God Will Not Accept Your Thoughts and Prayers | Sojourners

God Will Not Accept Your Thoughts and Prayers

People protest the National Rifle Association annual convention in Houston, Texas on May 27, 2022.
People protest the National Rifle Association annual convention in Houston, Texas on May 27, 2022. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

As news came out about the shooting at Robb Elementary School, my heart sank imagining the inevitable “thoughts and prayers” posts that would flood social media, just as they did after the shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., and each mass shooting that preceded it. These words often come from elected representatives who have the power to take action to stop gun violence.

Unbidden, the words from Amos 5 came to my mind. In verse 21, Amos says God despises the injustice committed by the people of Israel, especially their economic exploitation: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Amos begins by calling out several nations for violence, exploitation, and oppression before centering the call to repentance and accountability on biblical Israel. Instead of taking care of their neighbors and the oppressed among them, Israel is exploiting them while worshiping God through sacrifices and prayer. God is calling the ones who caused the harm and oppression to repent and change their ways.

I grew up in Colorado and have vivid memories of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School. Gun violence in schools is not new to me, yet this country has gotten worse at protecting anyone, especially children, from gun violence. Still, our elected officials have done little to meaningfully address gun violence. As a pastor, I have been present for and led far too many vigils and preached too many sermons after tragedies that could have been prevented.

When everything feels awful, Christians often turn to the Bible. It is our responsibility to continue to interpret scripture for our context. Because God continues to engage with humanity, living and breathing through our lives, scripture should, too. Honoring the spirit of Amos’ lament in the context of this tragedy in Texas helps us better understand scripture and the ways that faith and grief coexist.

“I hate, I despise your vigils,
and I take no delight in your school shooter drills.
Even though you offer me your thoughts and prayers,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your collection plates
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your lament;
I will not listen to the melody of your tears.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

- an adaptation of Amos 5:21–24

Most of us don’t live in an agrarian culture with divinely appointed monarchs. My faith tradition doesn’t offer animal or grain sacrifices, but we do hold vigils, we do pray, we do lament, we do oppress, we do cause harm and enact violence. The ways we engage with our faith and the world have changed, but the heart of God’s call through Amos remains the same: Care for the well-being of each person. Adapting Amos draws us closer to the text, connecting and calling us to action in the world.

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