“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
If you’ve ever attended Sunday school, you know that Jesus spoke to his followers in parables. He told them stories and said, “Look, here’s an example of how to live your lives.” He kept it simple—the good Samaritan, the mustard seed, the lost sheep, the prodigal son. Do this, he seemed to say, not that. He urged his disciples to pray, but also to behave in certain ways. He gave clear directives for action. Be kind. Love your neighbor. Feed the poor. Don’t be greedy. He explicitly warned about the ineffectiveness of faith without action. Americans still have not gotten the message.
Last week I wrote about my frustration with a society where people carry guns everywhere, and where those guns are used to deliberately kill more people more often than in any other modern nation. Then, a few days later, a man walked into a church and killed more than two dozen of its congregants. I suspect we won’t be done wringing our hands over this shooting before the next big shooting happens.
After each terrible massacre, politicians, celebrities, pundits, and ordinary people send up the call for prayer. We’re told not to talk about the most obvious solutions. We’re told to pray for the victims and pray for society. There is nothing we can do to stop a madman, people say. Or, it’s a mental health issue. But then we do nothing. We pass laws that make it easier for people with mental health issues to own guns. We ignore the evidence that tells us clearly that a man who hits his wife and children should have no access to guns. We pretend like the Second Amendment was actually written to protect anyone’s right to own an arsenal of military style weapons, when no one with an ounce of sense actually believes it. Pray, the leaders tell us, but don’t do anything else.
If Jesus were here today, he’d have plenty of parables to offer up. There are numerous simple examples of how other countries have responded to mass shootings with sensible laws. The examples are just as clear as the examples Jesus provided to his disciples. If you believe in God, surely you must believe these lessons for living continue in the modern world. But Jesus himself could stand before us with the solution for this problem and Americans would shout him down. The problem with Americans is that we expect God to listen to us, but we refuse to listen to God.
The hypocrisy on this one issue is infuriating. In other matters, we are diligent about combining action with prayer. If your child gets sick, you pray for her to get well. Yet you don’t turn your back on science. Most of you know that prayer without medical treatment will not save your child. So why does anyone imagine that prayer will stop these mass killings? It won’t. Prayer is fine, but it isn’t a cure for anything. Prayer is a balm for the internal pain that people feel; it exerts no pressure on the physical world. An individual might change through prayer, but society does not. If we want different outcomes, we have to take action.
We have all the examples we need. If we choose to take a different path, or no path at all, that’s our sin to bear. We can’t end violence or suffering, but we know how to lessen it. We know how to save lives. The time for prayer is over. If we hope to save our country, it is time to take action.
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