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Archive for May, 2013

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Oklahoma, there has been an outpouring of support from twitter-users using the hashtag “#PrayForOklahoma”. CNN wrote an interesting article (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/21/who-hears-prayersforoklahoma/?sr=fb052213prayersoklahoma230p) on this, as well as the backlash this movement generated from the atheist community. There were a number of different issues that this story highlighted on prayer, and I wanted to discuss them.

First of all, I’d like to first address an argument that apparently has been surfacing in response to the outpouring of prayers. There are many people who are saying that praying to God is a ridiculous exercise in this situation because God caused the tornado and that if He really had any power, the tragedy wouldn’t have happened in the first place. Everyone has different beliefs over God’s potency in this situation, from His lack of existence to the tornado being a manifestation of His will to the fact that God created natural patterns of weather that He obeys. The fact is, everyone, particularly those affected, have to make sense of tragedies like this in their own way. What’s important is to focus on helping those who have been affected heal now that it has happened.

I want to preface this with the statement that I believe that prayer is a good thing. I don’t think that good works on their own can make it moot. However, on this one, I have to say that the atheists have got it right that well-wishing prayers should not be the end of your involvement. It is written in the Bible: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead….Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2: 14-18). This verse is relevant to this situation. Our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma don’t have housing, clothes or food, I don’t think we should simply tell them to “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed”, it’s our duty to help care for them. And this does not simply apply to this particular situation, but is true for our brothers and sisters across the world who struggle to take care of themselves and their families every day.

I suppose the other piece of this trend that I find concerning, is that I have to admit I’m skeptical that all of those people who used the hashtag then closed their eyes and spent a few moments in quiet contemplation, praying to God and meditating on those who had a real need. Faith, in any religion, requires a commitment. It requires the person to give something of themselves. The first time you find out someone’s religious belief shouldn’t be on their facebook profile. Tweeting a hashtag isn’t the same as prayer.

And even if God is not going to solve all problems simply because we ask for it, that doesn’t mean that prayer is a useless or outdated exercise. Prayer is not simply for the benefit of the person the supplicant is praying for, but prayer is beneficial for those who pray. Prayer is a way of spiritual growth, it can be a place of peace and refuge in our hectic lives. A person praying might be thinking about all the sufferings of another person, and the act of praying, which lets them focus on what they would otherwise ignore, is the motivating factor which moves them to act.

I wouldn’t phrase it that faith without deeds are meaningless. I would say that faith requires deeds. Our faith makes us want to act. This not something isolated. This is a systemic issue, this type of indifference is something that we need to grapple with everyday. There are always prayers to say and there are always actions to do. They are always needed. We must make sure that we always remember this.

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