The mass shooting in Las Vegas — the worst in U.S. history — took only about 11 minutes to unfold. The horror, violence and destruction of innocent life that occurred within that short span of time should shake us and spur us to action. Yet, as so often is the case in our fractured society, emphasis quickly shifted to an evaluation of the kinds of responses to the shooting from political leaders, representatives of religious groups, various advocacy groups, and so on.
Unfortunately, each act of violence or occurrence of a natural disaster in recent months has become the occasion for what is commonly referred to now as “prayer-shaming.” This trend discourages people from responding with prayer to acts of violence and terror, and urges them to action, as if the two were mutually opposed. “Prayer-shamers” seem to think that when believers pray we somehow ignore or neglect our earthly responsibilities. But prayer isn’t an escape from reality; it isn’t a naïve wish that God will do for us something we should be doing ourselves.
Prayer — with all of its humility-inducing, perseverance-building, trust-inviting, hope-bestowing force — isn’t meant to give us what we think is best or even what we think we need. It isn’t meant to give us anything, per se, but to align us with the will of God. When believers pray, they certainly don’t think that when they open their eyes the world is going to suddenly embody some Utopian ideal of peace and justice. But without being aligned to God’s will through prayer, hollow activism will always remain ineffective at bringing about authentic societal change and integral human development.