Thoughts, Prayers, and Dunghills
Your thoughts and prayers mean nothing. And I am not being facetious. They are worthless. If I am an atheist and I hear you say to me, or anyone for that matter, that your thoughts and prayers are with me in my pain, I may learn to hate God, the idea of God, the delusion of God, and the people who associate themselves with monotheism or theism just a little more. Why? Because everyone associated with this saying, this disgraced requiem, is willing to vomit the words without any consideration for the recipient or the conditions that made the hurt and pain evident and possible, to begin with.
I am not an atheist. I am a Christian.
And I am embarrassed by some people who are connected with my faith, more so the people who use it so liberally for the wrong reasons, becoming professional incompetents for the sake of a few thousand retweets or shares. I am serious. I am so distraught by these mass shootings. I am so torn by the accelerated rate at which these shootings happen and who the victims tend to be. Whether it’s a high school, a concert in Vegas, a military base, a grocery store, or an elementary school, the victims pile up by the hundreds, their blood crying out to God and all we can say, from our positions of cultural and political influence is, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”
What have thoughts and prayers to do with the bullet-filled bodies? Bodies of little children. Of grandmothers, aunties, fathers, brothers, and the list goes on.
But I ask again.
What have thoughts and prayers to do with the avoidable mass murder of children? Of people made in the image of God?
We must tackle this question. We must wrestle with it and the implications of it when an answer to those prayers fails to produce in us and our surroundings the ambiguous answers we expect?
What are we wishing upon people when we offer them our thoughts and prayers? How long will we keep them in our thoughts? What tangible good is derived from those thoughts? Can thoughts feed the hungry? Can thoughts pay one’s light bill? Can thoughts lift the dead from the grave? What is the immediate benefit of extending someone our thoughts other than diverting the tension of a serious moment away from the seriousness of it by placing the hurting person’s attention elsewhere, say, on the fact that we’re extending something that has no value, no worth, no merit, and no concrete meaning to it to begin with?
Where do our thoughts go once we walk away from that interaction?
Imagine, someone has a daughter who is a victim of a mass shooter, the kid, now lays in the morgue after being identified by mom or dad, and her little body is rigid from rigor mortis. Depending on where the bullets landed on her tiny figure and depending on the caliber of that weapon, the little girl may be missing an eye, a part of her arm may be missing, she may have a gaping hole in her chest or several in her head. Her disfigurement is so grotesque that even the coroner, a father of several children, struggles to process the body, one of ten or twenty or thirty. Depends on the gravity of this mass killing.
What can our thoughts accomplish for this parent? What encouragement can a thought pass on at a moment like this? What words are weighty enough, glorious enough, heavenly enough, prophetic enough, to rebound that parent, that mortician, that community from this incomprehensible moment of incomprehensible evil?
When does the thought take effect? What then is its effect? Will it ease the pain of the heart? Will it mend the flesh of a little girl who is long gone from this world? Her life was taken from her with such force, such evil, such violence, and for what? For a thought fix everything?
And of that evil, will your thoughts rebuff evil? Will those thoughts annihilate evil from the world? Will it reduce the retaliatory evil now brewing in the heart of the father of that little girl? Will your thoughts help him sleep at night after having visualized his little girl, this elementary schooler, this dream in the making, this answer to many prayers, this wonder of the womb, will your thoughts help him forget the sight of a bullet hole in her face? Perhaps the bullet hole in the back of her head?
Will your thoughts work in favor of the mortician who has to then stitch her little head back into place, just enough to make her presentable at her wake, weeks from now? Do parents like these still opt for an open casket funeral? Is it considered a celebration of life? Is a life lived fully or to an acceptable number of days when it is taken by the bullets of an evil man at such an early age? Can we then call it a celebration of life or is it the gathering of the evidence of evil? A gathering of brokenhearted community members who join arms and weep bitterly, crying to the heavens, and shouting at the earth, about the presence, the face, and the feeling of evil.
Our thoughts, in a situation such as this, are worthless.
