PRAYER IN PAIN
Recent news has not been good news. Two devastating explosions earlier this week slaughtered over 30 people in the heart of Belgium. Having lived in the country for seven years and having married a man whose family still lives there, my heart is naturally heavy as I write. Of course, an event of this kind was to be expected. The level of alert had been high for months now and this should have prepared us, I suppose. Yet whenever such things happen, the blow is just as strong as if we had not been prepared. I wonder if the disciples felt this way when their Lord was taken away some 2000 years ago?
Jesus had warned His disciples several times about His coming death. It was, however, clear that they did not get it then. Peter had even rebuked Jesus when He had spoken of His departure. So when the events of Gethsemane unfolded, they seemed startled. They watched in shock as their unbeatable Messiah was mocked, beaten and finally crucified. Death had overcome Life. The ferocious Pharisees had prevailed.
And Jesus’ reply?
It seemed non-existant.
No self-defense. No complaints. No emotional breakdowns.
However, Jesus’ final reply seems to come only on the cross and it is crystalized in a prayer:
“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
The Internet site of the Belgian newspaper ‘Le Soir’ is currently displaying a hashtag “#PrayForBelgium”. Deep emotions of indignation, anger and grief have unwittingly created momentum for prayer.
Even though sensationalism can cause emotional reactions of all kinds, joining a prayer movement is perhaps one of the safest reactions we can have! After Jesus’ death, the disciples themselves gathered together to pray. Togetherness in grief brings the comfort of communality. But what good can prayer do in times of pain?
The greatest example we have of praying in suffering is the Man of Sorrows Himself. He prayed in the middle of torture, injustice and rejection. And surprisingly, His prayer was not a demand for justice, relief or vengeance. He addressed God for those who had crucified Him, praying for them to be forgiven. This prayer turned the tables. The One who looked like a victim was actually the Victor. The one who forgives is the one who wins.
In His last moments Jesus lived out His teaching on forgiveness:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
The battle in suffering is for our souls. Will pain lead us to hatred, resentment and bitterness – or will we forgive?
This Easter some of us may be grieving for departed loved ones, just as the disciples grieved for their Master. In the middle of our grief, may we look into the eyes of the One who has conquered death. And may He give us the grace to pray for those who have hurt us.
*I made this painting (The Heart of Belgium) during our years in Belgium, as I realised the shape of the country corresponds somewhat to a heart. The blended colours of the flag proclaim unity in a country that is a victim of division.