In the wake of Vegas shooting, prayers still matter

So I hear that Jimmy Kimmel doesn’t want our prayers.

Well, not exactly. But he did, in a very emotional monologue, decry politicians who offered their “insufficient” prayers, saying they should instead pray for forgiveness regarding their inaction on gun control.

One one level, I understand his frustration. Las Vegas is his home town. I know from my Columbine experience that when attacks hit close to home, the horror becomes more real. It feels personal.  And Kimmel, like the rest of us, wants to do something, to keep this from ever happening again.

My purpose here isn’t to wade into the gun debate. Rather, I want look at the prayer side of Kimmel’s monologue.  Because I suspect many of us are feeling the same way.  “Our prayers don’t seem to be helping.”

But are they?  Is prayer just another failed tactic?  If we are asking “Have our prayers stopped the violence?” then obviously they haven’t.  It continues.

But making that the only gauge of “successful” prayer misses the point of who God is.

Of course, I could no more explain God and the mystery of suffering than I could manufacture a mountain range.  But I do know what God has revealed about Himself to us in Scripture.

I know that He hates evil.  He hates the destruction of innocent life.  And the man (or woman) who destroys innocent life will face His judgment.  But He gives us free will, which we can use for good or for evil. And ever since Adam and Eve used it to defy Him, evil has been let loose into the world.  And the God Who loves us and intervenes in human history does not always intervene to prevent it.  He in fact didn’t prevent the physical evil perpetrated against His own Son.

Why?  We can’t fully know.  His ways are above our ways. He sees this world through the lens of eternity.  We are all destined to die, whether in our beds at a ripe old age, or at a Jason Aldean concert in our prime.  It is evil for one man to take the place of God in deciding when another man should die.   But the greatest evil is not the loss of our earthly life.  It is the loss of the eternal life that God desires to share with us. His interventions into human affairs are, I suspect, most often geared toward guiding us toward our eternal destiny than toward keeping us safe and comfortable in the here and now.

Most important, I know that “all things work for good for those who love Him, and walk according to His ways.”  All things.  Even the choices of evil men.  If He could use Roman executioners to bring about our salvation, He can bring good from any evil.

Have our prayers been answered?  Yes, even if we can’t know the extent. Has He thwarted other attacks?  Has His hand of protection minimized the casualties?  And, more important, have our prayers impacted the eternal fate of those whose lives were lost?

I know we see His love in action in the heroism of first responders and others on the scene.  We see it in the outpouring of love and support from a grieving world.  And we know that He is with us as we grieve, and as we search for solutions.

God isn’t a god who protects us from every evil that could befall us in this life.  He is the God of all consolation — the God who knows suffering because He suffered, who walks with us in our suffering, and works it all for the greatest good, our eternal salvation.

So in this situation, like all others, we need to act.  We need to work toward effective ways of protecting innocent human life.  But as we do that, we also need to pray.  Earnestly and consistently.

All of us.  Even politicians.

Even Jimmy Kimmel.

Featured image by Drew Angerer | Getty Images

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.