In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines on 8 November, 2013, flattening the cities of Tacloban and Leyte as it roared and raged with a one minute sustained velocity of 196 miles per hour, spanning a width of three hundred miles, smashing all earlier records and leaving behind in its trail debris, devastation, destruction and death, people shell shocked by this catastrophic cataclysm have been asking the question “Why.” Over five thousand people have already been pronounced dead and with many more still unaccounted for, the toll is bound to rise. Why is God so seemingly distant and detached from the suffering and struggle of so many? To that “Why” there are so many others. Why must so called civilised countries murder millions of babies making the womb a tomb and have them disposed of unceremoniously? Why must innocent children suffer? Why must the wicked prosper and criminals go unpunished? Why must there be hatred and revenge in the hearts of brothers and sisters towards one another? Why must nations spend so much time, talent and money stockpiling arms and ammunition when thousands of people all over the world die of hunger and disease, deprived of the bare necessities of life? Why must missionaries, priests, religious and layfaithful leave their own country and culture with its customs and climate and opt to work in a territory where they are unknown, unseen and unsung?
Hosts of generations have asked the same question before. Job himself, sinking in the sea of suffering, asked that question: “Why was I not still born, or why did I not perish as I left the womb? Why were there knees to receive me, breasts for me to suck?” (Job 3:11-12). The psalmist in his prayer to God asks: “Why this uproar among the nations, this impotent muttering of the peoples?” as the powers of this world plot together against Yahweh and his anointed (Psalm 2:1). Or again when he queries God: “Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant, stay hidden in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1). Jesus himself, hanging on the cross at Calvary as he prayed asked the question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).
My prayer not too infrequently also has a “Why”? It is not a “Why” of doubt or disbelief. Doubt is never a foe but a friend of faith. Doubt does not necessarily discard but deepens faith. It is only when our faith hits rock bottom that it gets firmly grounded. My “Why” in prayer is more like the “Why” of a simple child asking questions because of its infantile incomprehension at the infinite intricacies of God’s invisible interventions in my life. I am not questioning God. I am not putting him in the dock. As we journey through life, there will undoubtedly be questions along the way. Questions are not necessarily denials; they are quests as we search for God. They lead us on to Him. Lovers like to be sought. And God is a Tremendous Lover! I cannot understand. I cannot fathom. I cannot comprehend. I am not looking for an answer. I do not want God to respond. But I look for him. He does respond in silence. And His silence says it all! And His silence keeps the search on. It is like a flame in my heart that keeps on burning, even though it tends at times to flicker. In one of his recent off the cuff addresses to the Filipino community whom he met in Rome recently, Pope Francis told them that in prayer we must not be afraid to ask God “Why”. When we do so, like a loving parent God looks at us with love. That loving look provides all the answers as we rest our restlessness in him. Our prayer makes us then aware that the infinitesimal can never understand the Infinite. We feel little, useless and speechless before God. And littleness, uselessness and speechlessness is when prayer really begins!