In the US, in the wake of the tragic San Bernandino shootings, the Daily News has gained significant attention from its headline “God isn’t fixing this” accompanied by various tweets by conservative politicians referring to prayer for the victims’ families.
The argument goes that it is “meaningless platitudes” to call for a religious response to the tragedy when these very men could take steps towards launching a political response that dealt with the perennial issue of gun control. Why pray to God for help when you can do something about the problem? God clearly isn’t doing anything to resolve the issue of gun violence, so politicians should take responsibility and do something instead of just praying.
The issues at play in America are not directly relevant to us in our part of the world, but in a globalised society, these matters, along with the commentary and headlines, will be discussed and debated to some extent here. So I wanted to look at where this headline gets it right and where it misses something very significant.
Where they get it right
1. If by “God isn’t fixing this” the editors of Daily News mean that God will not miraculously intervene to stop future gun violence from happening – they’re probably right. I’d be willing to bet that more events like this week’s shooting will take place in the United States in years to come. There will be times where God won’t miraculously prevent these events from happening by jamming the weapons, causing the perpetrators to be foiled or discovered, or appearing to the would-be killer in a terrifying, life-changing dream. This is because God does allow evil and suffering to exist in this fallen world that is tainted by humanity’s sin.
The reason He doesn’t prevent every disaster that could happen from taking place is because He’s allowing humanity to face the consequences of living in a society that rejects divine authority and rule and attempts to take power into the hands of the individual, tribe, party or army, as we see fit. So yes, there is a sense in which it is true that God isn’t going to deal with gun violence by reducing people’s capacity to do evil or their access to weapons in the same way a legislature might be expected to act.
2. When it comes to the question of whether it is hypocritical to appeal to God to resolve something we’ve been given responsibility to do something about – the criticism could be valid. James 2:15-16 says: If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? It is a hollow or hypocritical faith that expresses warm sentiment, or even prayer or blessing towards someone in need, when it lies within one’s power to alleviate the problem they are facing.
If we say to a poor person “I’ll be praying for you to find food and shelter” when we have the means to help them with these problems, something is very wrong. So if politicians are praying for people whose problems have arisen as a result of the policies the politicians have supported, or because the politicians have failed to regulate to keep them safe – they could be susceptible to criticism that they are spiritualising an issue they are responsible for resolving themselves (and therefore if they are to ask God for help, it should be that He would help them do what they need to do). However…
Where the headline misses something important
1. The politicians in question are not specifically praying regarding gun control, but for the comfort and well-being of those affected by the attacks. While they may have a case to answer for their alleged inaction on gun control (an issue I won’t be delving into any further here), it needs to be recognised that they are arguably praying with respect to something they have no capacity to address. A handsome, well-dressed, silver-tongued politician cannot bring deep healing and comfort to those who have been terrified, wounded, maimed or bereaved by a horrific gun attack. And even people with a vague notion that there might be a God or Higher Power often recognise in times when loved ones face a critical health situation that prayer for divine assistance or even miraculous healing is well worth giving a go. People who have a consistent, active commitment to faith in an omnipotent and merciful God should not be unfairly castigated for praying in a situation where only such a Being can be relied upon to provide emotional restoration and even physical salvation from life-threatening injuries.
2. Most importantly, “God isn’t fixing this” is a half-truth at best, because God is in fact fixing the issues behind gun violence, terrorism and a whole host of other evils, in a way that U.S. Congress, law enforcement and counter-terrorism could not begin to imitate.
God is dealing with the evil in the world that manifested itself through Syed Farook and Tashfik Malik and He’s going about it in such a way that will soon see it removed forever.
Death and suffering are part of the curse we all face for our membership of a race in rebellion against the Lord and Giver of Life. While we don’t know all the intricacies behind why evil exists, Christians can be confident that God’s justice and mercy are both perfectly displayed as He unfolds His plan to defeat evil, death and destruction forever through the person and work of His Son Jesus Christ.
Christ died on the cross in response to the great evil and rebellion in world. He bore the punishment for sin on Himself so that God’s justice and mercy might both be displayed.
So that many who are not only victims of great evil, but guilty of evil themselves, might have a way of escape when God judges all evildoers throughout history. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead points to a future where death is no more for God’s children, because the evils of the world that lead to death have been dealt with and vanquished.
And when Jesus returns in glory and power, God promises to judge the world in righteousness through Him. All who have trusted in Jesus and had the wickedness of their rebellion forgiven will experience eternal life and live under God’s rule where no evil thing shall ever bother or harm them again. But all who appear before God’s judgement seat clothed in their own wickedness will face eternal condemnation, as part of God’s plan to renew creation and put the world right.
God IS fixing this – if by “this” we mean the evil behind this tragedy and others. Perhaps the right prayer for Christians in response is the short, but powerful “Maranatha” – “Come Lord Jesus,” “Come quickly.”