Sure, lawmakers can and should explore all options while balancing constitutional bounds. But that won’t fully or comprehensively fix our rot.
With even the most pervasive gun control measures on the books, one won’t take away the insidious evil that convinced a teenager it was permissible to enter a room filled with innocents and brutally murder 19 children and two adults. That level of depravity requires a change no lawmaker — and no human — can achieve.
So, act. But pray. Scripture tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV) to “pray without ceasing.” Pray for the victims’ families. Pray for heart change. And pray for healing.
But above all else, push back against the secular chaos that has permeated our nation and has derailed our world by reaching hearts and minds for Jesus.
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