Pray, even when you cannot see the effects

Brett Fawcett


Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 24, 2016
Genesis 18.20-21, 23-32 | Psalm 138 | Colossians 2.12-14 | Luke 11.1-13
July 11, 2016

One thing we inevitably hear in the wake of great global tragedies and catastrophes is a lot of people telling the survivors that "our thoughts and prayers are with you."

Lately, there's been another inevitable response: A chorus of people rejecting this, saying it isn't good enough. We need action, too, and, sometimes, people will even indignantly add: "Stop praying. God isn't doing anything."

This may sound shocking and blasphemous to our ears, but we have to honestly consider the place where a retort like this could come from. After all, haven't we all had that painful experience of praying desperately for something important - and hearing silence?

Some of us have been blessed enough to see prayers answered with a hearty "Yes!" from above, and we can go back to that experience of God responding to us when we experience doubt. But we have to be honest and admit that our "thoughts and prayers" are not always very reassuring after, say, a mass shooting.

For everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. - Luke 11.10

'For everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.'

Luke 11.10

One thing we have to remember is that, whatever God is up to, he never deals with people en masse. He is always personally concerned for every single individual in every single situation.

Everyone who is part of a catastrophe - whether they live or die, whether they are injured or emerge unscathed - is an immortal soul wrapped in God's love and part of a plan hatched from eternity with their salvation as a goal. Thus, even if we can't always see it, we can know that God is invisibly at work in each person - in response to our prayers.

We see that in the story of Abraham in the First Reading: God announces that he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham begs him to spare the city if he can find even 10 righteous people left in it. God concedes; he will spare it if he can find 10 righteous people.

Even though today's reading doesn't record the aftermath, the Bible says that, of course, God could not find 10 righteous people; but he did find Lot, and made sure that Lot was delivered safely from the destruction around him.

The point of this story is not that God only punishes wicked people and saves good people - after all, Lot himself was often a vile sinner. The point is that God takes account of every single individual when he does something dramatic and violent; he does nothing that doesn't work for the salvation of every individual involved, whether we see it or not.

This is why it is important for us to pray in the wake of disasters; even if we can't see the effects (or don't realize we are seeing them). That doesn't mean God isn't hearing us and acting on our prayers in ways hidden from us.

This is why, while on the cross, Jesus kept praying, even after he cried out, as we sometimes do: "Why have you forsaken me?"