Monday, December 12, 2011

What happens when God keeps silent?

One thing that our faith has always assured us of is God’s constant and unceasing love for us, his beloved. The last line of Matthew’s gospel (28:20) has Jesus reassuring the disciples before the great commission that he is with us always, yes, to the end of time.

That God protects and comforts us in our moments of need is a belief that we grow up with all our lives, if we have been baptized from birth. The sacraments of the Church are our physical signs of God’s presence in our lives, giving us assurance that in our deep moments of need, he is there to heal, feed, forgive, strengthen, bathe and minister to us. And because we are physical beings, these forms of God’s tangible presence gives us the assurance that we need in our darkest moments in a very real way.

But what if these are not enough? How do we handle it when our weak faith begs and yearns for an overturning of evil that seems to overcome us, and in a way, God has not delivered? I have come across many who in their faithful Christian lives, have had God remain so distant, almost cold and uninvolved in their dark moments of need. These are the times when the God of assurance and comfort appears to be something that has been taught about well, but when the real time of need comes, when there is unexplainable darkness, and when left to fend for oneself alone, when fear is a gripping reality, when all the ‘chips’ are down, the God of Jesus Christ speaks in a deafening silence that can break the strongest of hearts. What happens then?

At these tumultuous moments, almost anything that one says will sound trite and platitudinous, with hardly much to show viz-a-viz comfort and solace. Can God be playing games with us? Have we been believing in someone or something that had been a figment of our imagination? How is it that so many claim to really experience his saving help in their moments of need, but when we need God to make manifest his mercy, power and love, he seems to have gone to the Bahamas for a very long vacation?

Perhaps that is why we need to be constant in our definition of “faith”. Faith in God and his power and mercy is not that he will show up when summoned, or that he will overturn and overcome evil when petitioned for, but that deep within ourselves, we know that God and goodness prevails. Faith allows me to see that it may not be right now that God will show his divine triumph, but that he will. Faith doesn’t make me demand for a showing of the power of God, but that I believe in the power of God, despite what I see happening before my eyes. Faith assures me that I don’t have to see great things happening in my time, but rather, that I allow God to make great things happen in his time.

It dawned on me as I joined the congregation to profess our faith in the Creed at Mass this morning, that nowhere in the Creed, is there a profession that we believe in God who makes our life smooth, or that we believe in God who comes to our rescue when in trouble, or that we believe in God who cures all our illnesses and removes all our pains and hurts. Yet, the strange thing is that so many of us actually seem to make these demands on God, either outrightly, or tacitly. When we are 'faithful' in the truest literal sense of the word, we express how we define and clarify our faith. I am sometimes inclined to see that for many of us, when we say that we are 'faithful', what we could mean is that we have confidence that God will deliver. Which is it for you, the reader of this blog?

What is faith after all, but the ability to go beyond and to look beyond – beyond the disappointment, beyond the pain, beyond the failure, beyond the broken heart, beyond the unexplainable retarded inaction of those in authority, and beyond results. Faith is actually then made unnecessary when we see things happening in our time and in our way when it is petitioned for.

We can be sure that this kind of exercise of faith is going to be one of the toughest things we can ever experience in life, because it runs counter to our nature to want results and proof. Just like building on rock, it’s going to take time. The ability to live in this large way does not come overnight. It sees its foundations laid when we are toddlers in our faith life, and strengthened day-by-day, bit-by-bit, through an assiduous and committed prayer life. Then, when the wind blows, when the lights dim and the ground quivers, we will have terra firma to stand our faith on. It has been built on rock. But it is when we have done very little to lay those foundation blocks, that when crises loom on the horizon, that we find it so hard to call forth a faith that had hardly been built.

That last line in Matthew’s gospel is God’s assurance that he will be with us, not that he will show himself to us, and not that he will give us a life without trials and tension. Perhaps it is we who have read too much into it, and have made unreasonable demands on God.

