Beyond Prayers and Dispair

This past Sunday I attempted to speak to you in the shadow of the violence and death in Las Vegas on Sunday evening, 1 October 2017. Within the past year, in Orlando and Las Vegas, we have witnessed the deadliest mass shootings in recent American history. There were forty-nine deaths in Orlando. There were fifty-nine deaths in Las Vegas with more than five hundred people wounded. Lives and families changed forever in a little more than minutes. The angst and anguish of this event intensified, for, as I write, we do not know the motive of the shooter intent upon killing as many people as possible.

Since last Monday, I have been pondering the responses of Christian people in America. The first response is often a call to prayer for the victims and their families. I am not dismissing the significance of prayer as we ask God, our merciful heavenly Father, to comfort and sustain those whose excitement over attending a concert became a tragic nightmare. We pray for folks picking up the pieces of shattered lives which may be put back together but will never be the same. Yet, I sense, too, that our retreat into prayer may be a form of denial. As we pray to God to comfort and heal, there may be families mourning the death of their loved ones and persons gazing upon their wounds who are asking deep and perplexing questions about the God to whom we are praying. They may be asking, “What kind of God allows such murderous violence and the death of so many people?” If we truly enter into the presence of God, we may discover the awful silence of God as we seek to understand why human-inspired evil so easily hides the face of God. We may be driven back to the darkness of that Friday when Jesus died, and his heavenly Father was silent. Perhaps the silence of God will drive us deeper into the suffering of our world as we pray.

I have been distressed by the despair expressed by many Christians. They feel that there is nothing that can be done. They express their fear that things will only continue to spin out of control. Frankly, it is hard for me to accept despair when followers of Jesus are called to be salt, light and leaven. We are called to engage our world not retreat from our world. As the Old Testament prophets argue, we are called to name and confront those powers that create structures and perspectives that justify greed, oppression, exploitation, violence, and injustice. We cannot be guilty of crying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

On Sunday, I encouraged everyone to clip these words from the reflection in the order of worship by Abraham J. Heschel and to meditate upon them for a time. He wrote—

There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrongs done to other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous. A silent justification, it makes possible an evil erupting as an exception becomes the rule and being in turned accepted . . .

The prophet is a person who suffers the harm done to others. Wherever a crime is committed, it is as if the prophet were the victim and the prey. The prophet’s angry words cry. The wrath of God is lamentation. All prophecy is one great exclamation: God is not indifferent to evil! He is always concerned. He is personally affected by what man does to man. He is a God of pathos. This is one of the meanings of the anger of God: the end of indifference.

As followers of Jesus, we cannot lapse into indifference. We are called to venture beyond prayer and despair to hopeful engagement with the world as we seek to do God’s bidding and carry on God’s ministry of reconciliation.

I was further challenged this Tuesday morning, as I read these words found in the Rebel Pilgrim published on Facebook and through email by our own Tom Cantwell—“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice.” These words were written by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk living at the Abbey of Gethsemane just outside Bardstown, Kentucky. Prayer, intense prayer, inspired these words of Merton, and then empowered him to speak courageously to his time. His book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, leads one to wonder how he wrote such a penetrating analysis of America in the 1960s while living in silence and prayer.

I suspect it is time for us, as followers of Jesus, to be more directly engaged in the hard work of peacemaking. There are difficult discussions to have. There are barriers to reach over. There are bridges to build. We pursue peace among all God’s children despite the powers of darkness. We do not tremble in fear. We are inspired by the words of Jesus—“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Our true identity is revealed in the “heroic labor and most difficult sacrifice” of peacemaking. Let us be voices of hope when others are driven to despair.


Jamie Broome

Jamie Broome began serving Immanuel in 1993. He previously served First Baptist Church in Midway, Kentucky for ten years. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Carson Newman University, where he met his wife, Rita, and his Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, where he also did a Th.M. and doctoral work in church history. He is a native of South Carolina, and the Broomes have two sons, Chip and Rusty.