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I prayed to God that he would stop [the earthquake]. He did not listen. I stopped it myself! [This is why] I don’t pray anymore!
- Haitian boy (age 7)
For months, the horrifying images flooded televisions and computer screens. However, most of us can only imagine the terror of Haiti’s most devastating earthquake. When the quake began, there is a story of a child who was alone in his room. Terrified, he called out to God, but the house continued to shake and crumble around him. In desperation, he reached down and tried to steady the floor with the strength of his own little hands. And as he did, the quake suddenly stopped.
As a result, for weeks, the child refused to pray. Recognizing his anger at God’s apparent powerlessness, his mother tried to help him understand that God had, in fact, heard his desperate prayer that day.
“God answered you by putting power in your hands to act on your own behalf. This is why you were able to steady the ground,” his mother told him.
Sometimes we are like this child when terrible experiences numb our sense of God’s presence and sap our desire to engage the sacred. Catastrophe can indeed loosen our grip on tightly held beliefs about God.
However, the loosening of our avowed beliefs is not always evidence of weak faith.
On the contrary, perhaps faith is fortified through this process. Our shaken beliefs contain our errant preconceptions of God and may merely be the dross that surrounds real faith. That we can feel bereft of such belief following tragedy is not the end of our faith. Perhaps it is the sign of faith’s purification.
A timely reflection for such moments:
If the thought comes to you that everything that you have thought about God is mistaken and that there is no God, do not be dismayed. It happens to many people. But do not think that the source of your unbelief is that there is no God. If you no longer believe in God in whom you believed before, this comes from the fact that there is something wrong with your belief, and you must strive to grasp better that which you call God. -Leo Tolstoy
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