Monday, September 28, 2015

Our sufferings make sense only when we realise that there is nothing God cannot ask of us.

It does not take an astute observer to see that life is full of heavy demands made on us.  Much as we hope that it is, our lives are dotted, sometimes very densely, with things that take us to terribly dark and scary places.  Misfortunes, losses (both financial and otherwise), when we fall in life (in literal and metaphorical terms) and ill health.  In the face of what we have as idealistic lives free from all of the above, it is when we are plagued with these troubling and stressful moments or phases in our lives that we struggle to make sense of them and hope for an easy way out.  Religion used wrongly will often be seen as escape routes from these ‘mired moments’ as I would like to call them.

But the Judeo-Christian religion, when understood in the most holistic and healthy way, is never an escape route or a means to find a solution to life’s challenges.  Perhaps the one thing that many cannot accept or comprehend is that God actually uses these moments, difficult thought they may be, to truly enter into our lives and give us a new vision both of life and of him.  Praying ourselves out of these in any quick way could often be the very thing that prevents us from truly becoming better people, and having eyes that see God’s love in ways that we were unable hitherto.

The entire drama of Abraham taking that painful journey with Isaac his beloved son who was to be the sacrifice Yahweh asked of him is our story as well.  But most of us just read it as something that happened to one unfortunate man in history, and hardly take the time or the effort to put ourselves in Abraham’s position.  I am certain that when we do this and do it frequently enough, we will come away with much more confidence to trust and obey God when difficult things are asked of us in life. 

When Abraham was on the mountain which he later named Jehovah Jireh, he must have had a truly transformational moment when he was about to raise his hand to offer up his son Isaac in answer to God’s request.  Abraham didn’t have the entire plan of God’s laid out in front of him before going up that mountain.  Certainly things would have worked out far differently if the Lord’s messenger had told him even before he started that ascent that his son would be replaced by another sacrifice that will be provided.  But as things turned out, it was only when Abraham was about to use that knife to slaughter his son that salvation came.  Our minds struggle hard to wrap around this very bizarre story.  The hard truth is that faith requires and even necessitates an ascent, and it does make heavy demands on our lives and what we hold on to so dearly because when faith is removed and isolated from love, faith becomes removed from life. 

It cannot be just a tiny detail when the author of Genesis tells us that Abraham tied up his son Isaac before the intended offering.  In our struggle with what we need to offer up to God in deep devotion and love, especially when they are things that we are so attached to and clinging on so tenaciously in life, there necessitates a binding and a tying up.  Our faith concretized when we can clearly and identify what it is that we need to offer up to God.  Not that he needs it, but that we need it – we need that honest act of fully identifying our sorrows, our struggles, our incapacities not in some generic way, but to be able to name our inabilities in an upfront way.  Articulating this becomes our way of tying up what we need God to receive from us.

Our faith is made real when heavy things are asked of us, largely because there is no salvation in cheap grace.  Yet, isn’t it true that this is what most of us want?  We don’t say it out loud, because it makes us sound crass and shallow to admit that for most of us, we are in the faith so that hard things will not be asked of us in our lives and from God.  The ‘hard work’ of faith is not so much in loving God when things are smooth and plain sailing.  The ‘hard work’ of faith is when we willingly make those ascents up the mountain and take those burdens and struggles which seem to make no sense in life, and believe that this is something good for us. 

When God is asking something so seemingly difficult and painful of us, perhaps what we need to ask is this “is there anything that is too great for God to ask of me?” or “Does God have any right to demand so much of my own life?”  These are the raw and honest questions that I am quite convinced that any serious disciple of Christ needs to ask himself or herself at some time in our faith journey.  In peaceful times, when there are no demands made on us and when the doctor gives us a clean bill of health, when we are acing those exams and we are having those ‘blue sky’ days, these necessary questions don’t even need to be addressed.  But notice how things change and how poignant the answers and emotions are when the times are tough. 

When the chips are down and when there are no clear answers to our dark horizons, when the cancer markers are all up and we experience terrible losses in life, these questions are the questions that we need to ask and dare to articulate.  “If this is what God is asking me to go through, does he have a right to demand so much from my life?” Any answer that steers clear of an unambiguous “yes” will show that the God that we claim to believe in is not really God at all, but some notion of a deity that we only partially submit our lives to.  He is not the “most high” that we boldly say that he is in the Gloria on Sundays.  He is somewhere near there, but not the one to whom we are willing to place all our trust and all our hopes on.  In short, he is not truly our ‘salvation’.  Instead, we are our own salvation, and it makes us at best, nominal followers of Christ. 

