When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
When I was 12 or 13 I prayed a nightly prayer as I prepared to go to sleep: “Oh, God, please God. Don’t let anything happen to me, Andrea (my sister), my father or my mother.” Night after night. For two or three years, if my memory is reliable.
I don’t know how I came up with that prayer, how I formulated it in my pre-adolescent mind, or why I prayed it each night. I never heard my parents pray, other than once a year during Rosh Hashonna when mom prayed over the Yahrtzeit candles for her deceased mother. Now that I think about it, more than 50 years later, I probably learned to pray from watching movies on television.
“Oh God, please God, don’t let anything happen to me, Andrea, my father or my mother.
In more recent years, however, I’ve wondered what might have happened to my fledgling faith if something bad did happen to me, Andrea, my father, or my mother. As a child who thought like a child and reasoned as a child, would I have put aside my childish faith? Would I have been angry at God, thought Him impotent, or uncaring, or absent, for permitting something serious to fall over us? I’ve talked with many people in the last 40 years of my walk with the Savior to whom exactly that had happened. They’d prayed fervently, sometimes day after day for years for a loved one, or for themselves, for good to happen – and the opposite occurred. Death. Divorce. Loss . . . .
Although this is speculation on my part – I like to think if something bad had happened to one of us, and I laid aside my youthful faith, I like to think that when I became a man I would have recovered from my earlier rejection of God. I like to think I would have grown to know God for who He really is: Not impotent, but almighty. Not uncaring, but the very essence of love. Not absent, but always with me, never leaving me, never forsaking me.
Why do prayers sometimes – some might say many times – why do they go unanswered? Why do loved ones – even children -- die in accidents, or by illness, or murder, or suicide or . . . . ? Why do lovers separate?
Why do bad things happen to God’s people?
Once upon a time, I thought I knew why. I could cite a dozen reasons, and come up with as many scriptures to explain God’s actions or inactions. But now, after so long walking with Jesus, I confess I am no longer sure why He does what He does, or does not do what He does not do.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror,’ St. Paul continued in his 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. ‘[But] then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
After all the decades of unanswered and sometimes desperate prayers I’ve lifted toward heaven, I now believe faith in God – faith that abides despite dead loved ones, or divorce, or long and arduous sickness, or any other terrible trial that falls so often over so many of God’s children – I now believe a stick-to-it faith in God is nothing less than a supernatural gift He gives to those who still seek Him, even after terrible and unyielding disappointment.
I believe abiding faith is as great a supernatural gift, it is as great a grace, as that of being healed of sickness, or resurrected from a dead relationship. It’s the kind of grace that enables us to put childhood thoughts and reasoning behind, and fix adult eyes on things unseen, or unknown -- and simply be content with that.
I wish I had a better answer – for myself, and for those who ask me the often unanswerable question, “Why?”
And so I continue to pray, “Oh, God! Give us your gift, give us your grace to say – even from the depths of our personal hell: “Jesus, I trust in you.”