They offer us, those of us distant from the aftermath of such a heinous crime, the comfort of thinking we are doing something noble. Something that will help ease someone else’s discomfort and pain. We believe we accomplish something when we open our mouths, move oxygen up from our lungs, through our windpipes, and past our lips as we formulate nonsensical babble which in turn makes our brains believe that we have attained a certain level of goodness in the world as a result of our baseless words. We are helping no one, no one, when we are so quick to offer them emptiness, from which we then step away and go on about our day, folding laundry, laughing at stand-up comedies, and eating chips to ease our glutinous souls with white noise, saturated fats, and ephemeral pleasures.
We are the ones who are comforted when we offer someone in pain our thoughts, not them. We are the ones who walk away with endorphins rushing through our bloodstream to help us feel good and accomplished about something we believe we did when we did nothing, nothing at all.
We have done absolutely nothing.
What of prayers?
Is God listening to our prayer? Is He “up there” sitting about, waiting for the next mass shooting to happen, so that a flood of prayer mail makes its way up to His throne room so that his boredom is appeased by the heightened level of attention He receives as a result of violence? Is God entertained by the number of conversations that take place as a result of dead children? Does He anticipate such violence so that He can hear from His children again, until the next playoff game, or the next firefight on the battlefield, or the next election cycle takes place?
We offer prayers for sports teams, soldiers, and politicians the same way we offer prayers for survivors of mass shootings. Did you ever think of that? Perhaps God’s prayer mail channel is clogged up with prayers about this sport, or that romance, or this job interview, or that cheque that bounced. Were we to reduce the number of prayers for nonsensical asks perhaps the good stuff would reach God, no?
So then we must beg the question.
If we’re praying for God to one, stop the mass shootings; two, comfort those who have lost someone to a mass shooter; and three, whatever the hell three is, and nothing changes, has God failed? Is He unwilling to hear our calls for change and comfort? Is He lazy at His work and thus refuses to act or delays His response to such violence because He has better things to do? Does God not want to do anything about it because He derives pleasure from our pain?
Why hasn’t God answered? Why hasn’t God stepped down from His throne room to stop the next sniper, the next bomber, the next mass shooter?
Is prayer efficacious enough to change the mind and decisions of God? Can prayer move mountains? Open the Red Sea? Bring fire down from heaven?
If the answer to these questions is a resounding “yes” because we read about those miraculous incidents in the Holy Book but we fail to see the fruits of our prayers come true concerning mass shootings and victims of mass shooters in today’s world, are biblical accounts fake or are our prayers simply ineffective?
Do you see how problematic a situation we place God, ourselves, and our faith in when we set up these monumental petitions that end up slamming into the ceiling and then falling flat on the ground, rotten and festering?
What do people see when we pray so hard, when we pray with such a large community of believers, nationally, for these shootings to stop and for God to heal the abysmal wounds in broken hearts only for those prayers to die as soon as they leave our mouths? They see people who are either praying for the wrong things or people who are praying to a dead God.
Is God dead? If so, our prayers are dunghills in the land of the walking dead.
But if God is alive and our prayers go unanswered, what then? Is God at fault? Are we?
As Christians, can we fault God for unanswered prayer?
So what can we accomplish, what have we accomplished by saying to someone in such a heart-rending situation, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”?
The answer is nothing!
We offer them nothing and then mix God into the conversation and send them on their way with nothing, twice over! Making them believe they have been abandoned by law enforcement, lawmakers, politicians, clergy, and laity, and now, as a result of our idiocy, they believe they have been abandoned by God.
“14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:14-17
We continue to show the world, the believing world, and the unbelieving world, just how dead our faith truly is when we offer them that which exists between one atom and another, namely, our thoughts and prayers.
We hear the screams, shouts, and cries of fathers and mothers, standing and wailing outside public schools, hoping for the very slim chance that the body lying in the hallway is not their kids’ body.
And we turn to face them, utter some inconclusive filth, appease our conscience, and move on about our day until the next mass shooter invades our pathetic universe to remind us that our faith is effective enough to accomplish nothing.
This is not the faith I want any part of.
And thank Christ, it is not a faith He is a part of either.
“Thoughts and prayers” are the words of spiritually dead, emotionally repressed, socially moribund, and morally compromised spawns of Satan. No agent on this planet benefits more from the complacency and inactivity of people in the face of such evil than Satan.
Therefore your thoughts and your prayers are evil.
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Bleak photo of a skull was taken by Matthew MacQuarrie.