When Jonah was in the belly of the fish, at his darkest moment of his life, he prays not a prayer of petition and deliverance, but instead, a prayer of thanksgiving.  Why thanksgiving?  He was in a time of darkness and uncertainty and he prayed a prayer of thanksgiving.  He was doing what a man of faith does.  In thanking God in such a time, he is displaying great faith, and actually is saying that there is no demand that God cannot make in his life.  The last line of his prayer is extremely telling.  He says “deliverance is from the Lord”. 

In other words, he knows that it is not anything that he does in life that brings salvation, brings wholeness and healing, but such an amazing thing as deliverance is always grace, and always something from God, simply because in God’s hand is life itself.  And because God is our ultimate cause for salvation, there is nothing too much that he can ask of us.  Not in Abraham’s case, not in Jonah’s, and certainly not in ours.  If we are truly men and women of faith, when that piece of bad news comes, when that time of trial and suffering comes in life, when our children do not make the wisest of choicest but instead seem to be bringing the family name down a few notches because of foolish behavior, in short, when we find ourselves climbing up that mountain of sacrifice, we are actually given the golden opportunity to show just how real our faith is.  God appears to want so much from us not because God is bloodthirsty, but because God wants us to display in our lives a willingness to give of ourselves what we hold most tenaciously on to in life.  When we are able to do this with love, with a willingness to let go, we are, in a word, so much like God, and begin to fulfill Jesus’ instruction to be holy as God is holy.  When we show a bold refusal to be bitter, we cannot but become better.


  1. Since I was 25 (I'm 29 now), I was always pissed off, especially lately getting progressively more so . Constantly. Not because I was going thru any particular suffering but because I started to ponder over why we were created. Was it just to die? And dieing is not easy. I look around me and see even holy and pious people have to suffer and then die. I ask myself what is the purpose of all this. I know that we cannot understand the mind of God, just like a fish couldn't possible hope to comprehend the complexities and intelligence of the human mind.

    The funny thing is, I was reaching the epitome of my pissed-off ness, you could say, and I remember you keep a blog. Randomly I came here and found this post, which I wouldn't say leaves me completely satisfied, but it does help me ponder and see some of the "whys". Even Abraham had to face his tests, and he was a holy man. And these are all in the Bible, perhaps as examples for us that no one is exempted, and examples that these "trials" are to be expected and faced.

    Jesus himself was subjected to cruxifiction, and knowing that since young, it must have been excruciating beyond measure to live a life knowing your own impending cruxifiction is drawing ever nearer

    It is always said that God has his plan, and death is a part of life. But sometimes I just asked myself "am I giving excuses for God and religion?", to protect my religion and to give reason and justification where there is actually none? just to justify the suffering and death? Why do we have to eventually die? God knows it would be difficult for every human to have to face this inevitability, and still he creates life.

    That's what makes me so mad.

    But this post and scrolling downwards to the previous posts are helping me to see. I hope to to be able to "disconnect" from the human side of things and be more of a humble and faithful servant of God, which is easier said then done, by a millionfold.


    1. Dear Kevin

      First of all, I want to thank you for your courage and humility in writing out these thoughts. Having them in your head and heart, and actually going through the trouble to put them into words makes a huge difference. Sometimes, it is the very act of formulating these thoughts that gives our fears and struggles a structure that without it, we merely 'float' from one feeling to another, without the grounding that helps to make our step into faith a serious one.

      Having said that, when we do this, whether in a retreat, a prayer moment or even just hearing a sound and impassioned homily, we bring our whole persons into a space that makes our heart and minds mouldable and shapeable. We become less resistant to the truths that God wants to impart to our souls. And oftentimes, the truth is that the truths are hard truths that we resist on our 'self-centred' days simply because we find them asking too much of ourselves. I don't think your being so mad is bad. In fact, perhaps your going through this 'mad and angry' phase is that necessary going through the pain and suffering that so many try to evade in order to get to a place of calm and placidity. It could well be that you are in that teachable and formable moment right now, and praise be God if you are. I thank God that you have been able to cast your eyes on my reflections and that this is giving you some light in the dark that you find yourself in.

