This week, the Adult Bible Study Guide begins this quarter’s focus on being “in the crucible with Christ,” taking “a journey into the meaning of suffering, evil, and death.” For Monday, the author wrote about what it means to be on the paths of righteousness found in Psalm 23, giving four reasons these are called “right paths.”
First, they are the right paths because they lead to the right destination—the Shepherd’s home. Second, they are the right paths because they keep us in harmony with the right Person—the Shepherd Himself. Third, they are the right paths because they train us to be the right people—like the Shepherd. Fourth, they are the right paths because they give us the right witness—as we become the right people, we give glory to the Lord. They are “right” or “righteous” paths, whether the going is easy or hard.
The study guide emphasizes something I didn’t often see growing up in the Adventist Church and struggle to see now. The path of righteousness is an intentional series of actions. It is not something we think or pray about but an actual path we must walk. It is the path of seeking justice for all people. It is the path of living and reflecting the actions of Jesus.
I have often noticed the tendency of American Christians, including myself, to offer up thoughts and prayers during times of tragedy. There is this tendency to throw our hands in the air and say, “Well, what else can we do?” or “It’s all in God’s hands now.” However, when I read this study guide, when I read about the path of righteousness, it is clear that thoughts and prayers are not enough. Thoughts and prayers are not enough in the face of injustice and human suffering—we must do more.
Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, sees this call to action as well. In a statement following the 2015 San Bernandino shooting, Rabbi Morvine passionately shared the necessity of action.
I am a person of faith. I have spent my entire adult life as a member of the clergy. I have an intensely personal relationship with the God in whom I believe. I pray every day. And here is what I know: praying after the fact for something preventable is an affront to God and humanity.
My tradition teaches that prayer without action is just noise. Not a one of the faith communities in this country believes that prayer is magic—some sort of incantation that will reverse the order of the universe, let alone manipulate an omnipotent God. Prayer works only if it softens the hardened heart and opens it to the message of healing and justice that flows through Scripture. Prayer works only if it leads to contrition and repentance. Prayer works only if it is not an excuse for self-justification.
Prayer without action is empty words. The path of righteousness must be more than prayer. It must be intentionally acting in ways that continue the work of Jesus.
Matthew Peinado is an intern for Spectrum and a communications major with a focus in journalism and film/television at Walla Walla University.
Title image: The Good Shepherd (Le bon pasteur) by James Tissot (1836–1902), public domain.
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