In the aftermath of San Bernardino, most of the reactions from the people with access to the public media were entirely predictable except one.
The people who see Jihadi violence as only a subset of the larger, more important, problem of gun control, immediately pronounced the incident as more proof for their cause. The fact that no pending gun legislation would have prevented these killers from getting their guns and pipe bombs totally eludes them.
The people who see Jihadi violence as just another example of how Islam is an inherently violent religion, immediately pronounced the incident as another reason to profile all Muslims everywhere. The fact that Muslims are the main victims of Jihadi terror eludes them.
I have neither the inclination nor the prescience to attempt to shake beliefs that are immune to facts, and so I am with those who pray for healing the wounded, comforting the mourners and keeping our Christmas office parties safe from mass murderers. I do not pray to change the killers. I do not pray to end gun ownership. I do not pray to defeat and marginalize Islam. I do not pray to change anybody. I pray to keep the killers from changing me.
However, this attack has provoked utterly novel and deeply disturbing headlines like the New York Daily News’ “God will not save you from this” and comments like the one Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut’s tweet, “Your prayers should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again.” Now, for the first time, it seems culturally acceptable to condemn people who pray after acts of terrorism. .
The closest I can come to understanding the anti-prayeritarians is that somehow they have come to believe that prayer is a cowardly alternative to decisive action. But prayer is an action. I would argue that prayer is the single most important action any of us who are not in the FBI or NSA or CIA or armed forces can do to fight the numbing effects of fear. Prayer is our only accessible act of hopefulness.
Prayers end, as I have had many occasions to remark in this column in the past, with the word Amen. Amen comes from the Hebrew word emunah, whose root meaning is “trust.” We do not close our prayers with the arrogant assertion that what we pray for will come to pass. We close our prayers with the hopeful belief that we can trust in the future, trust in God’s healing love, and trust that the good in us will win over the evil in us and in our world. This trust is our only shield against the effects of fear.
On these blood-soaked days in the aftermath of terrorist violence, we need to be able to do something immediately to bring succor and hope and to answer the only question that touches us personally: How can I believe that tomorrow will be a better day?
My answer comes through prayerful rereading of God’s words to the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12 KJV),
“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”
And my answer comes from God’s words to Isaiah (58:9),
“Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”