Commemorative concerts, fundraising efforts, public prayer vigils—all are comforting, helpful, even necessary steps that often take place after a horrendous natural disaster or human atrocity.
Following such events, inevitably people ask, How can we make sense out of such a devastating storm or evil act? And more troubling, How does a good God allow bad things to happen?
For me, part of the answer lies in what the prophet Elijah learned when his own life was at risk: that the Lord was not in the fierce wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. Instead, the inspiration of “a still small voice” guided and protected Elijah (see I Kings 19).
Praying helps us all to recognize that God is not in devastating events or evil deeds, or in less headline-grabbing but ongoing challenges such as famine, violence toward women and youth, or disease. Praying can help us hear the voice of good that overcomes evil—of harmony that overcomes chaos. Denial of the ability of evil to resist or even overpower the omnipotence and omnipresence of the Supreme Being is an important step toward healing and restoration.
In praying about such disturbing events, however, it’s important not to hide from their awfulness—or as someone once put it, not to be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good! Prayer that denies the dominance of evil is not like the proverbial three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. To callously dismiss the devastation, dismemberment, and death on the human scene is neither healing nor helpful. But we can learn that the act or event that shocks us or others is overpowered by the perpetual presence of the supreme good that we call God.
The most wonderful guidance is given by Mary Baker Eddy in her seminal work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “The tender word and Christian encouragement of an invalid, pitiful patience with his fears and the removal of them, are better than hecatombs of gushing theories, stereotyped borrowed speeches, and the doling of arguments, which are but so many parodies on legitimate Christian Science, aflame with divine Love” (p. 367). The concept of an invalid can be expanded to include a troubled or devastated community in need of our tender thoughts, prayers, and encouragement.
Jesus moved from the mountaintop of prayer to the marketplace of people.
Where do we begin? By recognizing where the actual authority lies to bring correction and restoration to the situation. Again in Science and Health, Eddy urges, “Let Truth uncover and destroy error in God’s own way, and let human justice pattern the divine” (p. 542). Our recognition of the presence of Truth, which is another name for God, uncovers and destroys error with complete authority. When we see ourselves and others as transparencies for Truth’s authority, we can expect that ways will be uncovered that will “let human justice pattern the divine.”
Christ Jesus said something to his disciples that could be considered quite startling. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus asserted: “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (14:12, New Living Translation).
Why is this startling? Well, stop and think about Jesus’ healing works. On an individual level, he destroyed even death, which is called the last enemy in the Bible (see I Corinthians 15:26). What could be greater than that? One possibility might be that Jesus was thinking about society at large, not just individuals. I believe it’s possible he was telling us that our ability to heal—to do the same works he did and taught his disciples to do—can expand to include broad social disorder. He was telling us that scientific prayer for the world makes a constructive difference, a healing difference.
To accomplish his healing works, Jesus set aside time to pray, to be quiet enough to hear how his Father would guide, guard, and govern his work and well-being. But he certainly didn’t live in a cocoon. He moved from the mountaintop of prayer to the marketplace of people. In doing so, he knew he was never moving from the presence of God, nor from his own clear recognition of that comforting, healing presence.
One tool that can help direct our prayers for our communities and the world is The Christian Science Monitor. In fact, it would appear that Eddy, the newspaper’s founder, had this in thought when she declared: “The object of the Monitor is to injure no man, but to bless all mankind” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 353).
In a world that can seem so beleaguered, what is most needed is the prayer that blesses not just some, but all humanity.
For readers sensitive to this role, the Monitor alerts them to the fact that praying for the world is a responsibility to be embraced and taken seriously. Such prayer cannot be motivated by anger or a desire for retribution. Such prayer fosters understanding of the presence, power, and action of a guiding, guarding, and governing Supreme Being. Such prayer leads to effective human solutions and well-doing.
Such prayer heals the sickness in society as well as in individuals. It is doing something, and it can lead to doing more.
Merelice lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, and serves on the boards and committees of several civic and political organizations.