What does prayer look like in the aftermath of mass shootings? First, let me share some traditional petitionary prayers that are often prayed after such incidents:

  • “I pray for the victims, families, and first responders.”

  • “God, be with the families of those shooting victims.”

  • “Pour out your grace on the surviving family members.”

  • “Comfort and heal their wounded hearts.”

  • “Rid the nation of violence.”

  • “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring further disaster on your people.” (Exodus 32:12)

What beautiful-sounding prayers! (Well, perhaps the last one could use a little adjustment.) They come from passionate, well-meaning people of faith. But while they are meaningful in one sense, are they effective? Are they in line with the character of God’s uncontrolling love? Do they make a good God look bad? Do they take into consideration other agencies, such as free will or the laws of nature?

Let’s look at the first stand-alone prayer: “I pray for the victims, families, and first responders.” It is very common for people to say, “I pray,” and then mention the person or circumstance and leave it at that. But saying the words “I pray” doesn’t mean anything. The phrase has no magical power. I used to pray like that, too. “Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for my dad and my brother.” “I pray for my school test tomorrow.” “I pray for all the hurting victims of that heinous crime.” Although God is gracious enough to look at the heart and can consider such prayers, there are more effective ways to pray.

Let’s look at the prayers, “God, be with the families of those shooting victims,” “Pour out your grace on the surviving family members,” and, “Comfort and heal their wounded hearts.” Those who use the conspiring prayer model and believe God is love, already know God is with those families. They trust that God, in his loving character, comforts and heals wounded hearts to the degree he is able while respecting their free will. God grieves along with the devastated families. God’s grace has been poured out in their lives and is instantly available to them in even greater measure if they choose to open the doors of their hearts to him.

We can share our desires for hurting loved ones with God to experience more of his presence, grace, and comfort, knowing full well God wants them to experience more of those things too. Or we can pray without trusting in the goodness of God, thinking that in order for them to experience more of his presence, grace, and comfort, we need to pray fervently, beg, and convince God to provide more of those things.

Now, we will turn to the prayers, “God rid the nation of violence,” and, “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring further disaster on your people.” First, we have no need to convince God to rid the nation of violence. God hates violence. The psalmist says, “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion” (Psalm 11:5 NLT). Although I think the psalmist was a little over the top and I don’t think God hates the person, I do think God hates violence with a passion. Violence is sin, and sin ruptures, fractures, wounds, distorts, and numbs our relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others.

Second, God does everything he can to rid the world of violence, but his uncontrolling love keeps him from intervening in every instance of violence. The people who do not listen to God or obey God’s loving directives are responsible for the violence that we see. Mass shootings were committed by people who said, “No!” to God’s whispers to love, honor, and protect other human beings.

Third, the writer of Exodus who penned, “Relent and do not bring further disaster on your people,” had an inaccurate portrait of God. He assumed that it was God who brings “disaster” and violence upon people. If we took the writer’s portrayal of God and put it through the lens of God’s Love, we could conjecture that that writer was culturally conditioned. His version of God, like many versions of God in his time period, consisted of a God who used violence to punish sin. Love is kind and seeks to protect. Love does not commit violence.

The current doomsday preachers and angry prophetic teachers who look at violence, especially on a mass scale, and say that it is due to God’s will, need to hang out with Jesus more often. It is one thing to pray like Habakkuk—“How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2)—because we don’t understand where God is in the midst of our suffering. It is another to blame God for that suffering. The world in which we live is a world where God is not in control and where people have free will. A loving God would not coerce someone, let alone coerce them to shoot others. Jesus loved all people, including his enemies.

Petitionary prayers that hope God will unilaterally root out societal ills and heal our nation of ‘isms’ and violence are by nature magical and superstitious. God has an open-door policy. God can’t root out racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence in hearts that refuse to let him in. We must take seriously our role as free agents in the world. Therefore, “You do it, God” types of prayers will never be as transformative as “How can we do it, God?” types of prayers.

Since God is always loving to his greatest ability in every moment while valuing free will, praying to God that he would comfort and pour out his grace on hurting others is like asking my wife to do the dishes while she is in the middle of doing the dishes. It is better to ask God, “How can I join you in extending your comfort and grace to them?” just as it is better to ask my wife, “Hey, honey, can I help you with that?”

Here is a prayer that can be offered after a mass shooting that keeps in mind God’s uncontrolling, loving character and human free will:

God, we praise you for being good.
Thank you for being intimately close to the families of the victims of this horrific shooting.
We know you are grieved and mourn with us.
We are aware you are angry that this has happened again.
Heavenly, Earthly, Motherly Father, we need this violence to stop, now.
It tears our communities and this world apart.
It breaks our hearts and we know it breaks yours.
We thank you that you comfort and mend the families’ broken hearts to the extent that you are able.
We hope that the families accept your love and experience
your tenderness toward them in this painful time.
Faithful God, what can we do together to stop this madness,
or, at the very least, to help these families experience your tangible love?
We don’t want to be passive bystanders.
We want to be Spirit-led, active adventurers, paving the way for justice, peace, and healing.
God, we attune our hearts’ ears to your voice at this moment.
What is it that you would have us do as your hands and your feet
so that your empire of love can reign in this hour?
Amen.

Adaped from my book Divine Echoes: Reconciling Prayer with the Uncontrolling Love of God, (Quoir, 2018)

You can find it on Amazon here: Divine Echoes

2018-02-15T23:27:01+00:00

DIVINE ECHOES

“People who intentionally set aside time to prayerfully listen and conspire with God, humbly opening themselves up to receive God’s wavelengths of love, and creatively and subversively reverberate them out to the world around them.”