“One of my best friends is in the Philippines and–you know–the huge typhoon is heading their way. I’d like us to pray for my friend and everyone there in danger.”
“Oh yeah, that’s supposed to be the biggest storm ever in history or something.”
I was embarrassed. Anyone that knows me knows that I stay glued (too much) to various news sites throughout the given day. And yet, I hadn’t heard of this storm. While someone in the home group prayed for those in the path of this storm, I snuck a peak at my New York Times app. Yep, the top story was still about the FDA all but banning trans fats.
Why hadn’t I heard about this?
We prayed and continued with our sermon discussion. Afterward, I had my fifteen minute walk home. It was dark and quiet out. I’ve been trying to give myself more spaces without defaulting to easy distractions: my phone, books, articles, TV, and such. I’m trying to give myself more time of quiet and prayer.
And so I walked down the streets in silence and my mind returned once more to the Philippines. The first time I ever heard of the country was when I was really young and my aunt and uncle were missionaries there. I wondered where they were in the world right now. China, I last heard.
But then I started drifting into prayer. Intense prayer. For the Philippines. For my friend’s friend. For the international response. I prayed harder than I have for a while. I then prayed, pleaded and begged God that he would do something miraculous–not let anyone die. Not one person. I felt the Holy Spirit prodding me and moving me to pray this prayer, to give this bold request.
I pulled out my phone to see if CNN had the info on the storm. And yes, it was the top story. I opened it up. The first line talked about three people that had already died in the initial swells and winds: one older person and two infants.
I looked up, a little bewildered. I returned to praying. Strengthen their spirits. Let peace reign. Let resources be available. And please don’t let anyone else die. Please. Lord, life and death are in your hands. Don’t let anyone else die.
I went to sleep. I woke up to more than 10,000 Filipinos dead (with more to come). Over a million people now homeless. Looting rampant. First responders not able to get in.
I played all of the mental games. Well, God has us pray for things to change us and make our hearts more sensitive to the world. Well, I know that most everyone in the Philippines are Christians, so if this storm had to come, at least it came to people that I can confidently believe are with God right now. No kooky evangelicals can say it was God’s “judgment” or something. Perhaps this will turn into something amazing in the long run, like a powerful show by the Christian Church and some revival. This is God’s people being joined to God’s suffering. Jesus knows how this feels. He’s been there. He’s suffered and died.
But no matter what, I still felt betrayed. I felt angry. I had really felt a gift of faith stirred in me that God had heard those prayers. But now, I felt that those prayers went nowhere. I felt that, in fact, maybe there wasn’t even anyone there to hear them.
I recalled all of those cliche atheist attacks about prayer. Show me any empirical evidence that it works. Is it any better if God only saved lives if we asked first? Why would God answer your prayer and not someone else’s?
I felt personally hurt by God. Unfortunately, the rhythm of my life is such right now that I hadn’t prayed in depth like that in a long time. I had felt far from God and this was my first time turning back to him. I felt a real connection for the first time in a while. And this is what happened.
I felt that deep darkness of doubt begin to grow in my chest. And prayer had been the doorway to this moment.
But the funny thing about a doorway: most of the time, not only is it the way into something, but it’s quite often the way out as well.
I had all these emotions swirling in me. I had nowhere to turn. Nowhere to take them. And so, ironically, I took them to the one Person I possibly could. I got no answers. But again, I knew I was heard.
And maybe, just for today, that was enough.
[image credit: “The Giant” by Francisco deGoya]