When you see a mass murder unfold on the television screen or read about it online, let me tell you the single-most important and effective thing you can do in response. It also happens to be the single-most important and effective thing you can do on a sustained basis to turn the hearts of evil men, to strengthen the courage and resolve of good men and women, and to inspire the ideas and actions that bring change. You can pray.
It’s as simple as this: God is sovereign, and every good and perfect gift comes from Him. That includes changed hearts. It includes comfort that only He can provide. It includes the courage to be the “good guy with the gun” who can (and, reports suggest, yesterday did) stop a rampage in its tracks. It includes the clear mind to consider and enact policies that might make a difference.
So, yes, if you’re not praying and thinking in response to mass murders like the attack on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, your response isn’t as effective as it could be. If there’s one thing that’s clear from the spate of mass killings in the United States, it’s that we need God to move.
But don’t tell this to the angry Twitter Left. Yesterday, as Christians bled and died, the Left’s “thoughts and prayers” brigade immediately and viciously attacked those whose immediate response to the tragedy was the most effective response. I won’t bore you with all the vicious, sanctimonious tweets, but the Huffington Post has an approving roundup here. Their messages were theologically illiterate, spiteful, and ridiculously insensitive in the face of a crime so clearly directed at believing men and women.
The simple and stupid version of the argument is that “prayer doesn’t work” — either because the critic believes the God of the Bible is no more real than a Flying Spaghetti Monster or because he sees the persistence of evil as refuting the efficacy of prayer. While I disagree with atheists, my quarrel right now isn’t with their disbelief, it’s with their choosing this moment to not only mock Christians but to also display their ignorance of basic Christian theology.
You see, the presence of evil — especially the increasing presence of evil — demands a prayerful response. Scripture is full of examples of God’s people crying out to him in great distress. Jesus cried out to God in His great distress. Time and again God responds in ways that bring healing and restoration to broken people and broken nations. He always responds in some way — often not the way we ask or demand.
Even when hearts remain hardened, He can open the eyes of counselors, family members, and others to the dangers in their midst.
The more sophisticated version of the argument against “thoughts and prayers” relies on a scriptural concept itself: “faith without works is dead.” As articulated in the book of James, if you see a brother or sister hungry and poorly clothed and merely wish them well, then you’ve done them no good. They’re not against the prayers, you see. They’re against prayers unaccompanied by action.
But which actions? Progressives always respond to mass shootings with a series of proposals that wouldn’t have stopped the mass shooting. So the righteous response is signing petitions or firing off angry tweets about ineffectual public policy proposals? Early reports indicate that the Texas shooter was convicted in military court of domestic violence and couldn’t have lawfully possessed his weapons. He ignored existing gun laws.
The sad and terrifying fact is that no one has a reliable answer for evil men who want to commit mass murder. And when no one has the answers, isn’t that exactly the time to pray? If the core problem is evil lurking in the human heart, who can reach the human heart more effectively than God? Even when hearts remain hardened, He can open the eyes of counselors, family members, and others to the dangers in their midst.
There’s a bottom line here: 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.
This is a very old truth. God declared to ancient Israel, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Now is exactly the time for humility, prayer, and repentance. We don’t know what to do. But we do know our land needs healing. Twitter activists can’t do it. Neither can politicians. Angry celebrities are useless. Now is the time to appeal to heaven. In the face of great evil, we must pray.