I don’t use the phrase “thoughts and prayers” anymore. If you have been on social media in the last however many years, you know why. That phrase has been a typical and favored response to tragedy and hardship as long as I can remember, but it meets now with harsh rebukes.
I wince every time.
As a Christian for 40 years, I hold prayer sacred, even if I fall somewhat short in my own prayer life. A statement that I am thinking of you and praying for you and your situation is a polite staple of good manners. It is a benevolent expression of good will.
Some of the most vocal critics of “thoughts and prayers” hate and despise my Christian faith. Their criticism is full of venom.
The criticism is aimed at Christians, so I took it personally. I believe in prayer. I believe in the need to rely on God and turn to Him for guidance and wisdom. Just because you don’t believe in prayer doesn’t mean that prayer is an improper response for the person who believes.
At the same time, I have come to realize that I need to follow Christ instead of responding in anger. It’s taken me some years, but I have realized something about our public proclamations of “thoughts and prayers” that I hadn’t seen – maybe wasn’t willing to see – before.
We say, “thoughts and prayers”, in response to a cancer diagnosis, or a loved one’s death, or the loss of a job or other hardship or misfortune. We can say it so much, it can become barely more meaningful than wishing someone a good day. Still, it’s a proper thing to say, especially if we mean it.
School shootings and similar tragedies have taken a toll on that benevolent phrase. Our public statements of “thoughts and prayers” have been exposed as hollow sentiments be people who urge gun control. That some people who are quick to offer “thoughts and prayers” are just as quick to shoot down discussions of smarter and more effective gun control smacks of hypocrisy.
I have bristled at the implied criticism. I don’t own guns. I don’t own a FOID card. I am not a gun enthusiast. I am ambivalent on the 2nd Amendment, but I am not (have not been) sure of the right way to go about dealing with the mass shooting phenomenon in our country.
Social media is like a scatter bomb, not a surgical strike. It lends itself to blasting everyone in the direction aimed. Memes are the epitome of mindless criticism. Perhaps, that’s why I bristle so much. It’s so unproductive!
A perfectly good and proper response has been turned into a meme by a meme!
On the other hand, I have come to realize that my feeling of being personally affronted has led me into the very error that I bristle against. Overgeneralizing and failing to deal with nuance is the bane of social media and modern society, and I am also susceptible to it.
Platitudes do wear thin. In the aftermath of another wanton mass shooting that took the lives of 19 fourth graders and their 2 teachers, platitudes ring especially hollow. How many times can we say, “thoughts and prayers”, about a clear problem we have in our country that does not happen with the same frequency in any other developed country in the world?
When will we gain the will to do something about it? Do we care to do anything about it? We have to care, but what do we do?
Frequent targeted shootings in cities like Chicago and other major cities throughout the United States is another problem. Other countries have gun problems, but, no country in the world experiences the wanton mass shootings we do. Not one. And the targeted shootings would be much less frequent if guns were not as available.
It’s a societal problem. Thoughts and prayers can be a cop out for not having the will or intention to do anything. Something clearly needs to be done about this problem!
For the first time in the last few days I realized that platitudes are not just criticized by nonbelievers, but by believers with good faith. In fact, Scripture has something to say about the very issue:
“If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it does not have works, is dead by itself…. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”James 2:15-17, 26 CSB
We can’t just say, “thoughts and prayers”, and go on about our lives as usual. This is a problem that must be addressed. How many more 4th graders and teachers need to die?
There have been 118 school shootings since the Parkland shooting in 2018! Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We can’t just say that anymore if we don’t get serious about doing something about the problem. Show me your faith by doing something!
The problem is: what do we do?
Part of the problem is that we don’t agree on what the problem is. Guns are at the center of it, but what is the solution? Christians know it is a sin problem. Many people feel it’s a mental health problem. Many people feel it is a problem caused by the breakdown of the nuclear family, moral decline, violent video games, dehumanizing social media, increasing isolation, polarizing rhetoric in social media, the cancel culture, and a host of things.
I agree with people that the problem is not just guns. The problem may have many and varied causes, including the push to remove God from public discourse and a societal failure to nurture our boys and young men.
The adage that guns don’t kill people is true, but bad people with guns do kill people – a lot of people.
I strongly believe that gun control isn’t ultimately the solution to this uniquely American problem. Our American society is sick, deadly sick. We need to get to a diagnosis and develop a plan for intervention and treatment.
In the meantime, though, the sickness in our society is the most compelling reason for gun control. We need to keep people alive long enough to treat them.
The solution isn’t gun control or something else. The solution is both/and. We desperately need gun control, and we desperately need to get to the root causes of boys and young men shooting up schools.
My fellow Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ, take to heart what James, the brother of our Lord said. We can’t give people only our thoughts and prayers. We need to join together with people of good will who keep guns out of the hands of bad people.
If you trust God, can you trust Him to protect you with less access to guns? If you believe that God is sovereign and that no authority is established but by God, can you trust God in a nation that has greater gun control?
I know that good people follow the laws, and bad people don’t, but we need laws anyway. We don’t just through up our hands and say, “Oh well! There’s nothing we can do.”
People who have prayed, marched, and fought for laws against abortion should know better. It’s hypocrisy to be pro-life on abortion and anti-gun control a country that has a continual problem with boys and young men shooting up school kids.
Please join me in repenting for being callous and non-responsive to the gun problem we have in our country. I WILL think AND pray, but I am not just going to stop with “thoughts and prayers”. Thoughts and prayers without action are platitudes.
I am not just going to respond publicly with thoughts and prayers. What does that do? Does it signal that I am a good person? Maybe it’s just all we know how to do in the moment, but it’s not enough to say it and do nothing.
“[F]aith, if it does not have works, is dead.” Jesus said we know a tree by its fruit. Our faith should produce fruit. We can’t pass by the man lying in a pool of his own blood by the side of the road and love our neighbor. We need to love our neighbors by doing something to help them. We need to love our children in this country by protecting them.