Early yesterday morning, I awoke to the news of a tragic shooting that took place in Las Vegas. While the full details of this tragedy are still being gathered at this time, what we do know is that this shooting at a music festival on Sunday night will go down as the most deadly shooting in American history—surpassing the Orlando club shooting in 2016 that took the lives of 49.
When tragedies strike, it’s far too common to witness people expressing their concern on social media by sending “positive thoughts” to hurting people. While it’s commendable for people to desire to help or to seek to encourage a fellow human being, it’s important to realize that positive thoughts are empty words that have zero benefit to anyone. It would be better to pray. If you’re not a Christian, it would be better to intentionally encourage a fellow human being with real words that have real meaning as opposed to sending positive thoughts in the direction of a person in need.
The Truth About Positive Thinking
The whole notion of positive thinking is derived from a combination of mysticism and psychology. The idea is that a person is capable of tapping into the inner being of a human’s brain and release positive vibes that will change the person’s feelings about their condition and increase self worth. According to the EOC Institute:
In basic terms, the law of attraction states that your thoughts & belief systems send certain “vibrations” out to the cosmos. In turn, the universe responds by giving you a kind of customized made-to-order set of experiences which directly validate said thoughts and beliefs.
Since our “thoughts become things” — then we are ultimately the creators of the life circumstances we now find ourselves.
Today, we see people who have bought into this idea and now believe it’s possible to change someone else’s feelings, emotions, and circumstances by sending those same positive vibes across geographic territory to the specific person they’re focusing on. It has become very common to see people who say things such as, “Sending positive thoughts your way” in the comment threads of social media outlets. Once again, this is not a new phenomenon. We see such teaching from Norman Vincent Peale who popularized his teaching in a work titled, The Power of Positive Thinking. According to Norman Vincent Peale, “The person who sends out the most positive thoughts activates the world around him positively and draws back to himself positive results.”
The longing for happiness is an age-old pursuit of the human soul. The desire to feel supported by a community such as your family or a network of friends is as ancient as human civilization—dating back to the Garden of Eden. People want to feel connected and supported—especially in times of need. It doesn’t matter if you call it positive thoughts, vibes, or energy—all such attempts to change people’s circumstances through such efforts will be like clouds without water and empty wells.
What People Really Need in Times of Difficulty
In James, we find a sobering warning about the idea of positive thoughts in the midst of a time of need. James refers to such talk as dead faith. James writes:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-17).
Jesus provided us with hopeful words regarding the power of prayer. In his famous sermon on the mount, Jesus said these words to his followers:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:9-13).
According to Jesus, our heavenly Father is capable of hearing the prayers of people and responding in accordance with his sovereign will. Everything from daily bread to deliverance from evil—God reigns and is supreme. Our God rules from heaven’s throne and is capable of caring for the needs of his people and delivering them from perils of this fallen world. We are never commanded to send positive thoughts or energy to another person. Instead, we are called to pray to our God who hears and answers the cries of his people.
Hurting people need God. Hurting people need to hear the prayers of God’s people. Hurting people need to see the people of God praying and working to aid those who are in need. No amount of positive thinking, positive energy sending, or any other mystical trend will bring comfort to hurting people. When Jesus’ followers beseech the throne of glory on behalf of hurting people—God hears and God responds.
Please don’t send positive energy or positive thoughts to Las Vegas. The god of positive energy is dead (Ps. 115:4-8). The one true and living God who has revealed himself in the pages of Scripture is alive. He rules and reigns. He will accomplish his will (Ps. 115:2-3). We can expect the unbelieving world to attempt to beam positive vibes to other people and we can expect to hear them repeat empty phrases. However, the Church of Jesus Christ is called to pray and then serve out of a heart of love. The next time you hear of a human tragedy or you scroll through your social media newsfeed and see a friend who is hurting—pray.