This morning, I read about a jury ordering conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $965 million to the families of children killed in the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. For years, Jones had declared the massacre a hoax, staged by the federal government to justify mass gun confiscation.
Jones’s listeners harassed the grieving parents, compounding their anguish by calling them actors and frauds, demanding proof that they had ever had children. They sent rape and death threats to family members, desecrated victims graves, and threatened to dig them up to prove they were empty. A House Representative blasted the jury award, tweeting that all Jones did was “say words.”
I don’t know what to pray for when so many people are eager to abet and defend behavior like Jones’s. “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days,” says the old hymn and I can’t think of anything better.
Yesterday, I read about widespread, systematic efforts to undermine American democracy, and replace it with authoritarian rule, by fomenting racial hatred and sowing distrust in our elections. Power would then be forever in the hands of “real Americans.”
I don’t know what to pray for in this situation either. “Sanctify yourself,” said Saint Francis of Assisi, “and you sanctify society,” and that sounds more apt than anything I can come up with.
On September 27, five gunmen shot a fourteen-year-old boy to death and wounded four of his teammates on a Philadelphia high school football field. If I were to try to pray for the healing of every wound, the repair of every societal dysfunction, and the undoing of every false teaching of our government, popular culture, and economic powers that went into creating a country where this kind of thing happens all the time, I would know neither where to start, nor where to end.
I am no psalmist, to call down curses on my enemies’ heads. I am no Christian nationalist, exhorting the newly baptized to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11) whilst brandishing a semi-automatic rifle. How to intercede for child-killers, rape-threateners, and would-be tyrants, is completely beyond me. I don’t know what to ask of God that will make all this better.
Maybe there isn’t anything. Maybe it’s just going to get worse.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that the only way to stiffen our spines to face dark times is to “be aware that horrors may be in store” for us, whilst “praying for the virtues wherewith to meet them.”
I have come to believe that this is, in fact, the best thing we can do during times like these. We can pray for discernment, integrity, strength of character, humility, and faith for ourselves—not so that calamity may be averted, but so we may be able to face it unflinchingly when it comes. We can pray for the power of God to flow through us when things fall apart. We can pray for the grace to minimize harm, and sow the seeds of future blessing, through the God “whose power, working in us, can do infinitely
more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
Grant us wisdom; grant us courage.