Do Thoughts & Prayers Matter Following a Tragedy?
The beauty of an opinion is that everyone has one and is entitled to share it. Therefore, this article, based upon biblical principles, is prompted by recent conversations and articles reflecting upon national tragedies and the relevance of faith. The topic of faith has become fodder for many critics in the past few weeks. Some state it is hypocritical for people of faith to offer ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those who are heartbroken and trying to process unimaginable grief. Hypocrisy, however, is when someone says one thing but does another. For the sake of clarification, the person who CLAIMS to pray and actually DOES pray, hypocrisy is not the accurate situational term to apply. So, why do Christians pray? Prayer, first and foremost, is an act of obedience to God and is exercised for a variety of reasons (See 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Philippians 4:6-7, Hebrews 4:16, etc.). Therefore, prayer as a response to tragedy, is a recognition and acknowledgment that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.
Thoughts and prayers are also being extended across this country from Buffalo, NY to Uvalde, TX to Tulsa, OK, and beyond as ACTS OF LOVE because hearts are broken over these tragedies. Compassion for others is a natural response to pain and suffering due to humanity’s original design. This is a biblical principle oftentimes referred to as the imago Dei principle. In Genesis 1:27, the Bible teaches that ALL persons are created in God’s image-in other words, reflecting God’s very character. This distinct difference of ‘imageness’ sets humanity apart from all other creation. Etzel et al. (2017) write, “Mankind is the representation of God to the rest of creation” (p. 79). This ‘image of God’ is evident in humanity’s intellect, ability to reason, and ability/ desire to love. Therefore, the greatest atrocity for a person of faith is to NOT be moved by the pain and suffering of others…to do nothing. The Bible clearly teaches that LOVE for one another makes Christ followers distinct from others (See John 13:34-35). Based upon this premise, it is not hypocrisy to extend ‘thoughts and prayers’ to others. On the contrary, it is an act of obedience to God and a response of love for humanity which reflects the very character of God.
Senseless acts of violence are overwhelming at times and sadly, throughout history, religion has even been used to defend atrocious and inexcusable acts. The problem facing the world today, however, is NOT the presence of faith; it is the presence of sin and evil. Recent tragedies have been reminders of this reality. This problem demands a solution, but it cannot be resolved by human means. It is much deeper than humanity is equipped to address-it deals with the heart and motives. All people have the freedom to choose to be civil…to obey laws…to be kind…to be a respecter of persons…to choose justice…to work towards unity…OR they can choose the opposite. The Bible addresses this condition, it is due to the free will of humanity. Laws established by humanity help to serve as foundations for justice but do not have the power to transform hearts and motives. They never have and never will.
In a recent opinion column for the LA Times, columnist LZ Granderson mocks responses of faith to the tragedy in Uvalde, TX. What he clearly misses is that the act of turning to faith in the midst of tragedy is evidence that humanity recognizes its need for God, that there is an insufficiency and void without Him. Yet Granderson asserts his criticism of Christians as he states, “they believe God was happier with the direction of the country” at some point in time. For clarification, God is not happy or unhappy with PERIODS of history, God is pleased with OBEDIENCE and HUMILITY. God is pleased with demonstrations of love and kindness as mentioned earlier because it is a reflection of His image and character (See Genesis 1:27). Granderson goes on to criticize people of faith as those who, “tend to talk in nostalgic Judeo-Christian generalities.” Nostalgic Judeo-Christian generalities? There is no such adage. The biblical principles Christians adhere to and aim to live by are timeless.
For everything there is a season, and this is NOT the season to question or criticize the value of faith. In actuality, it is IN the midst of tragedy that people will benefit from faith. Granderson accuses Christians as regarding tragedies through the ‘lens of God’s wrath,’ but this clearly is his misunderstanding of what the Bible has to say about pain and suffering to any degree. The world has a problem: it is broken. God’s wrath is His response to sin. God also has tremendous love for all of humanity and desires to have a relationship with every human being (see John 3:16).
According to the Bible, there are consequences for sin, it hurts people plain and simple. Sometimes, there may be tragedies that take place as a result of God’s judgment but that is not for anyone to declare or speak over any situation. What is so threatening about theology that identifies the danger of evil? Granderson states, “The needle of our moral compass is susceptible to political spin.” Granderson’s spin is quite evident in his article with nothing other than his opinion to substantiate his claims. He refutes no absolute truth. Additionally, Granderson displays a major misunderstanding-a lack of knowledge, along with a deficit of the value and strength that faith provides in the midst of tragedy. The threat of turning the national conversation to one with eternal significance is frightening for anyone who doesn’t exercise faith in God. Seeing that all have been created for a relationship with God, it is logical that when tragedy strikes, people are drawn by design to the One who is greater. Granderson writes, “We don’t need to return to the kind of faith that allowed Jim Crow laws to follow." If that is what is defined as faith, obviously Granderson’s statement is one of ignorance and a lack of what the Bible teaches in principle. Bitterness and distorted views of history and faith do nothing to comfort the grieving or unify a community.
Turning to God at any time, including in the midst of adversity or tragedy, is evidence that humanity recognizes a need that cannot be met by human means. God provides hope, peace, and comfort. Faith is not a distraction to other issues, it is the SOLUTION this country needs. Faith alone has the power to bring healing, unity, and strength. The Bible teaches very clearly that the world is broken. The Christian faith explains how that brokenness can be fixed and that is in looking to the One who is the Solution-Jesus Christ. Do thoughts and prayers matter following a tragedy? Absolutely (See 2 Chronicles 7:14).
Etzel G., et al. (2017). Teaching the world: Foundations for online theological education. B&H Academic.