Too often in the wake of senseless tragedy and sorrow -- like that experienced with the recent shooting in Sandy Hook -- skeptics demand an accounting: "Where was God?" "What kind of God would allow something like this to happen?" "Does God even exist?" All are understandable questions that emanate from a deep sense of pain, but they obscure the role of faith and prayer for the victims' families, the community and the nation in times of devastating grief and tribulation.
Much of the time prayers are made not to receive an answer or a blessing or to have a wish fulfilled, but rather to help people cope with despair as they turn to their faith for comfort, and pray for the strength to carry on. Even to those who don't "believe," prayer is an act of affirmation -- if not of God, than of their will to persevere and overcome.
The Bible, of course, is replete with words and prayers offering succor to the despondent. There are the famous ones: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4); "Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you" (Deuteronomy 31:6). And there are the poignant ones, like Jonah's literal drowning "into the depths," only to be rescued by prayer (Jonah 2:2-7).
In truth, there are too many biblical verses and prayers to mention, as loss and despair and grief have been around for as long as humankind. And though many may see these verses as mere words, to the faithful they are a personal communication with an entity that, though incomprehensible at times, is always there.