Victor Chininin Buele
We develop these platitudes that mean nothing. Let’s be honest. We want to be nice or to comfort somebody, but we have no clue whatsoever about what we should say or do. It happens. We are fallen humans.
Every time a mass shooting has happened, I observe my friends growing more and more fed up with the standard “thoughts and prayer” response. You may assume that I would say that being fed up with that is wrong. I’m actually quite glad this is happening. But obviously, most likely this is not for the reasons you think. It is not wrong to see another mass shooting and say, “Hey, these ‘thoughts and prayers’ thing is a bill of goods.”
Thoughts. For many years now, Americans have lived this practical theology of wishful thinking, or the power of positive thinking. We have at the White House a representative of this. We’ve started to see the folly of this notion that we can wish things with our thinking. That if we speak positively into our life things will happen. That our words have power to create reality. You can see that because Trump says something is the largest inauguration crowd in history doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t. We can’t change reality with our thoughts. Three hundred million people thinking that massive shootings need to stop has not changed the reality that these things keep happening. Thinking about something is not enough.
Prayers. This is a perfect storm. In our secularist society, it is intellectually suspect to think that God exists. Even if you do think that God exists, it is almost a necessary conclusion to think that he is useless and powerless or bad. Then, when this narrative comes back to the news cycle—people say that they pray, and the shootings keep happening—our suspicions appear to be confirmed. There is no God. Or prayers are useless. What a big effin’ waste of time.
—So, Mr. Theologian Aficionado, what are you trying to get at? That you also believe that God is puny? Are you ready to come to your senses and step into the light, forsaking your dogmatic infancy of believing in God at all?
Not at all.
I would instead ask you, “Can’t you see that we are getting closer and closer to the moment where prayer for national repentance is the only way forward?”
Allow me to explain myself.
There is another possible conclusion here. We are not thinking the right thoughts to prompt us to the right actions through righteous prayer. That would also explain why “thoughts and prayers” have not resulted in an end to mass shootings.
We think too highly of ourselves. An underlying assumption to all the discussion about mass shootings goes around the idea that if there were the right controls and legislation, shootings wouldn’t happen. Cain killed his brother with a very low tech weapon. It’s part of our fallen nature. Jesus said that it is not just murder that is sin, but that which is just as much murder as murder itself—anger. My “losing it” at a poor clerk who has to inform me that a flight has been cancelled is just as sinful as the grabbing of an automated weapon to murder her. Both are reprehensible in the sight of a holy God. We must, therefore, spend our lives working on ways to govern life in this fallen world as to preserve life knowing full well that no matter what degree of deterrents are put in place, we have murderous hearts inside of us. We quarrel and fight, and that in due time arises to murder. Whether it’s flipping the middle finger at the guy who cut you off (perhaps by accident) or by pushing him off the bridge with your car. This does not mean that we should not pursue deterrents and that we should not have vigorous discussion about what deterrents have the potential to save the most lives. We just can’t leave the discussion at that, thinking that legislation can change the human heart.
We don’t really pray. When people say, “You are in my thoughts and prayers,” most likely they walk away and never pray for you. Why do I say that? Because I’m a judgmental jerk? Not entirely. Because I know my weakness. I have to have lists of things I’m praying for because otherwise I’ll forget about them. I’m a weak human with a weak mind. I need lots of reminders. My prayers are often derailed by the smallest distractions. And that’s for the stuff I’m aware I need to be praying for. I wasn’t praying for Broward County, Florida, yesterday, or the day before, or even when I was working in Ft. Lauderdale several years ago, or when I was driving around the county looking for a wheelchair for my grandmother. I’m not that good of a person. And I’m a finite person.
We have this “I’m in the doghouse, save me,” theology of prayer. We pray when we are in trouble. We don’t seem to really be much for prayer when things are going well. A few years ago, our van started shaking up to about 50 mph. I remember that I had never been more aware in my life about the wonder of God allowing such a machine to move one revolution of the tires. I remember the wonder of praying and giving thanks for every rotation of the tires. All of a sudden, every mile was filled with miracles. Were the miracles not there before? I was just foolish to suppress my acknowledgement of them and my thanksgiving for them. When my mechanic fixed it, it didn’t take long for things to go back to the way they were before. Soon enough I wasn’t thanking God for holding this thing together when performing miraculous trips down I-70. We must have a more expansive theology of prayer.
If we don’t get what we want, we conclude that prayer does not work. What do you want? Do you want people to stop shooting others? I suspect yes. Have you given thanks for the family who welcomed this broken human being who held the gun in this incident? They welcomed this troubled young man after he lost even his mother. Have you considered praying for them? I can’t quite relate to the type of hurt they may be going through right now. Do you want peace and harmony? Do you want safety? Do you want to be able to send your child to school and not feel like your treasure could be snatched away from you at any moment?
What do you want?
I want people to be convicted of their sin, to repent of it, and to turn to the Lord. We are all murderers, or do you presume to tell me that you have never sinned against anyone in your anger? I once had a terrible manager. This man was worse than the pointed-hair boss from Dilbert. My wife was in terrible pain, and he demanded that I be in his office immediately regardless of the difficult time we were going through. That day I had a clear choice. Would I look at this man and do what my flesh wanted? Would I murder this man in my heart and see my every subsequent day destroyed and tainted by my hatred and the grudges I was holding against him? Or would I pray for this man, as Jesus taught me to do? Would I pray for this man and bless him? Not just say a blessing upon him but actually bless him? Do my best work for him? Treat him with utmost respect? This changed my heart about him over time. I can look at him in the eye now and have no hatred of him. That was not ME, that was the work of God in me. Imagine the implications of national repentance! Imagine if our sad divisions do indeed cease. You are right about something, platitudes, empty thinking, and pretend prayers won’t get us there. But prayers of repentance, prayers that push aside the sin that has eaten away so much good from our lives, families, homes, neighborhoods, schools, places of business, churches, cities, states…
I want people who seek God’s wisdom and guidance for all of life. What is God’s best for us to discern for how to best protect life this side of eternity? How do we genuinely care for those in the fringes? How do we care for those with depression and anxiety? How do we care for those who return from serving this nation with profound brokenness? How do we care for those struggling with mental illnesses? How do we care for the practical orphans raised in this culture of broken promises and broken families?
I want us to understand that there is a gospel that is more powerful than behavior modification. If we seek to change our behavior, sooner or later we will crack, and our final lash will be worse than any of the little lashes. Only the gospel has the power to arrest our mind, our soul, our heart, our lives, and to push us upward through the process. Have you ever genuinely been in a true Christian community? If God has gifted you with that privilege you will know what I’m talking about. There is a mingling of souls that could never come together apart from the Spirit of God rescuing them from their filth and binding them together into the image of Christ.
America, we can mourn together. We can grow together. We can understand one another. We can pray together. We can think together.
Think what you ask? “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8 ESV)
I’m glad you’re done with the platitude of “thoughts and prayers.”
Will you repent? Change has to start somewhere. Let it start with you.