How Shall We Then Live?: A Response to David Cassidy’s “Prayer and Work in the Face of Violence”

How Shall We Then Live?: A Response to David Cassidy’s “Prayer and Work in the Face of Violence”

I humbly suggest that the problem is not “gun violence.”  Gun violence is a symptom, not the problem.  The problem is sin.  This is not to minimize the results of violence; it is to diagnose the problem from a Biblical point of view.

I have heard from several quarters a similar refrain, “We need to do more than pray.”  There is no doubt some truth to that.  The sentiment can be, and is, applicable to an endless number of problems.  Such a sentiment was expressed by TE David Cassidy in his article, “Prayer and Work in the Face of Violence,” to wit:

When a hurricane or earthquake strikes, we certainly pray for all those impacted by the disaster. But is that all we do? Never. We raise funds to help, send teams to assist with rescue and rebuilding, and provide food, water, and shelter for all those in need. We pray and work. We support the trained men and women who risk so much to help those most impacted. We also create new building standards that lead to safer dwellings, saving lives. We invest in early warning systems and deploy them to serve the public. 

Gun violence needs to be tackled in the same way. 

For whatever reason, TE Cassidy did not offer a specific recommendation detailing exactly what work needs to be done to combat gun violence.  He suggests that politicians need to do more, but doesn’t say exactly what “more” is.  We are left guessing whether or not he is recommending that we raise funds, send teams to assist, or offer material support to those in need.  If we are to “support the trained men and women who risk so much to help those most impacted,” we are left to guess what that support might look like.  Perhaps he is advocating for a political policy.  If so, I came away puzzled as to what that policy might be or what the Biblical mandate for it is.

I appreciate TE Cassidy’s concern and passion, but having read his call to action I am left wondering to what action I am being called.

I recommend that before we rouse the troops to battle, we take a moment to reflect upon who the enemy is and take stock of the response that Christ expects from us.

So, what exactly is the problem?  TE Cassidy thinks that it is “gun violence.”  I respectfully disagree, and even if TE Cassidy is correct, he has failed to make a Biblical case for either diagnosing the problem or responding to it.

I humbly suggest that the problem is not “gun violence.”  Gun violence is a symptom, not the problem.  The problem is sin.  This is not to minimize the results of violence; it is to diagnose the problem from a Biblical point of view.

Seeing the problem for what it is, elucidates at least two things.  First, …we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).  That isn’t pious rhetoric; that is the reality of our situation.

Second, Christ has given the body of Christ a mission statement: Matt. 28:19-20, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  We are to go into a hostile world, preach the gospel of Christ and teach people to obey all of Christ’s commands.

In light of these two truths, I offer a couple of thoughts.

First, I find it remarkable how little the New Testament has to say about social ills.  The Roman government of Jesus’ time was cruel, tyrannical and pagan, but Christ and the Apostles never made social policy or politics a priority.  Christ came to save sinners and he did it one person at a time.  Rather than launching a crusade to eliminate gladiatorial combat, the Disciples spent their time spreading the gospel.  It took a few centuries, but eventually, gladiatorial combat was eliminated, along with many other symptoms of paganism.  It is no exaggeration to say that the gospel redeemed the pagan culture.

Second, if we understand that the problem is sin, then we will recognize that the cure lies not in raising funds, sending in teams to assist, offering material support to those in need, or advocating for a social policy.  Supporting the trained men and women who risk so much to help those most impacted, however helpful that may be, will fall short of a cure.  The cure for sin is the gospel; there is no plan B.

Finally, Christ has given the church the mission of fighting spiritual warfare.  The tools that he has given us, the sacraments, prayer and the preaching of the Word are never to be thought of us “insufficient.”  James 1:16-17, Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Any success that we might have combatting any problem will not be the result of the work of our hands, but the blessing of God.

This is not to say that Christians are not to have a role in civic or political enterprises; it is to say that if we are faithful in proclaiming the gospel and making disciples, God will pour out his blessings.  It is foolhardy to think that the body of Christ can think like the world and adopt the methods of the world and remain a faithful witness to the Light of the World.  If the church makes social policy its mission, it will preach a social gospel.  It might be possible to martial the resources of the church to combat a social ill (be it gun violence, the drug problem, abortion, etc.), but not while remaining true to what Christ has called us to do.  There is a difference between the mission of the church and the mission of other civic or political organizations.  Individual Christians ought to take part in civic and political organizations if God calls them to that ministry.  But, if the church carries out its God given mandate faithfully, God will remedy our social problems.

Do we really believe that the gospel is transformative?  Do we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit in regeneration?  If we did, our impassioned call to arms would not be to combat gun violence, abortion or whatever the sin du jour; it would be to spread the gospel and make disciples of Christ.

Roy Phillips is a sinner saved by grace, a retired Marine, and serves as a Ruling Elder at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Abbeville, SC.

Scroll to top