The Weird Attack on ‘Thoughts and Prayers’
On behalf of our brothers and sisters in Texas, Jesus will continue to receive the thoughts and prayers of all His people.
I went to bed last night, still in shock and grief over the shooting in Texas. But also over something else — the apparent hatred among many for prayer, and those who deem it unworthy in times such as these.
One example, among the many that are out there, comes from Marina Sirtis, who played Deana Troy in Star Trek: The Next Generation (of which I am a big fan): “To all those asking for thoughts and prayers for the victims in #churchshooting, it seems that your direct line to God is not working.”
To all those asking for thoughts and prayers for the victims in #churchshooting , it seems that your direct line to God is not working.
— Marina Sirtis (@Marina_Sirtis) November 6, 2017
Anyone with the slightest awareness of the deep theologies around prayer and suffering in all religious traditions, let alone the Judeo-Christian one, can’t but recoil at such ignorance. It seems to go even deeper than ignorance. I can’t interpret it as anything other than hatred. This woman, whose acting I have loved since I was a kid, is mocking people.
We know that many people in Sutherland, Texas, many people at the scene of that shooting, have already asked for thoughts and prayers. They themselves are offering them. Yet even then, Siritis can’t contain her disgust for what must appear to her as unsophisticated, religious nonsense.
Would she say this to the face of those who have experienced the brunt of this tragedy? Of course not. But is that not the great mask which social media has allowed so many to don — the mask of cowardice, and contempt, which we can now wear with no consequences?
The Evil of Man
I am not a theologian, but I have a few thoughts on why the Judeo-Christian tradition of prayer, as well as its meditations on suffering over millennia, have far more to offer people than the surly insults of Sirtis and others. Their hatred and disgust pales in comparison to that which they mock.
A friend recently asked me “How can you explain such evil?”
I showed them a picture of the crucified Jesus. That is my answer.
I can’t fully explain evil. Whatever I can explain is but a pittance of all that cries for explanation. It is a great and enduring mystery, one recognized by virtually all the theologians of the Judeo-Christian tradition for thousands of years.
I had to face this vexing problem as a younger man. At 19, I traveled to Poland, where I experienced a Nazi extermination camp. A pile of gray dirt nearly 20 feet tall greeted me at its entrance. I quickly found out that the “dirt” was human ashes. I walked through a gas chamber, still stained with the blue of Zyklon B, the pesticide intended to kill insects which the Nazis used to murder human beings.
I went to the crematorium, where the mortal remains of hundreds of thousands were burned until all that remained was the gray “dirt.” Some were burned while still alive. “Ashes to ashes—dust to dust.” As I have frequently observed since that visit, I can understand people leaving such a place and doubting the goodness of God. What I found impossible was leaving it and doubting the evil of man.
The God Who Suffered With Us
So what is the answer?
I know of no other but the cross. As a source of comfort? Consolation? Redemption? Yes to all of these. But I mean something else as well.
When all the arguments, syllogisms, logic, and rationales have been exhausted, there remains this stunning fact — the God of the Bible, Jesus the Christ, suffered and died. The holiest, most righteous, most virtuous, kindest, gentlest man who had ever lived willingly came to live among us, and voluntarily submitted himself to a horrific and unjust execution.
The book of Wisdom, quoting evil men, prophesied his death: “With violence and torture let us put him to the test … Let us condemn him to a shameful death.” The book of Isaiah prophesied: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
God did not remain in heaven. He joined us in the pain and anguish of human existence.
I know only one God who suffered with us, and when I invariably come up short on answers, explanations, and arguments for the existence of suffering and evil, I am left with that one and only God who suffered with His creation — unique among the annals of man’s many gods.
His name is Jesus.
The Final Word
Only He has deigned to enter into His creation. Only He has entered into our sufferings, even unto death. In Him alone do we see the God of Justice willingly submit to injustice on our behalf. To this day, despite all the disunity that reigns among His followers, His universal symbol remains the Roman tree on which He died the death of the disgraced and the damned.
Alone among the gods, He has blazed a path for all mankind that shows that even in the deepest suffering and injustice, redemption and life have the last word. God Himself did this. Seated in Heaven as we speak, Jesus’ hands remain pierced. In the throne room of God, He is “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain,” as the book of Revelation tells us. The God of Glory retains His wounds.
I know of no answer under heaven to the mysteries of evil and suffering that can compare. Politics will have its time and its place. But in the aftermath of tragedy, politics is powerless to minister to this abyss of the soul. Only the cross of the God who suffers with us can do that.
And that is why, on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Texas, Jesus will continue to receive the thoughts and prayers of all His people, reminding them again that suffering and death are for but a moment. The final word is His.