“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer.”
― C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
With the most recent tragedies, I have noticed an increased attack on anyone offering their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims. Accusations abound how “thoughts and prayers” are useless; after all, we need people of action! The implication being that thought and prayer are not sufficient action, nor are you doing anything else besides offering them. The second implication may or may not be true. It begs the questions: What action do you take when responding to tragedy? What is an appropriate response?
Action is an ambiguous term that can only be defined by each individual. There are numerous ways to respond to a tragedy, some helpful and some not so helpful, but what if the response is simply sending “thoughts and prayers?” Where does this fall in the spectrum and why is it being attacked? I believe it is a larger problem – a country who is pushing further away from God: “for all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” (Isaiah 5:25)
35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:35-40)
When tragedy happens, there are numerous responses: You can choose to be angry; you can choose to help by donating time, material, blood etc. You can shout to your political leaders to act; You can argue on social media; you can offer your thoughts and prayers; you can even do all of these things combined. Some of these responses may be helpful, some harmful, but all of them are responses that we choose. What is the best way to respond depends on so many factors, but I argue that most important must be to first offer your thoughts and prayers.
It can be easy to forget the first law, which is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Is not sending thoughts and prayers a way to recognize God? If we truly believe that there is a God in heaven, and I do, then doesn’t it make perfect sense to ask for divine help first? What is wrong with an acknowledgement that the tragedy is bigger than all of us? That we need God’s grace to help comfort those who are suffering, because we can’t do it all by ourselves? What better way to show love and appreciation for both God and our fellow man? We do this by first recognizing God and His merciful hand as our foundation. I say foundation because that is not, nor should it be, the end of action, but the beginning. Remember the second law is to love our neighbor.
What happens if circumstances dictate that I cannot donate money, because I am poor? Is it enough to say in my heart that I would give if I had? Would it be enough if instead of donating money, because I do not have, I see a neighbor who just had surgery and I mow their lawn? Is that an appropriate response to a tragedy? Is it enough?
Is it enough if a tragedy leads us to be kinder to others? How about if I simply tell someone that they are awesome? Again, is it enough? or do you want more? I believe this is the point of the Gospels and why we must first recognize God. When acts lead us to God, they lead us to be better to each other, to stop arguing with each other, to stop hating each other, and that is why I believe “thoughts and prayers” are the best response.
So, what are we really arguing about? Well, the truth is we don’t want anything to do with God. We would rather argue and be divisive, because we are angry. We don’t know how to process these things so we blame, not the evil, but God. We ask our political leaders to save us and we want to be right. No matter what, we must be right. Our side would have prevented this, if only the others would listen! So, we attack “thoughts and prayers” because we think we don’t need God, we just need us. We need our response, because it does something! Well, so does “thoughts and prayers” and which response unites and which one divides?