A Prayer

February 7, 2021; Job 7:1-4,6-7; 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

There was a man of deep faith, whose 8-year-old daughter was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. The doctors did not offer much hope. But this man firmly believed that God would cure his daughter. For months, he went daily to visit his daughter in the hospital. Before each visit, he would stop at his parish church and pray that God would heal his daughter. When the time came for her birthday, he wanted to do something special. So he bought her favorite cake to bring to the hospital. But, as was his practice, he first stopped at the church and knelt before the crucifix. He thanked God, for keeping his daughter alive and begged God to find a way that she could beat this cancer. When he arrived at the hospital, he sensed immediately that something was wrong. The doctor came out with a grim face, and held his hand. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Your daughter died an hour ago.” The man froze. For several moments, he could not move, absorbing the terrible news. Finally, the doctor said, “Would you like to sit down? We could get you some water.” “No, thank you,” he said. “I have to do something first.” He left the hospital, drove back to the church, and walked down the center aisle, carrying his daughter’s birthday cake. When he reached the front, he hurled the cake at the crucifix. “There,” he said, “Thanks for nothing.”

How might we describe this action of the bereaved father? What should we call his assault on the crucifix? It might surprise you that the Bible would call his action a prayer. When you and I think of prayer, we think of speaking to God with humility, reverence, and thankfulness. To be sure, prayer is often like that. But the bible insists that, if we are going to pray, we must speak to God what we think and how we feel. And that can make things ugly. The psalms are filled with irreverent complaints against God: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me.” Job’s words in today’s first reading are not sugar-coated: “My days come to an end without hope. My life is like the wind. I shall never see happiness again.” These words of desolation and despair might not seem a prayer to us. But Job is expressing how he feels. When he hurls those words against the Lord, it is an act of faith.

You see, when terrible things happen, people who do not have faith ignore or reject God. But people who truly believe, attack God. They demand to know, “Why did this happen to me? Where were you when I needed you? Why are your promises to me so empty?” This kind of honesty is the bedrock of prayer, because the bible understands that when we pray to God, we must come to God as we are. When our lives are filled with chaos and despair, prayers of violence and anger are sometimes the only prayers that we can say.

So, if your life is perfect, if you have too many blessings to count, then by all means, come before the Lord with humble and joyful thanks. But if you have just lost the love of your life, if the pain from your cancer is too much to bear, if you are furious over the injustice that exists in our world, then confront God and demand an answer. Cry out how worthless and negligent God is. If that is the way you feel, that is how God wants the conversation to begin.

And remember, however raw your emotions are, however devastating your accusation is, God is big enough to take it.

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