Obviously I am not praying for the families in San Bernardino.
That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I don’t have to explain why an atheist doesn’t pray; but would it make a difference if a Christian didn’t pray? I suppose a declaration of prayer refusal would be a lot more insulting coming from a Christian, but I’m not sure it means anything significant. Maybe that is why so many people, even Christians, are quick to criticize presidential hopefuls who offer prayers and little else. But is it fair?
Prayer is a connection to god. People offer thanks and worship, but the real magic happens when that connection brings personal comfort. You can turn your cares over to god and believe he has taken on that burden. If you are connected to god you may feel he is leading you. This will make you feel confident that the choices you make are part of his plan and not your own. You can’t go wrong when you are following god’s will for your life.
You can ask god for things, but you know that his answer may not be the one you want to hear. Prayer is often used to make a commitment that whatever happens will be accepted as part of his perfect plan. And if his plan causes pain for you or for others, you may believe that your connection to god and faith in his plan are giving you relief from that pain. You feel god’s presence in that comfort. You cannot prove it or explain it…. but you know it is true.
Prayer does not grant wishes. Prayer does not move god to change his mind. God has never promised to put us through trials in preparation for something even better in this lifetime. Sometimes the road leads to more suffering, and sometimes even the most faithful forget this detail. It is human nature to also hope for things of this world, but god does not offer hope for this world. Only endurance.
How should a person of faith respond when they hear about yet another mass shooting? They should pray, of course. They don’t blame god for not intervening. No one knows what god knows. Bad things happen to good people every day because we are sinners with free will living in a lost world. But we have hope for eternity, and god will lead us through. Everything good comes from god, and if we keep our eyes on him he will comfort us.
Prayer reinforces this belief and makes it feel true. And so the faithful will respond to tragedy by turning it over to god. First so they can sit comfortably with the ugliness of the situation themselves; and then so they can request that god send the same comfort to those who are in pain. And of course god will answer that prayer, right? Isn’t that the whole reason people offer prayers in times like these?
It isn’t because god will fix it. It isn’t because god will alter his plan if petitioned by enough servants. It must be because the more people who are praying on our behalf, the more comfort god will provide. Which, if you think about it, doesn’t make any sense at all. And what’s more, god is under no obligation to answer prayers requesting comfort for others any more than he is required to answer prayers requesting anything else.
I don’t believe in god anymore and so prayer is useless to me. But even if I still believed….
Offering thoughts and prayers are things we say to show empathy. They are offered with the best intentions when we feel helpless to do anything else. And sometimes they are just kind words we say out of habit. Go ahead and offer them, because these are the right words to say for many of us. But let’s not pretend they change anything but our own individual comfort level. That’s a superstition even among the faithful. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, then feel uncomfortable. Don’t ask god to take it away.
I don’t mind when politicians offer up their thoughts and prayers, but I do expect any potential leader of my country to have more to say on the matter. I want to know what they think should be done, and I want to know that action is a priority. I do not want to wait for them to come up with the answer they think will get them the most votes. I do not want to hear that prayer is their top strategy, and I do not believe we need leaders who have made politics and religion indistinguishable.
If we wanted god to lead us we would elect no one; we would declare anarchy and pray for god to keep order. But we don’t do that. We choose leaders among us to make decisions. Because whether you believe in him or not, god is silent. And when it is your job to lead, you are not allowed to remain as silent as god. Or to act as helpless as the rest of us.