Wait for the Lord with Courage
The devastation in Houston and in the Gulf region, in the Caribbean (and likely in Florida by the time you are reading this) due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as the cataclysms in South Asian countries and the worst earthquake in Mexico in a century, may leave many of us feeling heartbroken, helpless, and unheard. I say “unheard” because we prayed—so many of us prayed—and still the storms hit and destroyed lives and livelihoods. In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “[I]f two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” Why, then, weren’t the prayer requests granted?
We know Jesus has the power. “A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, ‘Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?’ They were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’” (Mark 4:37-41). I number myself with the disciples. I also wonder sometimes, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” If the wind and sea obey, and if your Father grants what two or three agree on earth to pray about, then why do you seem so deaf or powerless? Am I alone feeling this way? Have the storms (or the storms of your life) tested your faith?
It reminds me of that righteous character, Job. Job was afflicted by “the satan” (the accuser) because of a bet with God to prove that Job’s goodness was merely a result of his health, wealth, and well-being. Poor Job! Like him, “I want to argue with God” sometimes (Job 13:3). Can we blame Job for wanting to take God to court (Job 31:35)? “Let me know why you oppose me. Is it a pleasure for you to oppress, to spurn the work of your hands…?” (Job 10:2-3). In the current floods and disasters, could we blame anyone for feeling like Job: “I cry to you, but you do not answer me… You have turned into my tormentor, and with your strong hand you attack me. You raise me up and drive me before the wind; I am tossed about by the tempest” (Job 30:20-22)?
There is little satisfaction by way of theodicy in the book of Job. We are left with an admonition to be humble and to trust even when it makes little sense to us. Like the Psalmist, Job’s message is, “Though war be waged against me, even then do I trust” (Psalm 27:3). The prophet Isaiah puts it this way: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Job is a type of Christ, the only truly righteous man who did not deserve any suffering or death. In Christ, we learn the wisdom of the cross. It does not answer my opening questions about prayer, except that Jesus Himself prayed for the cup to pass him by, but accepted the will of the Father (Luke 22:42). “[H]e humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). Pope St. John Paul II asked, “What does it mean to have a part in the Cross of Christ? It means to experience, in the Holy Spirit, the love hidden within the Cross of Christ. It means to recognize, in the light of this love, our own cross. It means to take up that cross once more and, strengthened by this love, to continue our journey…” Everything must go to the Father by the way of the cross with Christ; there is no other way.
Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters should never be seen as signs of God’s anger or retribution for sin. Even the story of Noah’s Ark was interpreted by early Christians not as a story about God’s retribution but as a symbol of the waters of Baptism that wash the world free of sin. About Baptism, Paul asked, “are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3). All of creation continues to be afflicted by the disorder that sin brought (and brings) into the world. “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Romans 8:22). Everything goes to the Father by the way of the cross with Christ; there is no other way.
Let us offer help and hope to one another who are suffering, and whose faith is tested. Remember that Christ is always present wherever the cross is being endured, for “in [our] flesh [we are] filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). When God seems silent, remember that Christ endured this same—literally excruciating—agony, crying out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). And then hold onto the hope of the Resurrection, as St. Paul did when he exclaimed, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Romans 6:8) and “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18).
If you need a prayer to help you through this time, turn to Psalm 27. Pray it again and again, slowly, and with all your heart. “Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”