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.

People pray at a vigil on November 6, after a mass shooting that killed 26 people in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, 2017. A gunman wearing all black armed with an assault rifle opened fire on a small-town Texas church during Sunday morning services, killing 26 people and wounding 20 more in the last mass shooting to shock the United States.

By Joshua Charles Published on November 7, 2017

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.”

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.

Alone among the gods, Jesus has blazed a path for all mankind that shows that even in the deepest suffering and injustice, redemption and life have the last word.

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.”

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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.

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  • KC

    AMEN

  • Howard Rosenbaum

    Right. No one need discount the empathy many have experienced in the wake of recent horrific attacks on innocents. Ms Sirtis who is best noted for her near iconic Star Trek : The Next Generation role of Deanna Troi, the ships empath would do well to employ a bit more of that character in her appraisal of the response both sincere or otherwise so common in the face of tragedy. Yet, she does have as might be implied by Mr Charles a valid consideration not to be completely trashed by those who are offering up their “thoughts & prayers” in these situations. The “problem of evil” not w/standing. Sure, Ms Sirtis is simply expressing an exasperation at what appears to her to be an inconsequential response to the evil seemingly unleashed upon our nation in recent days. Sure, she probably prefers those thoughts & prayers were rather rants promoting the much politicized gun control platform the left is so fond of these days. However, how many of us proffer the sentiment but not the commitment where our “thoughts & prayers are concerned ..?
    It seems to me that , at least where some ( many ? ) believers are concerned those words are more a salve for their conscience than a legitimate God inspired moment of consecration. Hey, I’m not even implying that we , especially believers shouldn’t experience a measure of grief & indignation at these kind of things. I’m just suggesting that maybe we should be more conscientious w/our use of the word prayer in these contexts. We might find ourselves cheapening that holy concept before the One who actually hears & answers them ….?!

    • BroFrank

      The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10). Fear Him now, or fear Him, in a much worst condition, later (Matt.10:28). This is the most dangerous aspect of such communication: being certain that we are on God’s side. This was what the apostle Paul, who once persecuted Christians, and Peter (who denied Christ)—were constantly aware of: the danger of finding ourselves on the other side of the line in a crisis. “And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the [exterior] defiled by the flesh.” (Jude 1:22-23).

  • Bob Adome

    Beginning with Wheaton and now Sirtis. No surprise there! We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes. — Gene Roddenberry, Free Inquiry (autumn, 1992) Creator of Star Trek.

    • Hannah

      The entire premise of the show is how Communism might work were it not for man’s fallen nature. Don’t get me wrong, I love TNG with all my heart, but I’m still grieved that Sirtis would be so callous and cruel.

      In Wheaton’s defense, he tweeted an apology to “the people with real and actual faith,” saying he was simply angry at Ryan for using religion to hide behind, but he (Wheaton) didn’t mean to attack those who were actually religious. Here’s hoping Sirtis takes a page from Will’s book in this regard.

    • Dean Bruckner

      Don’t forget Whoopi Goldberg, like Majel Barrett placed in the position of sages to spout Progressive theories.

      Of all the exalted characters in STNG (Star Trek Next Generation), one of the most human was “Q” played by Jon de Lancie. I see him as kind of Bob Weinstein–not the worst of the lot like Harvey, but not the best either–with many human foibles.

  • m-nj

    i always disliked here character on Star Trek… a typical psychobabbler… all the moreso now.

    • Dean Bruckner

      And her mom character–played by Gene Roddenberry’s widow Majel Barrett who also voiced the Enterprise computer and the original series character nurse Chapel–was insufferable.

  • Linda

    Beautifully written, and especially by someone as young as you appear to be Joshua. However, try not to be offended at such comments by the lost, because I can assure you that many believers who were not raised in the church and came to faith as adults made similar and worse comments in the years, months, weeks and days before we encountered Jesus Christ, and then we repented. I can say from my own experience, that this woman could make such statements this week and next week she might be praying to the Lord herself! C.S. Lewis was hostile and mocking of Christians up until a short time before his conversion.

    • Josh Charles

      Good advice! Thank you for the kind words.

  • cestusdei

    Not a surprise. Troy always played god. She doesn’t like competition from the real one.

  • James

    People are not attacking literal thoughts and literal prayers. They are attacking the phrase “thoughts and prayers” when used by public figures who refuse to take action to prevent things like this.

    1. Mass shootings happen with disturbing regularity in the United States.
    2. Mass shootings happen far less often in other countries.
    3. Politicians in the United States refuse to take the same steps that other countries have taken to prevent mass shootings.
    4. Even if they believe that the steps other countries have taken are not justified or are too much of an infringement on our freedom, they are too cowardly to say it in public.
    5. Therefore, when they say they are “sending thoughts and prayers”, this is a statement not of mourning, but of cowardice.
    6. Such cowardice is being attacked, as it should be.

    Cowardice disguised as a prayer is still cowardice.

    • Gail Finke

      Some people are doing what you say. But others, such as the actress whose tweet is shown above, are NOT. They are clearly and plainly mocking prayer. I have seen this myself, in my own social media accounts, and from people I know. They are mocking Christians and others for praying at all.

    • AndRebecca

      People who think politics are the answer and not God, attack prayers. Mass murders happen all over the world, and the world is very violent in other ways. Evil people in the U.S. can afford to buy guns and use them for bad ends. Politicians in the U.S., at least enough of them, understand the 2nd Amendment is a right for a reason. And, they know that there are enough laws on the books if followed, would prevent many of the killers from getting guns. Our crime rate has gone up over the years as Christianity has been eliminated in the schools. The politicians for gun rights say so all the time, try listening. Christians believe even bad things happen for a reason, and we may not know what is. And, you believe taking away the rights of Americans would solve this problem, and Christians know better. We’ve fought too many bad guys around the world to think like you. I’ll say a prayer for you.

  • Sure, prayer works. It makes the person praying feel better … which, when you think about it, is counterproductive. Being anxious about bad things in our community can drive us to action. To make it not happen again. To help out those who are suffering.

    Prayer defuses than anxiety–good for the person but not so good when absolutely nothing has been done to address the problem.

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