As I was preparing for our Ash Wednesday service last week, I heard the news of yet another tragic massacre at a high school in Parkland Florida – this time, it was a former student who fired his AR-15 rifle, killing at least 17 students and staff. And as the horrific news spread, countless people (including my own congregation) responded with prayers for the families and all those affected.
And yet, we hear from so many that “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. Particularly over these last few years, in the wake of the increasing number of tragic acts of gun violence in the United States, people are asking for more. They are asking for action.
As Christians, we ask ourselves how God is calling us to respond to these tragic acts of violence in our country. I’m guessing that most of us have not experienced anything like this first hand; however, God calls all people of faith to respond. And while I certainly don’t have all, or even most, of the answers, here is what I do know:
First, prayer is appropriate and essential in the wake of any tragedy. Our prayers express empathy and solidarity with those suffering. More importantly, we have a powerful God who walks with those in the midst of sorrow and tragedy, and anyone who has lost a loved one or is otherwise affected by a tragedy can benefit from God’s presence and comfort. (And even though it will be very challenging, we recognize that we are all broken and we are called to pray also for those involved in the commission of these senseless acts.)
However, prayer not only asks God to act in a situation, it also asks God to create opportunities for us to act. Indeed, quite often, God acts through people – people just like us. Pope Francis was quoted as saying, “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”
So when you pray, be prepared to be one of the agents through which God will act. If you are praying for these victims and families, consider how you can personally support them and reflect God’s loving care. And if you are praying for this violence to stop; if you are praying for our kids to be safe in school, and for all people to be safe where they shop and work and recreate, then be prepared to do something about it. I suspect you can come up with other ideas, but here are a few: support gun control measures to reduce the likelihood of future incidences of this type of carnage; encourage the establishment of mental health and other community programs to address the origins of this behavior; and reach out with God’s love to people in your own social circles (and local schools) who may need positive ways to vent frustration and anger.
As God’s church, we are certainly called to pray. And then we are called to let God use us to help those prayers become reality.