I am a pastor. I believe in God with all my heart. But sometimes, prayer is not enough.
It COULD be enough, I think, if people were fervent prayers as a matter of course. But we are not. We as a people are more “situational” prayers, or we pray in times of crisis. That kind of prayer is helpful, but not effective when a task of mammoth proportions, perhaps Biblical proportions, lurks before us.
This latest tragedy – the shooting and killing of innocent people who were at a movie – lifts up at least two issues that politicians will more likely fight over than treat as life-changing issues, which, ignored, are contributing angst and danger to our country.
Those two issues are gun control and mental health. With both issues, there is a Goliath which require prayers first, certainly, and then, action, and to most people, those two issues are too big, will take too much energy, to fight. Goliath is just too big.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit at Goliath yesterday when he said that politicians, first and foremost at this point, President Obama and the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, ought to speak out for gun control. Nearly everyone is enraged that the suspect in the Colorado theater incident, James Holmes, was able to buy so many guns and nearly 6000 rounds of ammunition legally.
I am reminded that not everything that legal is right. Everything the Nazis did to the Jews, including murdering them, was legal…but it was not right.
Certainly, our politicians cannot keep quiet on the fact that the obsession by some to protect Second Amendment rights at the expense of the lives of innocent American citizens. Opponents of gun control say that guns are not bad; people are. I counter that and say that of course, guns are not bad, but not everyone who buys guns, or does bad things with guns, are not bad. Many, many times, they are sick.
But to come out for gun control in this presidential election year would be like facing Goliath. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful lobby groups in this country. If the NRA is not already pouring money into either camp, to speak out for tougher gun control would be like committing political suicide.
But sometimes, politicians ought to show America that they are more interested in pushing for the rights and protection of the American people than in being elected. Sometimes, we ought to see that they are willing to put politics down, pick up a stone, and confront a cowering, arrogant Goliath.
The second Goliath which this incident brings to the surface is mental illness. Nobody wants to talk about it or deal with it. I am convinced that the shooter in yesterday’s incident is not bad, but he is certainly sick – and I am sure he has been sick for a long time.
To lift up the fact that funds need to be spent on researching and treating mental illness will bring out cries of “no more spending!” I guess spending on mental health would be spending on yet another “entitlement,” and that is not something the President wants to get his opponents using against him. I don’t think Mitt Romney would dare bring the subject up.
And yet, in the masses of American people that both candidates are appealing to for votes, there are scores of people who are mentally ill. Much mental illness begins in childhood; in urban schools, I am convinced that many children labeled as “bad” are in fact mentally ill, and mentally ill children, whether they are from the ghetto or the suburbs, grow up to be mentally ill adults. There needs to be regular screening – and treatment – for mental illness. AND, we as a nation ought to stop being so ashamed of it. Mental illness is as prevalent as is diabetes or hypertension. Why are we so afraid of it?
What we have in the Aurora, Colorado incident, I think, a mentally ill or emotionally troubled young man who was free to buy all the guns and ammunition he wanted, legally. He knew what he was going to do, but that does not preclude that his connection to reality is off-balance.
What does all this say about evil? Well of course there is evil in the world, and prayers ought to name the evil or evils in earnest. But after the praying, those who prayed are really mandated to get off their knees and confront the Goliath, away from the comfort and security of a sanctuary or a private prayer space. We are called to pick up our stones, and walk toward the Goliath that laughs at the very thought of being confronted.
Sometimes, prayer is not enough, like now. Sometimes, prayer needs to be followed by a team of people moved to action by their prayers, including and led by politicians who are seeking election or re-election. Who will be the David in this situation, a little boy in the Bible who declared that God had protected him when a lion or bear came to carry off sheep he was tending. Little David said, “I went after it… Your servant went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine. (1 Sam. 21: 34-37)
If we pray, we have to confess our faith in God. We pray not only for comfort, but for the strength to confront the Goliaths all around us.
At least 12 people in Colorado who were alive on Thursday and who are now gone, need that from us.
A candid observation …