Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Whither prayer?

I must say, it has been inspiring to see how many earnest prayers have been lifted up for those who are suffering in Boston as a result of the recent murderous attacks. But "up" is precisely my point.

As often as I have seen tenderhearted, well-meaning, compassionate prayers from trained pastors and others who know "which way is up" when it comes to prayer, I read or hear of many others, usually in the political sphere or in PR positions, who say things like: "Our (thoughts and) prayers go out to (!) the victims and their families." While it is perfectly acceptable to direct one's thoughts to someone in need, how did we ever come by this non-sensical notion that we direct our prayers to them? That's like asking a favor of someone who is in pain, shock, or comatose. Why can't we summon the clarity and the courage to say, "We think of the victims and their families at this time, and pray to God (!) for their comfort and healing." While I am certainly willing to entertain the notion that "our prayers go out to" can mean "are offered on behalf of," I just don't see that such words of comfort are really all that comforting when they are couched in such a way as to suggest that God is cut out of the equation. Moreover, I don't see how allowing our generic references to God can be terribly reassuring without making it clear that the God whom we are addressing and of whom we are seeking help is the crucified God-man, Jesus Christ, who alone can redeem human suffering and promise eternal life. All the wise sages, the pantheon of fakers, and the watchmaker gods don't cut it.

Pastors can model a proper understanding and practice of intercession in Jesus' name, but if those who offer such comfort in public are not themselves schooled in prayer and perhaps don't attend public worship regularly or pay attention to good models, well, it is little wonder that public theology and the nation itself are in such a dilapidated state.

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