“When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you: even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood.” - Isaiah 1:15 (NIV)
In the solemn aftermath of horrific gun violence and mass shootings, prayers of condolence have become quite common place, as they display the ritual of our national grief. Our prayers express the compassion and concern we feel for those hurt by the grave losses of gun violence—losses that molest families, damage communities and shake the nation.
Still, as well-intentioned as our prayers of condolence may be, they are not always the appropriate response to the ravages of mass carnage. At a certain point, our prayers may in fact be an affront to God.
According to the prophet Isaiah, God refuses to hear the prayers of those who pray with bloody hands. There are those whose hands are bloodied by the triggers they pull to unleash bullets that take human lives at random. But there are many more whose hands are bloodied by their compliance with indiscriminate gun proliferation of every lethal variety.
Isaiah makes no distinction between the two.
Directly or indirectly, God holds everyone in the nation responsible for neglecting the poor and failing to defend the weak. Thus, the nation’s religious practices are futile, and the prayers of the national body are pointless.
Prayer never has been, and prayer never will be, a substitute for accountability.
Bloodied hands that offer prayers to the victims of mass shootings … or to families separated at the border … or to the victims of unjust systems … do not console anyone. They only camouflage the problem and circumvent the solution.
Lord, before we pray, help us to look at our hands. Amen.
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.