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Our prayers and God's silence: what Scripture says
The word 'no' can wreck lives - annihilate hope - but is often the very soul of moderation. This smallest of words contains immense power, a word that will start wars, but rarely end them.
In our daily lives most manage this little word quite well, and even when dire consequence follows bad decision, one way or another humanity assembles sufficient understanding to start over again. But this sanguine approach is of small consequence when the just cause or pious request is met with God's silence.
Most of us tend to forget that Jesus had the same problem in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked for relief from the suffering that was to come but did not receive an answer. And during this time His own Apostles were fast asleep and would run away when real danger threatened.
Again the appeal of a fully human Jesus in His dying moments on the cross - think of the words, 'Why have you abandoned me?' - obtained no answer. Merely a silence, alas, so familiar to all of troubled mankind.
Today, many people experience their own cross of suffering. Some of them receive an answer to their prayers, but others suffer grievously, either personally or on behalf of loved ones, and suffer the same silence as did Jesus, alone on the cross. For these people, the word 'why' often becomes un- manageable.
Book of Job
Somewhere between 500-400 BC the same issues concerned a man named Job, whom God regarded as a just man. This wealthy man quite suddenly lost his entire family, wealth and health, and was plunged into a world of misery and near despair.
The world is always ready to condemn a bad man, - or what it thinks is a bad man - but this was Job whom God knew to be a just man. The Old Testament fully relates his story in the 42 Chapters of the Book of Job.
In a horrendously lengthy and self-righteous discourse, involving four of his friends, Job is informed, without a shred of evidence, that he the just man was being punished for reasons of previous and undisclosed sin, and most certainly deserved punishment - a flawed and rash judgement, all too common in so many of us.
Finally, in the thirty-eighth chapter of this same Book, God Himself terminates this acrimonious discussion, and severely refutes such presumptuous injustice to His faithful servant Job, whom He generously reinstates, and restores his original status, many times over.
In the ninth chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus instructs His Apostles on exactly the same issue. Here He deals with the man born blind, thought by the Apostles, and certainly by the Pharisees, as deserving punishment due to previous sins, or perhaps even because of those committed by his parents.
Again, as in the Book of Job, such conclusions are known by Jesus to be quite wrong, and the healing of the man born blind is in fact intended to be understood as an occasion where God's glory may be seen and blessed by everyone.
It is said that God always answers our prayers, even though quite often the answer is no. The heart is well aware that 'no' is an answer, however unpalatable. But there is wisdom here, for if 'yes' was the answer to every prayer, we mortals might not be able to deal with such a bizarre outcome.
Stop now and consider the quality of a world where everyone's earnest prayer is realised. Consider people whose ardent wish is not to die. Think carefully about the universal consequence of such benevolence.
We invariably forget that our shared existence is on a finite planet, and our lives, and indeed commerce, constantly demonstrate our limitations. The prospect of each of us obtaining our heart's delight would obviously result in a bedlam of universal self-interest.
Great numbers would choose a world without physical suffering, which, ultimately pursued, would deny many of them the information that something is wrong in their lives. Suffering, invariably mysterious, ever present to all of humanity, always requiring a satisfying answer, was denied even to the Saviour on the cross.
Arthur Ballingall is a Victorian Catholic writer.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 23 No 4 (May 2010), p. 20
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