The following is one believer’s response to gun violence in the United States. I speak for no one else, and I claim no authority other than my own conscience and compelling desire to be a lover of God and a helpful citizen.
It is safe to assume that everyone reading this article wants gun violence in this country (and every country) to end. Now. Quite certainly, those reading this post will espouse a wide variety of ideas about what a workable remedy might be. Along with strong opinions about potential solutions, we furthermore possess powerful convictions about what we feel is not the solution. Unfortunately, we spend the lions’ share of our time judging one another, shouting at each other, posting pointed opinions about other views, blaming “the other side,” and calling each other names. That is not the answer to anything God-honoring and good and, deep down, we all know it!
In this little post, we’re not getting into public policy or law. Those discussions are for different people groupings in other places and future times.
Instead, this article is addressing all believers in God who have compassion in our hearts and who want to see human suffering end. Not just gunshot suffering, but all suffering. These lines are written and posted humbly with fear and trembling for all who want to be peacemakers, regardless of our stances on gun control or lack of it.
Please hear me out.
It is important for you to hear that, although I am an ordained minister, I do not claim to hold any exclusive or special knowledge regarding the subject of prayer. I can’t remember a time in my life when I have not prayed. Unfortunately at times, I am less serious about prayer than in other chapters of life, but prayer has always been a central component in my daily faith and spiritual routine. I have long held the holy hunch that prayer, though it is somewhat easy to “produce” (just ask God for what you want, right?), it is also surrounded, immersed, and engulfed in mystery.
Yes, mystery. For those of us who have to have a concrete answer and proof text for everything, the concept of mystery is not easily embraced.
Why is it that more than a thousand God-honoring people can pray fervently for months for a very simple, easy outcome, and it does not happen while, at the same time, only three kids with no faith base, under temporary panic, spout off a frantic prayer for deliverance, and consequently a scientific miracle occurs? Why is it that one person, heavily prayed for, dies of cancer and another less prayed for soul lives for thirty more years? Why does a group of senior citizens on a gambling outing flip their auto end-over-end three times, walking away from the scene and reporting an angel in their car, while a 17-year-old boy headed towards a career in ministry innocently leans his SUV six inches over a center stripe and hits a car head-on, instantly killing both drivers?
Otherwise good churches sometimes inadvertently foster terrible thinking when they call upon their congregations to “pray hard” for a certain outcome, as if we can get enough people to storm God’s throne and collectively put God in a headlock to get what we think we want and need at the time. One well-meaning preacher, at least I hope he was well-meaning, a couple of decades ago actually told the congregation that when God’s prescription for prayer is precisely followed, “then God is obligated to answer your prayer in a way that will bless you.” Oh really? Obligated, you say? Talk about radical fundamentalism! Any thinking person knows better than to assume we can corner the Almighty, putting God in a bind to make good on the Divine Word.
Having said all of that, may we ask some simple questions about violence and terrorism?
At the break of every day, when you are engaging in your early morning prayers, how often have you humbly asked God specifically to deliver us all from evil in that coming day? Have we begun every day with an earnest and heartfelt plea to the Almighty asking that we be spared another burst of violence in this country for that one day … a sort of manna of peace for that one 24-hour period? Sure, we all pray for our country and our world, and we all desire peace. Do we want it badly enough to commit it to prayer at the dawn of each new day? If we can’t do that all year long (and I believe we can!), perhaps we could at least accomplish it during the Second Week of Advent, the Week of Peace beginning this Sunday.
We all say we long for violence and terrorism to end. Is that longing translated into regular, fervent, sincere praying, or is it a “half-hearted longing” more evidenced in our Facebook verbiage, polarizing, side-taking shares, likes, comments, and judgmental conversations about “the other side”?
Brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grandparents and friends, if every breath does not long for that peace, then you and I are not doing all we can to end the violence … and we have no right to point fingers of blame at others for what we are now experiencing. And, if we do pray as we should, something tells me that all the judgmentalism will go away.
Yes, there is great mystery surrounding the “outcome” or “results” of prayer. One thing I believe I can say with authority, however: the discipline of prayer has much more to do with changing our own hearts and much less with changing the mind of God than we might have thought.
Even if, despite our prayers, evil still wins other battles and innocent people are gunned down again on future days, we can easily alter our prayers to include the reality of the situation and pray for the victims, their families, our nation, and yes … swallow hard … even those who do the killing. Jesus tells us to do so.
I am calling for God-loving people everywhere: young, old, middle-aged, rich, poor, educated, untrained, straight, gay, undecided, people of all colors and cultures, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and even agnostics with open minds to pray in our own ways for peace and an end to violence in our shared world. When that happens, I believe the God Who many of us have come to know and love will figure out a way to draw all people the table for God’s sake and for our common blessing. After all, one of the names of Jesus is Prince of Peace.
Only God knows what a world covered over in loving prayer might do to the end violence – particularly when it appears that nothing else is getting the job done. Part of the mystery of prayer is that we have no way of knowing what kind of power that persistent praying might have to disuade people from following the evil opportunities they see and act upon. There’s no telling what disasters might be averted if we care enough to pray … at the break of every day.