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.