The one thing we can do for Mollie Tibbetts

Expressions of anguish and hope are being heard from around the nation as the search for Mollie Tibbetts drags on. The 20-year-old University of Iowa student disappeared over three weeks ago. Experts believe Tibbetts’ disappearance involves foul play, likely an abduction by somebody she knew or had a non-threatening demeanor.

Many around the nation have expressed solidarity with Mollie’s father, who has pled with the perpetrator to let Mollie come home and turn himself in. Or with Mollie’s step-mother, who has expressed a combination of bewilderment and anguish that someone like Mollie could simply vanish without a trace.

In the midst of such heartache and distress, everyday Americans may feel paralyzed and hopeless. Is there anything at all we can do?

The answer is always yes. The most important thing we can do now – or ever – is pray.

Why should we pray for Mollie?

There are dozens of reasons we should pray for Mollie. But here’s a unique one: We know that Mollie herself believes in the power of prayer.

She believes in the Bible’s declaration that God holds the world in His hands. She believes in its counsel that we should pray on behalf of other people (1 Timothy 2:1). She believes we should plead with God in times of trouble (Psalm 50:15). And she believes we should pray with the radical trust that despite the appearance of outward circumstances, God’s goodness and mercy are always near (Hebrews 4:16).

Were Mollie in our shoes, she would know what to do. She would pray. So let’s honor her by doing the same.

What should we pray for Mollie?

Many people who aren’t in the habit of praying find themselves willing to give it a try if the situation is desperate enough. But what should we pray?

We should pray for justice and mercy, because we appeal to a God who gives justice to the weak and has mercy on the needy (Psalm 82:3-4).

We should pray for Him to have mercy on Mollie by rescuing her, either through the hands of law enforcement officers or through more dramatic and supernatural means.

We should pray for Him to bring justice for Mollie by delivering up anybody who has abducted or harmed her.

And we should pray for courage. We don’t know the details of Mollie’s past few weeks, but we can be pretty sure they’ve been filled with fear. Between now and the resolution of this heartbreaking situation, we can pray that God will give her strength and courage.

Praying Within a Larger Story

Most importantly, we should pray with hope. And that means praying from within the Bible’s true story about the world.

Hope comes from knowing that God created this world perfectly good, without a trace of evil (Genesis 1). Hope persists when we remember that evil is an intruder, a result of humanity’s decision to turn away from God’s good kingdom (Genesis 3). Hope is nourished when we look to God’s promise: Rather than leaving us to endure suffering and darkness, He vowed to send a Savior to crush evil and draw us back to Him.

And hope finds its blazing center in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We celebrate Jesus’ death because through it God himself was acting to save the world from itself, once and for all. Even while the forces of evil were conspiring to perpetrate history’s greatest evil, God was working to bring about history’s greatest good.

In the crucifixion, Jesus entered into our suffering and experienced it on our behalf. He lived the sinless life that we should have lived, and experienced the evil that we, a rebel race, brought upon ourselves through sin. He took our guilty record and its consequences, died for it, and offers us His perfect record and eternal life in return.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8 NIV).

The crucifixion, however, is not the end of the story. Hope burst forth in victory when Jesus rose from the dead. And in His resurrection, we receive a promise that we, too, can share in His everlasting life. Standing by the light of Jesus’ resurrection, no situation is so bleak as to become hopeless. Whether in this life or the next, the resurrection guarantees that sadness, despair, and death will not have the final word.

Hope for Mollie and Hope for Us

We do not know the end of Mollie’s story. But we do know the story in which her story fits. And Mollie knows the Storyteller who holds her in His hand and cherishes her in His heart. Neither she nor we have reason to abandon hope, because our hope does not rest on what happens next. Our hope rests on what happens last. Because while evil might have prevailed for a moment, it will not prevail in the end.

Bruce Ashford is the Provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is "Letters to an American Christian." Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford and Facebook.