11 comments:

  1. Dear Fr Luke,

    I have been left in a lurch many a times as well. I hold the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony very dearly to my heart. Pray that I will always be strong no matter what lies ahead.

    When strong words are mentioned; the patience and tolerance of Mother Mary comes to mind. Just tolerate the outburst with stillness, tears and pray that all will be mended will help pass the moment.

    A trial to reason out at times is necessary but if it does not subside the situation; the alternative of silence is still preferred.

    My daughter now looks at the same sex as a more understanding gender and my son does not like children if he ever marries...

    All these are kept and prayed on...within all these, I do see God still thriving as we come together - there are moments of mutual care and concern deep within each of our very souls.

    I can only conclude that financial status and personal dignity is definitely associated with society and how one perceives how others will react.

    When one have a job and is self-sustained, one is more confident and thought of being accepted in society & family. If one is unemployed and does not have sufficient funds, one feels uncomfortable and less of a person when in a group....

    I try not to make one feel uncomfortable and allow for all to be comfortable where possible...but I can only do so much...but prayers are important and very effective...I shall not give up hope as deep within, God lies in me and my faith will keep me alive in Him.

    Happy Advent Father and it is so white - your screen saver..hmmmm, always thinking of a white christmas...M.

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  2. Dear Fr Luke,
    'Faith',to me is Hope in Our God The Trinity,and through the assistance of Mother Mary,follow Christ,our True and only Love,no matter what!!!:)Your blog is fantastic.Through the darkest moments remainig 'Faithful'to God Almighty,I have encountered Christ so often.
    May the Good Lord protect you.Thank you Fr for your guidance through this blog.

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  3. We were once asked during a homily, "If Jesus were to say to you now: 'Ask anything of me & I will grant it immediately.' What will you ask for?"

    My almost immediate reply then was: "Please heal my close friend of her cancer." But somehow, something held me back & I made my eventual answer with great difficulty : "Nothing, dear Lord. You've already given me everything & much more."

    Is that what the secular world terms as "blind faith"?

    Thank you, Father, for your sharing.

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  4. You have so rightly said that we are physical beings. But faith is abstract – we cannot quantify or qualify it’s degree, depth or colour. It is ..... ‘when the wind blows, when the lights dim and the ground quivers....’ that’s the time when our faith is called to the fore or tested. So are we to live in uncertainty and a mixture of fear - as to whether we would be tested and found wanting – what then? Will we become hapless and helpless victims of the darkness of the night, become lost and wandering souls in a limbo of our own making? It would have been so much easier for us then, if we could plug ourselves into a “faith” device and noting the lack whereof – just fill up the gap....with perhaps more rosary devotions, prayer sessions ( not that these are not efficacious in themselves) But this is not to be.

    Somehow, it is as you have said as in Mathew’s gospel....faith is an abiding and blessed assurance that He will be with us, that we will not be alone in the darkness - that makes all the difference. We will then not question how deep is the chasm or how dark the darkness, how complex the labyrinth.... The darkness may not miraculously turn lighter or fainter but the promised presence that has become a Presence becalms one’s fears and I think it does not matter if one’s faith is just the size of a mustard seed.......for Him , it is enough that we hold fast to the faith in Him.
    God bless you Fr.
    tessa

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  5. Dear Fr Luke

    Maybe God decides to remain silent because He knows that anything He says can and will be used against Him. Silence is never easy to make sense of. It has been said that silence is golden. That silence is a source of great strength. That silence can be louder than noise. That silence can be deafening. That silence can hurt more than any word. That silence equals consent. Silence can be companiable, or it can be a sign of a cold war.

    One of the things that puzzled me until recently was why Jesus remained silent when he was oppressed and afflicted, and did not protest the accusations hurled against him, since it was obviously this failure to speak up which led to him being crucified by the Romans. And then, one day out of the blue, I stumbled upon a reference to St Dismas, the patron saint of thieves and murderers. It was that penitent thief who was at his own eleventh hour, able to see the truly wonderful life of Jesus in contrast to his own wretched criminal history and utter the ultimate appeal for mercy. It was Jesus’ recognition of that true faith which led him to say ‘I assure you, this day you will be with me in paradise’.

