“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Fourteen more people have died because of gun violence this year. Another mass shooting. There have been more mass shooting than days in the year. Naturally, people were horrified by the tragedy, and naturally, the debate surrounding gun violence sprang up. There will be those who think that we are too quick to polities these horrific events. And, if it were not so common they would have a point. However, when there is a shooting every. single. day. it means we’ve probably put off the politicization of the conversation for too long.
It’s clear the public has had enough of the violence. People are tired of being terrified by those who bring terror into our schools, our malls, and our public squares. For all the talk of security by American politicians, people aren’t feeling secure.
So when public Christians who are staunch supporters of gun rights started offering their “thoughts and prayers” toward the victims of San Bernardino people responded angrily to what they heard as empty words.
Criticism of those prayers was met with its own criticism. “Why shouldn’t we pray,” they argued. “The reason we have this mess is because the lack of godly fear! Our only recourse is prayer,” went the argument. Mere hours after we heard about the tragedy we lost sight of those we were praying for as we battled over the rightness of prayer.
As a pastor, I am all for praying. Hit your knees, light a candle, sit in silence, hold a rosary, fold your hands. Pray. But don’t miss out on the criticism.
There are times in which Christians are rightly criticized for not acting. The pagan sailers were right to criticize Jonah for not caring for their well being. His self-centered ambivalence needed to be called out. Pride hinders our ability to hear when we are rightly criticized. Spiritual self-righteousness, feeling like we are can’t be criticized by those who have no faith because they don’t understand the teachings of Jesus, is the exact opposite of the posture of humility we should take. We, like Jonah, need to be criticized for our ambivalence and lack of action.
Let me be clear, we should absolutely pray for the victims of the shooting in San Bernardino. But let’s also be clear: people aren’t angry about the prayers because they are against prayer. They are angry about the prayers because against the backdrop of inaction they are simply the empty words of a dead faith. They are rightly understanding, maybe intuitively, that prayer without action, the cry for heaven’s will to be done on earth while not aligning our actions with the will of heaven is hypocrisy.
James says it like this, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
If we only offer prayers but do not take action when we have the ability to act and answer the prayers we are praying, our faith is dead. And we have to ask ourselves, with at least a modicum of honesty, that if we can take steps to address an obvious problem and don’t take action but simply pray about it, do we really want it solved?
I am actually afraid of that answer.