I prayed for several years before God ever heard me. Growing up in the South, it was a common courtesy to assure someone that my “thoughts and prayers” were with them in their time of need. And yet, my thoughts and prayers did nothing to them. God did not listen. My prayers were mere platitudes.
In light of the San Bernardino shooting that occurred yesterday, the media has been railing against those who would offer their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of this tragedy. Newspaper headlines said things like “God isn’t fixing this” and “Prayers aren’t working.” Articles citing the tweets of various public figures who offered what they called mere platitudes. Prayer, the world says, is not going to help.
There may be a hint of truth here, but not in the way that the media thinks. The fact is that, like I used to do, many of these would-be political contenders are offering mere platitudes. It seems that the only time that they pray is during times like this. Their prayers are empty platitudes just as my prayers were for 18 years. God isn’t hearing their prayers because they more than likely are not Christian believers.
The Bible is clear that God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers. This is because mediation is tied to redemption. Those who remain in their sin, who try to stand and petition God on the basis of their own merit, are utterly incapable of having their requests made known to God. Obviously, God hears them in that He is the omnipotent, omniscient ruler of all things. But as one theologian has said, “Outside of Christ, God is terrible.” So when political figures who do not love God attempt to offer their vague “thoughts and prayers” we should agree that such prayers won’t do anything.
But the prayers of the righteous man availeth much (James 5:16). Prayer as God intended, far from being impotent, is the ordained means of God’s accomplishing His great end of bringing Himself glory in the world. Prayers from the saints, those groans for God’s kingdom to come and His will be done, are always answered when the prayer is drenched in “hallowed be your name.” The prayers of those in Christ are heard because they are offered in Christ. Only the blood-bought people of God can pray with confidence before a holy God. But the gospel bids us draw near the throne of grace with confidence because God has drawn near us, saving us from His just wrath and our irrational rebellion against satisfaction in Christ.
These “thoughts and prayers” are not mere platitudes. They are petitions for the sovereign King of the universe to glorifying Himself, even in ways that seem hard to understand in the flesh. God does move in mysterious ways. But the God we pray to is holy and just. We never question God’s ability to change or prevent any uneasy thing. Our prayers become blasphemous when we approach Him in a way that implies that He was just as shocked about what happened as we are. We don’t pray for these sharp edges to be dulled. We pray that God’s sovereign grace would so affect the hearts of ruined sinners that the long to be pierced with these hard edges, brought to blood but brought to everlasting joy in God.
So we pray. We pray for comfort. We pray for salvation. A good theological answer, to any question, is that God is working all things for the good of those who love God which is that God would make much of Himself. God uses good and bad to redound to His glory. We may not see how, but through the eyes of faith we rest in His good character. As Charles Spurgeon said, “When you cannot trace His hand, trust His heart.” God is good and just.
You know the problem of evil has been solved already, right? That is true if you know the biblical problem of evil. Evil originated in the heart of man. God’s gracious creation rebelled agains the design for the entire universe by wanting to be God ourselves. This is the essence of evil: exchanging God’s glory for a lie and worshipping the created as if it were the only worthy Creator. But God did not wipe out the entire population in justice. Remember that it would be good and right for God to kill every single person in the world. But God saves sinners. The biblical problem of evil is how can a good God save bad people (all of us)? That problem was solved two thousand years ago on a bloody cross. God put forward the God-man Jesus Christ to die in the place on sinners, taking the full measure of God’s wrath aimed out our evil. The sinless One died for the sinful. Our evil was solved on the Son of God. Do you doubt God’s justice? His love? Friend, look no further than the gospel. Look to the resurrected God who is coming back again.
And with boldness, pray.