platitude, noun: a remark or statement (especially with moral content) that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful. Cliché.
It has happened a hundred times. At gravesides, hospital beds, over coffee. Tears are falling, someone is looking for answers.
He won’t be with us much longer.
I’m going to lose the baby.
We’re living in our car. How did this happen?
It’s really over this time.
Where is God?
The questions come fast and thick, stumbling over one another in the race to be asked. A lifetime of doubts and puzzles have accumulated and been ignored too long; now, in the moment of crisis, they all rush out at once.
Is God good? Does God care? Is God powerful? Can He help?
We stand tongue-tied and awkward in the force of the deluge. How can we adequately respond? What can we say in the face of cancer or abuse or prison or divorce that can possibly reach wide enough to embrace that kind of hurt?
And we know, we really know, that it isn’t enough to say the usual things. “It’ll be all right. I know what you’re going through.” Will it? Do I?
And so, yesterday. Again we turn on the radio to hear bad news, the senseless kind, the how-did-God-let-this-happen, is-He-on-His-lunchbreak kind. And we most of us stand there kind of stunned and try to think what can possibly be said, while a few of us, the Important People, are handed a microphone. And deep down, they’re feeling the same way. What can they say? How can they help?
So they say the only thing they know how to say, they mouth the words. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims.” And no doubt they, too, have the same flood of questions behind the brave face: where is God? why has this happened? when will it end? But Important People aren’t afforded the luxury of confusion. Important People need to have all the answers. Important People need to DO something.
Of course, that’s just ridiculous. Because none of us have any answers, do we?
Or maybe we do. Maybe prayer is the right answer after all. And when we’re stumped and we don’t know how to pray, we look to the pray-ers of the past. We cry out, “How long, O Lord?” with a chorus of heartbroken voices. We call out, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” We name our fears, our despair, our confusion, and we rob them of their power over us. And then we name our Deliverer.
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
“The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.”
We kneel precisely because we know the magnitude of our problem and our complete inability to fix it. How could we?
What is it the Important People are expected to do? Heal the broken and bleeding human heart? Turn anger and hate into kindness and love? Legislate hope?
But there is a vast difference between real prayer and “good thoughts,” between kneeling and posing for the camera. I saw someone sign off a webcast the other day with the closing line, “vibes to you.” I’ve been laughing about that ever since — vibes, baby. But it’s a sad thing when we send our positive and encouraging willpower across the miles as though there is any whiff of restorative power in it, any chance of redemption unfurling in our fond thoughts. When candidates send empathy over the airwaves or tear up for a photo op, it’s no wonder it makes skeptics cringe. No one’s fooled by vibes.
A god that stood aloof and watched tragedy multiply through the ages, the unmoved mover, well, prayers to that god wouldn’t fix a thing. Prayers to a cold and stoic deity would be an exercise in foolishness, spitting in the wind. But a God that hears? A God that, say, gave up His throne for a manger and exchanged a palace for a broke-down stable? That God, who endured the senseless violence and suffered the bad news personally? Well, that’s good news. That’s great joy. And we name that God,
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” For to us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders.
We name that God Emmanuel, because He became one of us, and yes, He did fix us. Anyone who wanted fixing, that is.
And so I pray today to the Lord of Broken Hearts, the Lord of Sacrificial Love, the Blood Donor God who split a vein to pour out hope for all of us.
How long, O Lord? We wait for You.