Tonight my husband and I watched War Dance, a documentary about children—mostly orphans—in a refugee camp in northern Uganda. Rebel forces have been murdering parents and taking some of their children captive to build up their armies, while leaving many other orphaned children to fend for themselves in the camps.
The movie followed three of these children in particular. One boy was abducted after his parents were murdered by the rebels, and forced to serve in the army. As a young child, the rebels made him kill three innocent field workers with a hoe, and told him that if he didn’t kill them, he would be killed. They also made the other recently abducted children watch, and told them they would kill any of them who didn’t watch the act or any who cried. To this day, the boy has terrible guilt and shame for killing innocent people, and believes God is angry with him.
Another girl told how she and her siblings were hidden in the bush by her parents so that the rebels wouldn’t abduct them if they came into their village. When the rebels came to her parents’ house, they denied having children, and the rebels took them. When the children finally came out of hiding to try to find the parents, the rebels took them to a place where they had large cooking pots full of human heads that they had cut off with machetes. One by one, they showed the heads to the children, until the children recognized the heads of their parents.
The girl explained how she had prayed to God to keep her parents safe, but that He didn’t. She begged Him to bring them back to her, but the skies were silent. Now she lives every day with a heartache the size of Uganda, and enough tears to fill an ocean.
Just today, before I saw the movie, my 20-year-old daughter said to me, “The more I learn about what people go through, the more I understand why there are atheists.” My daughter did not mean that she is close to becoming an atheist or questioning her faith, but she is learning to see the world through the eyes of others. I am very proud and pleased to see that she is maturing into a thoughtful person who realizes that you can’t use pat answers to explain away the suffering and loss that people endure. She is beginning to open her heart to the real suffering and emptiness in the world with a more reasoned faith.
My daughter and I both are learning that faith is not an option for everyone in this lifetime. Faith is a gift from God, given to each person in his or her own season.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).
“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given in its own due season” (1 Tim. 2:5–6).
Some people in this lifetime will experience very personal, convincing interaction with God that somehow overcomes the sorrows and questions of this life. Others will not. As they come up against some of the worst that life has to offer, and the skies remain silent, how can they then be faulted?
When it comes to my atheist and doubting friends, I understand. I truly do. I can’t explain why I have a reason to hope in the character of God, and to believe He is loving, merciful, and good, when many things in life seem completely counter to that belief. I can’t possibly articulate my own experiences where the skies have not been silent, and I have found pure love, comfort, presence, and even joy in my own grief.
But I can say that I am not special; I have only been cultivated ahead of some, but not instead of others. Though it may appear so under the constraints of time, God does not play favorites. I believe everyone will, at some point, be given ears to hear and eyes to see what many falsely claim are only for a few.
And I also believe that somehow, pain is only a teacher—a tool—and that someday it will morph into something beautiful and understandable to all.
In that day, the skies will no longer be silent.