An analysis of how we respond to devastating tragedies in heart and on social media


We all know it by now ― the headline or social media post that makes your heart sink. It could be a natural disaster, an accident or mass murder. Tragedy visits and abandons hurting people in the wake.

The immediate modern reaction to such catastrophes becomes almost predictable. Amid a flurry of tweets, press releases and public statements, we’re sure to encounter refrains pledging two things: thoughts and prayers.

These intangible offerings are so ubiquitous in the aftermath of heartbreak that they’ve gotten their own Wikipedia page, which notes that critics disparage the words being “offered as substitutes for actions they believe would be corrective.” Each time, it seems, more people are bothered by them.

The shock of grief-stricken interruptions ― whether famine, faulty infrastructure or flying bullets ― inevitably places us at a crossroads. We’re suddenly confronted with a chapter of reality that has demonstrated a lack of human control or an abject human failure.

From there, we each can examine our next step forward and decide: whether to take action ourselves, or the other option for professing believers in Jesus Christ, to turn our faces to the Savior whose sovereignty we’ve lauded in times past.



Well, as is often the case, the Biblically faithful way is both. If we look only to one, we’re taking hold of less than the fullness of what God has entrusted to us by his Son. But one should always come before the other.

Again based off the Bible, we can conclude that prayer itself is a form of action: it is the act of looking away from self, other people and circumstance and fixing our eyes on the unchanging Christ. Prayer is an act of confessing Yahweh’s character according to his statements rather than our judgments of him. It is an act of acknowledging the breathtaking audacity of his promises: of faithfulness amid trials, goodness by way of suffering and sovereignty over our free will.

In looking at the unchanging, ever-faithful God first amid the tumult of life, it’s probably safe to say our actions will have more clarity than they would otherwise.

So where do we go wrong with thoughts and prayers?



The post-tragedy package deal of “thoughts and prayers,” is likely abrasive because of the most common context in which it’s tossed out in the U.S.: public statements from political figures.

More so than celebrities or everyday citizens, we recognize governing officials as holding a heightened degree of power to shape society. So should they not think and pray?

One explanation for outrage is the perception that the phrase is used to mask inaction and abdication of responsibility. Many times, it could be argued, it has been. And where this is the case, such behavior is not faithful. It dishonors the heart behind honest prayer to effect change.

There’s nothing wrong with governing people praying, but Scripture makes it clear that such words are brought to completion by action:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:14-17

We cannot Biblically assert that prayer is the single ingredient to faith. Our acts of service, generosity and selfless bravery also advance the Kingdom on earth.

But another explanation for outrage to “thoughts and prayers” lies with us, the audience. We may benefit from examining our own hearts to check what we’re looking for from humans. Do we bypass the sovereign Lord in our search for comfort, meaning or salvation and jump straight to human solutions? What issues arise from this approach?



To the nonbeliever, these two are both simply sentences and feelings repeated inside minds or released into the netherspace of the universe, never to be heard or acted upon again.

But is that prayer?

Prayer is talking to God. God, who despite the frequent feelings of distance and detachment, ever remains the One who spoke our souls into being, who planned out the details of our lives and who has stayed by our sides since the cells of our beings began dividing. The level of intimacy with which he knows us precludes any shyness, front or avoidance technique.

Just as you would talk with people you trust and love after disappointing or earth-shattering events, you can talk to God.

But prayer is more powerful still than talking to friends. The Holy Spirit, the third person in this mysterious triune God, is able to accomplish things from your conversations with him that two people never have, that hundreds of thousands never could. Great faith yields great works.

A zealous crowd cannot start a man’s heart beating in his chest after it’s been still for days. No Gofundme campaign will ever raise enough money to cover the sin debt that the universe is steeped in.

As Jesus told his disciples in the gospels, some fruits only blossom from prayer-branches.

So yes, as we seek restorative action, thoughts and prayers are needed ― because humans have failed, and we will fail again. It is not in our sufficiency that our hope can live. Collectively as individually, grace remains the water for our parched souls and the only way that, like the Israelites, we’ll cross the Red Sea from slavery to freedom.

On this journey of liberation from pain, despair and fear, God is always the One holding the water back for us to pass. Yes, we won’t go anywhere without moving our legs forward. But you can bet the faithful will whisper prayers while doing so.

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Second Graphic by Garvita
Third Graphic by Kaylani Juanita
Last Graphic by Risa Rodil