    I think your sharing this week helped to fill in some the gaps on how we should define our faith as Catholics, because faith is such a subjective term. If I am not wrong, it is the faith of jihadis that they will enter paradise and enjoy all that is promised to them such as virgins, water, wine, fruit and wealth if they become martyrs. Sadly, I am now very much enlightened that we have no such tangible expectations, except for the hope that a meaningful encounter with a merciful God of love is possible.

    Your sharings on this blog do give me pause. To me, some posts de-mystify various aspects that I have wondered about but not developed any position on, other posts are mildly disturbing invoking a bit of a guilty conscience, but primarily your sharings are a delight to read. You do dish out spiritual food for thought that can be sweet, bitter or even spicy. Me, despite all that has been said, I like the Xmas season though. Apart from the numerous opportunities for retail therapy and acquisition of all things bright and shiny (cackle), I feel that this period really does make people take stock of what they have especially when we are asked to do our part for the less fortunate. Advent is like the countdown to the new year and gives hope that the next will be better and it really is around this time that we look at our failings and start making new resolutions. I share the sentiment expressed by an earlier reader that there have been ups and downs this year, rather like Mr Toad’s wild ride and I hope next year will be better. I wish all your readers a prayerful Advent, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and that you, Father will have every success in your studies and adventures with God.

    sf :)

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  6. Dear Fr. Luke,

    I always look forward to reading your weekly posts! Thank you for the valuable and insightful sharing.

    It is my humble opinion that faith needs to be accompanied by a grateful heart; that no matters what our life situation or what life has to offer us currently, we need to remember that thank God for all of it - the good, the bad and the ugly.

    I am also a strong believer that when life does throw us a "curved ball" of sorts, there are lessons to be learnt from it - everything (at least what I have been taught as a cradle Catholic)happens for a reason and perhaps that is what faith is as well.

    The sermon at OLSS this past weekend reminded us to be "joyful" in spite of all our challenges and difficulites because as a Catholic community we (should) believe that "God is with us."

    We miss you and want you to know that we continue to keep you in our prayers. Take care and keep warm!

    God bless,
    GZ

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  7. I dislike radio silences and have been hurt many a time waiting and hoping for a sign. We are human. We feel the pain when shunned. The perspective from the thief of asking Jesus to remember me when all hope is lost touched me and I cried when I read and reflected on that beautiful way of looking at it and in my sinfulness. God spoke to me through the silence today to keep the faith and pray. Happy advent.

    Marian

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  8. Fr Luke Fong, thank you for sharing your insights.

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  9. Dearest Fr Luke
    I enjoy the reactions of the regular blog readers who drop in almost as much as your posts. There is the ever spiritual Tessa, sincere and supportive posts from Sicily and bravada esprit, quirky sf who I enjoy and occasionally there appear real gems who bring depth to the discussions. Blessed are you who provide this table and blessed are all the faithful readers. I am glad that you manage to put the unpleasant incident behind and move forward. We are strong as an online community. Blessed adventide and Christmas. God bless and love you.

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  10. Dear Fr Fong

    Thank you for sharing on silence and faith and prompting her back. Sometimes people leave without giving good reason and it is sad when that person is inspiration. There are good things on yours blog which we can read and reread until we understand. God bless you for doing this.

    Mr and Mrs Lee

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  11. Unafraid of silenceDecember 14, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    On this Feast Day of St John of the Cross, we should heed his words: Faith is a dark night for man, but in this very way it gives him light.

    I don't think God ever leave us. God is "silent" because our senses leave us. Only with faith that we can convince ourselves that God is still in all his glory even when we cannot sense him and are encapsulated in silence. "Do not be afraid", God and his angels often tells us.

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