Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Be not silent, O God of my praise! Psalm 109:1
During this time of pandemic, I have chosen to write on the Psalms, since many of them provide comfort. I plan to go back to writing the “Heart of Encouragement” unit towards the end of the year. I will not be writing on all 150 Psalms, and even though I am going fairly in order, I do occasionally go ahead and write on one out of order, as is the case today, in response to an email I received from a Prayer Team member, who wrote:
“If God is so great, how come He has cast this pandemic on us?? And why doesn’t me ‘make it flee and . .melt as wax before fire?’ I wish to underscore no disrespect is at the root in my sentiments, just the hugest confusion I have ever experienced in my spiritual life.” He calls this question “the elephant in the room.” First of all, thank you for this question, and I encourage anyone who reads my messages, to ask questions. If you have this question, undoubtedly many others have it as well.
Many times in life, we will reflect on the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” And then we will reflect on a second question “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people, and where is God when those bad things are happening?” These are good and valid questions.
There are several “answers” I go to when confronted by these kinds of questions. Sometimes it is to the story of the “footprints in the sand,” where a man has a dream that he is walking on the beach with the Lord, seeing the scenes of his life. During the difficult scenes, he sees only one set of footprints, and asks the Lord why at the most difficult times in his life, it seems that the Lord has abandoned him. To which the Lord replies, “That is when I carried you.” This is a popular answer and a comforting one. I believe it’s true.
Then there is the logical answer, that only good comes from God, so if it is not good, there must be a human source, or the problem must come from a fallen world. For instance, if we eat poorly for many years and develop diabetes or heart disease, that is not God’s fault, but the result of our personal bad decision. If someone else is driving too fast and our car happens to be in front of them and gets hit, again, not God’s fault, but the result of a poor decision by someone else. When an earthquake or a hurricane happens, this is the result of a broken “earth” and if people are living in the area where the earth breaks, they will suffer loss, whether they are saints or sinners. Thinking along these lines, this illness either has a “natural cause,” meaning that it was spawned by an imperfection in the world, or it has a human cause, someone created it. But it does not have a Godly cause. God did not make this virus.
Why doesn’t God just intervene and stop all this? That’s a good question. He could, that’s for sure. The problem with God stepping in all the time, to correct every mistake before it gets made, whether that mistake is a human mistake or a mistake of nature, is that in doing so, God would take away free will. If every time I go to do something wrong, God stops me, then I no longer have the choice between right and wrong. I am forced to do right. Of course, sometimes God alters the course of nature and makes a right where there is a wrong, and this is what we call a miracle.
Which brings us then to the question to which there is no answer: Why does God step in and make a miracle at certain times and at other instances He doesn’t? There is no answer to this question.
Which brings us to a verse in Acts 1 which helps me accept things like a pandemic, where bad things are not happening only to me or to someone else, but to our collective humanity. In Acts 1:6, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” It is after the Resurrection. The disciples have dutifully, for the most part, followed Christ for three years. They have listened to His teachings, seen His miracles, witnessed His death and now rejoiced in His Resurrection. Along the way, they’ve had doubts and questions. And they’ve weaved a narrative that allows them to keep following, even though they don’t understand. In their minds, the next logical step is for a political restoration of their area, liberating them from the oppression of the Romans. This makes sense, at least in their minds.
Jesus’ answer must come like a kick in the gut. In Acts 1:7, He answers them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” In other words, this narrative is not going to play out as you wish to it to play out, but according to the way God is going to allow it to play out.
The answer to the question posed to me in the email about why does God seem silent is that I have no answer for this. This is one of those times we find ourselves in Acts 1:7, not knowing what season this is that God has fixed for us. There are plenty of apocalyptic signs in the world right now—perhaps the end of the world is near, or we are on the road to the end of it. Or perhaps this is part of the ebb and flow of the history of the fallen world. In Genesis 41, we read of Joseph’s dream where there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Perhaps, having had years of plenty, we are entering a period of famine. Perhaps God is allowing a recalibrating of the world, and a great revival of Christianity it right around the corner, even though it doesn’t seem like it today. Perhaps we have manufactured this crisis, driving it out of a sense of greed, power and entitlement. In any case, the short answer is that I don’t have an exact answer. This is one of those times when we have to rely on faith, that God is guiding our steps, even though we can’t see where we are going. More on that tomorrow. . .
As for today’s Psalm selection, Psalm 109 is called the judgment of the betrayer. It is a prayer for vengeance on the enemies of God, and is read on Good Friday, in reference to Judas’ betrayal of the Lord. I’m not printing the whole Psalm today, as most of it is very negative. Two verses stand out, verse one: “Be not silent, O God of my praise!” and verse 26: “Help me, O Lord my God! Save me according to Thy steadfast love.” Thus, these will be the prayer today.
Be not silent, O God of my praise! Help me, O Lord my God! Save me according to Thy steadfast love. Psalm 109: 1, 26
Unfortunately, there are not answers for every question. If there were, there would be not be faith. Because faith is believing when not all the answers are known!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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