Something is very, very wrong. And that's not merely a fleeting feeling or a random inkling; we, as a society, are consistently experiencing the exacerbating rot of cultural decay — or, at the least, rabid, individualized moral decay — manifest itself in horrific shootings, terror attacks, social chaos and other related events and ills.
The headlines, for too many of us, are a source of fear and angst, as we attempt to make sense of patently senseless acts of evil and divisiveness.
From the recent New York City terror attack to the horror that unfolded at a Texas church this past Sunday, the signs of this paradigm are all around us — subjects that are covered in-depth in my new book, “Left Standing: The Miraculous Story of How Mason Wells's Faith Survived the Boston, Paris, and Brussels Terror Attacks.”
We can barely overcome one tragedy or natural disaster before we're forced to cope with the next crisis — a dynamic that throws our collective conscience into overdrive, causing many of us to emotionally check-out or short-circuit (though there are some pretty incredible forgiveness stories that emerge as well).
Mix that dynamic up with a little social media and we end up with a truly troubling scenario — one in which people on all sides of the ideological divide seem all-too-eager to seize upon tragedy by over-speculating or, more inappropriately, turning to politics instead of hesitating for a moment to appropriately process, reflect and respond.
We're living in a world in which "everything is political" and, as a result, it seems "nothing is sacred," as the saying goes. Meanwhile, there's a strange attack that seems to be gaining increasing precedence as violence and chaos perpetually unfold: the bizarre assault on well-wishers who offer "thoughts and prayers.”
It doesn’t take long after any tragedy that involves a gun for people to invoke the ever-raging political debate over The Second Amendment and firearms. And, as anger, frustration and pain percolated, some even lambasted those of us calling for prayer after the assault.
Some of these people argued that prayer is worthless or that it, at its core, simply isn't enough to prevent America's mass shootings.
The reaction was stark, considering that the words "thoughts and prayers" have made their way into plenty of tweets, Facebook face-offs and monologues over the past 48 hours.
And while there's certainly a portion of anti-faith haters, many critics didn't take issue with thoughts and prayers, per se, but argued that more is needed — legally and politically speaking — to prevent gun violence. That's a different op-ed and a much deeper and more complex subject matter, which I won't really get into here.
I absolutely understand that people believe gun control is the answer to mass shootings, but what I'm speaking about here is "people control" or, more appropriately, a truthful and honest assessment of the state of the individual and collective human heart.
Beyond anything else, that's what really matters, yet the conversation is all too often overlooked and eclipsed in the heat of social and culture debates.
Prayer has gotten a bad rap in some circles, with people dismissing it as simply not powerful and viable enough. Meanwhile, critics' claims, quips and slams overlook the powerful reality that invocations deeply connect us with the Almighty — the eternal force who holds the power to transform us, both as people and as a society at large.
Sure, I'll grant critics the notion that "thoughts" accomplish nothing of substance. I mean, in reality, what is a "thought?" Where does it go? Who hears it? But prayers certainly do accomplish much, because they're directed toward God.
The Bible is filled with proclamations about the importance of chatting with God. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Jeremiah 29:12 adds, "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." James, too, tells us to pray and be healed.
And while 2 Chronicles 7:14 spoke directly about Israel, its words offer up some important and timeless lessons: "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
With all that said, I get it; not everyone believes the gospel message, but for those of us who know the importance of communing with God, we're faced with an uncomfortable reality: just as a son's or daughter's relationship deteriorates with a mother or father if he or she fails to check in and be relational, so does our connection with God.
This dynamic translates into the problematic cultural paradigm, where stats show us that the proportion of Christian adherents has decreased from 78 percent in 2007 to 71 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, the "nones" — those unaffiliated with a faith — are on the rise, accounting for nearly one-fourth of the country.
More and more people are disconnecting from God and, as a result, many find themselves unaligned with his will for their lives and, ultimately, with truth. Free will, of course, permits this, though the social ramifications that result must be acknowledged. If there's a God and he has a standard, what happens when we ignore his will?
To clarify, I'm not one of those people who is going to definitively say that the cultural move away from God has caused a specific event, battle or issue, as peoples' individual mental health, spiritual welfare and other personal attributes are complex as are the causes for various behaviors, but I will say something with certainty: an embrace of Jesus Christ transforms the human heart and mind like nothing else ever can or will.
That transformation, fueled by ongoing prayer, is the real solution to our individual and cultural problems, as the gospel — if we let it — shapes us, refines us and unites us under His will, creating the fruits necessary for personal and cultural health.
For that reason, prayer matters and is arguably as important as any other remedy, if not more so.
Furthermore, in the wake of tragedy, prayers for peace and understanding hold a true and unadulterated power. Sure, political conversations can be had; I'm not dismissing that necessity, though the speed with which some people went there while dismissing the inherent power God holds to sustain us was and is troubling.
In the wake of horror, people deserve to have others appeal to God on their behalf, and the turn to politics is an easy emotional move that precludes us from thinking deeper to truly discovering the disconnects and problems that truly reside at the heart of the human experience.