There are really no words. How can we respond to the constant parade of tragedies, marching past us in a long line of victims’ photos on the news? The horror and pain I feel is nothing compared to what the survivors and the victims’ families must be feeling.
As is the President’s duty, Obama spoke Thursday night, voicing his sorrow and frustration over the tragedy, and calling for more gun control to prevent future tragedies. My conservative friends were immediately in an uproar over Obama politicizing this and using it to push his agenda. I am not here to speak about gun control today however. I would like to instead address another comment I saw. One person in particular (that I am aware of, there may be others) was outraged by Obama saying that prayer is not enough. In this person’s opinion, how dare Obama minimize prayer, something so crucial to Christianity? What else can we do but pray to God in the face of such evil? In this person’s mind, evil is too great for us to overcome, so ALL we can do is pray.
I have to say that I both agree and disagree with this person. Yes, evil is too great. Our world is full of evil. Humans have a predisposition to do horrible things to one another. That is not going to change. But we can do so much more than simply pray. There are two kinds of evil. The first is the obvious kind, those people who steal, rape, murder, the people who commit evil deeds. But the second kind is sneakier, it’s harder to see. It is found in those who witness evil but do nothing. It is those who see children starving, but claim their parents must earn food to save them. It is those who see people dying of disease, but claim they do not have a right to life saving medicine. It is those who see a victim of rape, and claim she or he deserved it. It is those who see people being gunned down in school or church, and claim the right to carry a gun without restrictions is more important than preventing future tragedies.
Evil is not always the sin of wrong action. Often it is the sin of inaction.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. The two are divided, and the sheep are welcomed into glory, while the goats are sent away to punishment. Why? Was it because they are thieves and murderers? No. Jesus says it was because “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me” (NIV, v. 42-43). When they ask when they saw him like this, he responds, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (NIV, v. 45). Now I know that it is common to hear in the Protestant church that we cannot be saved by good works, and I am not saying that we can be. But I am saying that when we come to know Christ, we should allow ourselves to be filled with God’s compassion for the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast, the persecuted. In other words, we should feel compassion for all those people whom our society tells us to look down upon. To know God is to know God’s love, and to desire to spread that love to all people on earth.
When we say that evil is too great, that we cannot possibly defeat it here on earth, so all we can do is pray and place our hope in the future Kindom of God, we are allowing evil to win. We are called to pray, but we are also called to act. To pray to God without acting or to act in the name of Christ without praying, both are useless, meaningless.
Action can take many forms. It could mean going out into the world to provide for those who have nothing, and it can also mean facing the government to bring an end to unjust laws and systems that keep people in suffering. When someone prays for healing, is not another person providing medicine an answer to that prayer? When someone prays that the unjust system be brought down, isn’t it an answer to their prayer when a person with power uses it to bring justice? We are surrounded by evil, but we cannot simply give up on this world.
When you see injustice and violence and your stomach roils with anger or your face gets heated or your hands shake, that is God calling you to action.
That is God calling you to be an answer to another person’s prayers.