"God has never answered my prayers," said 15-year-old Robi* who lives at the orphanage in Miskolc, Hungary, "And He never will."
The other orphan teens at the Wednesday afternoon Bible study raised their eyebrows as they turned to Russell and Karesz, the leaders, for reply.
It is a statement that would raise most of our eyebrows, if not cause us to gasp in shocked offense at such blatant irreverence for God. But what was Robi really saying with this statement?
I do not know his story, but one does not end up in a Hungarian orphanage if life has been good and happy. We can rest assured that his life, thus far, has been at best, really bad; at worst, unspeakably tragic.
Last summer Robi came face to face with the Gospel and love of Christ for the first time in his life. He responded, and was baptized.
Since then, despite his everpresent proclivity for getting into trouble, he often comes to the regular Wednesday Bible study at the orphanage. Sometimes he is little more than a disruptive influence there, but still he comes. And so last week, in the midst of his disruptions, he blurted out, "God has never answered my prayers, and never will."
The words are shocking. They are irreverent. Perhaps a cry for attention. Perhaps a challenge to God. But before we write Robi off as a "tool of Satan" to wreak havoc on the Bible study and place doubts in the hearts of the struggling believers there, consider the fact that Robi's words are not so different from those penned by David, a man after God's own heart, in Psalm 22:1-2:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent." (NIV)
Robi has not yet made it verse three in this passage, where David takes his eyes off himself and begins to recognize who God is and all that God has done through the ages, which galvanizes his faith to push forward, despite God's seeming silence.
Robi's faith is still in its infancy. He scarcely knows it what it means to be "sure of what we hope for and confident of what we do not see." (Heb. 11:1) The life in which he finds himself has left him ill-equipped to fight the battles that he faces. He is like an untrained soldier forced to the frontlines. And these Wednesday Bible studies represent his only training ground -- and he is being trained in the heat of fiercest combat.
As we see the despair, let us not overlook the hope in his words. First, clearly Robi believes in God. He knows God is out there, he merely questions God's interest in him personally. Second, "God has never answered my prayers," insinuates that Robi prays. There is some faith alive in him. And finally, the fact that he says, "God never will," insinuates that he expects to pray in the future.
Robi is distraught, longing for assurance, but he has not given up on God.
And the better news than that is: God has not given up on Robi.
If we were all a little more honest, we'd have to admit we have had Robi moments too -- those dark days when God seems so distant, "so far from the words of our groanings." (Ps 22:1) I am thankful Robi had the confidence to articulate the doubts most of us would keep hidden in our secret places.
Join with me and pray for Robi at the Miskolc orphanage, that God would bring this boy through this dark time, and make Himself known to Robi in a real and dynamic way. And that God would use Karesz, Russell, and other Christians to meet this boy where he is.
*Not his real name.