Does God Really Hate Thoughts and Prayers?
14 kids and one teacher. No, 15 kids and one teacher. No, 18 kids....killed.
The news kept flashing across my computer screen during an IEP meeting I had with teachers, principals, and school personnel. I wanted to give them a hug. It was hard even looking them in the eye.
Because another school shooting and another reminder that all our country will do in response is offer, "Thoughts and prayers."
So, when Facebook asked me, "What's on your mind?" I typed,
"God hates your thoughts and prayers."
Without hesitation I clicked "Post."
Where do I get off saying that? Does God actually hate our thoughts and prayers?
Several thousand years ago there was political strife in the prophet Amos' world. (Shocking eh?)
In Amos’ words, God became furious with the ways in which religious, political and institutional powers were paying incredible lip service through extravagant religious rituals aimed at pleasing God, while at the same time ignoring the poor.
Worse still, often times these powers actually would deprive the poor of resources so that these powers that be could throw more extravagant rituals and parties.
But caring less.
The prophet notices this abuse of power and knows that it infuriates God. And so through Amos God speaks,
“I hate,I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me....
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music...
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
What good is a religious ritual if it doesn’t stir one towards deeper reflection, empathy, care, and compassion? What good is a religious ritual if it doesn’t point towards greater love? What good is a religious ritual if it merely is a check off the check list?
What happens when religion and prayers are merely rituals we do to feel good about ourselves? Rituals we do to, again, check it off our check list?
There’s a story about a pastor who hears a knock on her door Sunday afternoon. She opens the door to see a member of her church. “Pastor, pastor,” the parishioner says. “We need to pray. A family in our church is being kicked out of their apartment because they cannot afford rent and the landlord won’t let them stay.” The pastor immediately began calling on other members for special donations to help the family. After securing some funds, the pastor then asked, “Thanks for coming and letting me know about this situation. But, how did you find out?”
“Oh,” the congregant said. “I’m the landlord.”
The congregant in this case does the religious thing. He goes to his pastor. To pray. That’ll take care of it.
Religion prevents him from caring about how he lives his life. He uses religious rituals to keep him at a distance from seeing the dysfunctional way in which he lives. Religion is used to keep him from realizing his idolatry — care of rental money over God’s creation.
The same thing was happening when Amos wrote these words on behalf of God to the institutional leaders regarding their religious rituals: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.”
The same thing is happening in America when we merely offer our “thoughts and prayers,” during violent episodes, mass gun shootings, and acts of terrorism.
Our “thoughts and prayers” ritual can prevent us from caring about how we live and what we value. We can use religious rituals to keep a distance from seeing the dysfunctional way in which we currently live. Religion is often used to avert our eyes from gazing into the reality of our idolatry — a worship of violence and a worship of guns.
If we actually engaged in meaningful thoughts and prayers we would be stirred into deeper refection and contemplation and action.
We would get curious:
Why do we think we can’t do anything about the situation?
Why do we think we can’t enforce existing laws?
Why do we think we can’t make better laws?
Why are we so much more violent than other similar socio-economically developed countries?
or, maybe even…
Why do we tolerate children being killed?
Thoughts and prayers?
Unless they stir us, I’m pretty sure God despises our thoughts and prayers.