I was planning on writing about prayer this morning anyway, and the Boston tragedy seems morbidly appropriate.
These scenes are getting old, aren’t they? It seems that we’re seeing them with an all-too-frequent regularity. I first saw on Twitter that smoke was rising from buildings near the end of the Boston Marathon, then bystanders posted about explosions, injuries, chaos, confusion.
James’ context and what’s going on in Boston aren’t perfectly analogous, of course, but he points to some relevant issues:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).
Aside from the terrorist aspect (which we’ll address below), events like this remind us that bad things often affect these temporary bodies we live in. Several friends have cancer, another is dealing with the after-effects of a bad car wreck, and hundreds of people are hurting because of what happened yesterday.
These bodies get broken, sometimes mangled and twisted, often irreparably so. I think it ought to remind us—like it did Paul—that these are tents that aren’t suited for permanence (cf. 2 Corinthians 5).
But James’ words also remind us to pay attention to physical needs. When people are sick, pray for them. Do what you can to help them, to heal them, to ease their suffering. Maybe we can’t offer much direct help to the people in Boston this morning, but we ought to pray hard for them. Pray that God eases their pain and heals them completely. Ask him to let his mercy and compassion be seen through the response of believers.
But there’s another point in James’ message, and it’s a little more difficult to grasp (or swallow): there’s often a connection between physical suffering and sin. That doesn’t mean that people who suffer are hurting because of their own sin; suffering often happens because of the sins of others.
But we live in a world in which bad things happen, and it’s because of sin. From the time that Adam and Eve took those forbidden bites, our world started suffering.
As if we needed another reminder, yesterday asks us to think again about the fallenness of our world. Cowardice, cruelty, twisted hatred, misguided religious fervor—perhaps we’ll discover that these and other motivations played into yesterday’s cruelty.
The good news is, Jesus is in the process of fixing it all. He’s bringing his people a new heavens and a new earth—one with no bombs or explosions, no terrorism, and also no cancer, pain, loneliness or suffering.
But until that day comes, this is the world we live in. And when stuff like this happens, we pray hard, and we try to help people heal, and we also hope that they’ll embrace the only One who can take them to a better world.