Monday, November 5, 2012

The Power of Prayer

Dear Theophilus,

I can’t count the times that I’ve heard the questions: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “How can a loving God allow evil to happen in the world?” I’ve always enjoyed answering these questions with another question: “Why does a blind man look in the mirror?” I find, however, that trying to explain my question to raised eyebrows can take more effort than my little chuckle is worth.

I should have known that I’d have better luck finding an answer to all three questions in scripture. When I had the opportunity to think about it this weekend, I was amazed at how self-evident the answer is:

As he walked along he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (Jn 9:1-3)

What got me to thinking about this was a visit to Sick Kids hospital in Toronto with my son this past weekend. We were there to visit friends whose son had recently lost his right foot in a tragic accident. These are God fearing people, very involved in parish life, and would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it (I’ve seen them do it, though perhaps not literally). When news of the accident spread through the parish there was shock and sadness. Then people began to pray.

In our family we didn’t pray for a miraculous healing. Although that would be nice, we know not to question the will of God. Instead, we prayed that God would allow the Holy Spirit to descend upon our friends, giving them the strength and courage to see themselves through this crisis. Whether it was during our individual morning prayers, as an addition to our mealtime prayers, or silently in bed before falling asleep at night; we prayed for my son’s friend and his parents.

Arriving at the hospital Saturday afternoon, like most people in that situation, I was left searching for what to say to the young boy and his parents. Nothing ever seems right in those circumstances. As the boys wheeled and walked ahead of us down the hall, hangin’ out as only 8 year-old boys can, I turned to the mom and said, “You look good.” to which she answered in a soft Irish lilt: “If it wasn’t for everybody’s prayers, I don’t know where I would find the courage to get through this.”

As we continued chatting through the visit, talking about looking after the boys, the animals on their farm, or parish events, every time the conversation meandered back to the reason why we were there she would voice how her courage was buoyed by everyone’s prayers.

It wasn’t until the subway ride home that it hit me; that’s exactly what we had been praying for: strength and courage for the family to get through this tragedy. Our prayers were being answered. Knowing this, my heart burned stronger in prayer later that night.

So, returning to my opening questions: “Why did God allow such a horrific thing happen to such good people?” I doubt it was to punish them for their sins, but rather so that this blind man (and hopefully others) could see God’s works revealed in the answering of our prayers.