Jerry Novotny OMI – Ukrainian authorities say over 400 hundred children have been killed and many more injured since the start of Russia’s invasion nearly eight months ago. Among the many victims of the deadliest conflict since World War II are these small children for whom life has just begun.
While reading the book of Habakkuk, a prophet in the Old Testament who lived 600 years before Jesus, I was struck by how similar the situation today compares to this period in history. Like Ukraine bombarded daily by a rain of Russian missiles and illegal accession of Ukrainian land, Israel was also in great turmoil. The Kingdom of Babylon attacked the city of Jerusalem, killed innocent children, women, grandparents, destroyed homes, hospitals and shopping centers. In addition, the Babylonians forced Jewish citizens into exile, to a country which was foreign to them. This is exactly what is happening now. Putin and his gestapo army have invaded Ukraine. The terrorist continue with daily bombings, killing ordinary people who have no weapons to defend themselves, destroying cities, schools, hospitals and forcing millions to flee to neighboring foreign countries.
According to the news this morning, Russia has raised the level of unmerciful destruction. The military is hitting Ukraine with a wave of attacks, dive-bombing the capital, Kyiv, with Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones. These massive strikes have cut the electricity in hundreds of towns and villages causing blackouts and much fear with winter approaching.
We are facing a new type of war, nuclear countries with nuclear weapons attacking or intimidating smaller non-nuclear countries, for example Russia illegally invading Ukraine and China threatening Taiwan. In order to protect themselves, there is a race among smaller countries to become nuclear. One example is North Korea.
In the midst of this conflict which we view daily on TV and read in newspapers, Habakkuk, the prophet, does what many of us would do. He questions God. Where is God? Why does He allow this to happen? Why doesn’t He seem to be listening to my prayers? Why is He silent?
Many of us can relate to this feeling of despair. There are times in our life when we wonder where God is, especially the case of terminal cancer of a loved one, loss of a job, financial difficulties, loneliness among elderly or the spread of corona epidemic virus. We wonder if God really cares. Just when we feel we need God the most, it seems as though He is further away than ever. Why won’t He listen?
I’m afraid that an answer to this question will never be fully given. How can God remain silent in the midst of so much suffering? One way to consider this silence is that God may be working very hard to solve this problem. When we work on an important project, we get so lost in our work that we become oblivious to our surroundings. In a similar way, God is working silently to set things right. We may not see the results right away, but in due time they will be revealed.
On this point, Saint Teresa of Avila’s insight into “whether God is silent or not” is worth contemplating. She states:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
In short, God’s movements are limited because He has given us a free will. He teaches us how to solve a problem, what approaches to use, and how to bring peace and stability in times of suffering and conflict. We know from Scripture that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. God communicates to us through His Holy Spirit. In reality, He works very hard 24/7. He is not silent as we claim. If He has no body but ours, no means to communicate but through us, then we are the problem. God is not silent, we are silent.
Saint Padre Pio has another way to help us understand this dilemma. When he was a little boy, he used to sit and watch his mother doing needlepoint. All he could see was the bottom of the fabric that she was working on. To him, it just seemed like a bunch of loose threads and knots. He asked his mother why she was making such a mess of her needlework. She stopped and flipped the fabric over to show him the design that she was working on. Then it made sense to him. In the same way, Saint Padre Pio says, from our perspective, God’s work seems chaotic and unorganized, even silent. But He is working on a beautiful design that will one day be revealed to us. It will make sense of everything that we are going through in this life.
Toward the end of Chapter two, God does finally answer Habakkuk: “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.” So, God asks us to wait patiently when we are suffering. He asks us to believe that He hears us and that He cares. He will not abandon us. We simply need to keep going forward and believe that He has everything under control. We cannot be silent. When the time is right – and only then – it will all come together.
In the New Testament, we see that Jesus also experienced God’s silence as He was suffering. While nailed to the cross, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He knew what pain was, He knew how it felt to be abandoned by God. Yet He trusted in the love and goodness of God. So when we suffer, we should unite ourselves to the cross of Jesus. He will strengthen us. By believing in Him, we can be confident that eventually joy and peace will replace suffering and death. Silence is not an alternative. God has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. God can bring peace in Ukraine and elsewhere only through your body. He is not silent.