      Do continue in this journey of yours, and continue to yield in humility and docility to become the clay that the master potter can turn into a Ming Vase. God bless you.

      Fr Luke

    2. Dear Kevin,

      Know this, when Jesus won, He won over everything. Including death.

      We should never see death as defeat, or punishment, or God's apathy to our cause.

      We will live again. Death is not the end.

      Our attachment to this world (and to keep our loved ones in this world) means we have not (cannot) see that God's plans extend to the other side.

      Ask that our Father opens your eyes. Those who are brave in facing death, & are happy to see their loved ones enter glory show deep (not superficial) understanding of the victory Jesus won on the cross.

      Deny yourself and your attachment to this world. Then crucify that hate and put it to death. Only then can Christ resurrect in your life.

  2. Thank you Father Luke for sharing your beautiful reflections.

    I must say I am very lucky to meet the most wonderful woman in my life, now my wife. She has so kindly allow me to explore the faith at my own pace and allow God’s revelation to unfold slowly to me so that I do not have to take more than what I can chew on.

    In your reflection today, definitely it is more than what I can swallow during my younger days. If this is what I am exposed to during the early part of my faith journey, I will probably distant myself, as it seems following God is nothing but suffering.

    However, I must say I have been through a tiny weeny bit, not catastrophic, not life threatening scenario, not the pain you have been through, but probably enough for me to look beyond the present pain, and pray hard for God’s grace to help me focus on His heavenly intention that is beyond human comprehension.

    God’s way may not be the easiest way. I started off in my faith journey as what you described, using it as escape routes from these ‘mired moments’. But soon to realise that it is more than that, and first time shouldering the cross makes me feel almost unbearable at times, and it is absolutely right that there is nothing God cannot ask of us. I have learnt that all the suffierings in life rather then trying to make sense of it, but focus all my energy in prayers for God’s grace to bestow on me the strength, courage and wisdom to see the light at the end of the tunnel and reminding myself, if this is God’s will, it is in His glory that I must fulfil. To be a person of faith, is not to doubt God’s intention, but to believe in Him wholeheartedly, like Jesus to the point of death on the cross.

    However, this is easier said then done. Even Jesus at the Mount of Olives prayed to the Father, “if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.” (Luke 22-42). I guess for us earthly beings weaken by our mere human nature can only constantly remind ourselves of God’s unconditional love for us despite our constantly failures, He send his only Son, Jesus to redeem our sins.

    I must say, I am guilty and ashame for how I have been living my faith journey… I have always been sitting on the fence, fearing to pick up my cross. Until the point God, shows his immense love by answering my prayers, healing the priest that has always touch my inner most struggles during his homly, and bring him back to the church I attend to guide me through my RICA journey. At that point, how can I deny my cross….. One of the most comforting words I hear from my RCIA journey, "You don’t have to carry the cross yourself…”

    Thank you Father Luke, Thank you to the Church and the community, Thank you to my dear wife.

  3. When I look around me and see the suffering of others, especially close friends, I sometimes wonder "why them?" and why not me instead? Not that I have never experienced heartbreak or bitter disappointment myself, but still the question remains: why are certain individuals, yourself included, called to bear such a heavy, cross? Could it be that God has a special plan for them? Surely I have been more sinful than most; and yet others seem to called to shoulder a much heavier burden than I (ever) have.

    Well.... I have learned, over the years, not to ask 'why'. Why? Because it is a question to which there can be no acceptable answer (at least not according to pure human reasoning). The correct response, I believe, is to accept whatever is put on our plate - both good and bad. But this requires faith; real faith. And it's something we cannot manufacture ourselves. So my first prayer is for the grace to remain faithful, no matter what may come my way. God bless you, Fr. Luke.

  4. “..........but such an amazing thing as deliverance is always grace, and ................... because God is our ultimate cause for salvation,..........”

    There are so many instances in this week’s post that caused me to exclaim involuntarily....... ‘but that’s well-nigh impossible’ or ‘ that’s only for Abraham, the father of faith and I’m not’ – to your “ requires and even necessitates an ascent............” and “.............when they are things that we are so attached to and clinging on so tenaciously in life, there necessitates a binding and a tying up.”

    For, I know that my walk recently, has been at most- a crazy journey of descent......darkness, relapse, failure and woundedness – but being aware of my own limitations – descending was more a personal choice ...... sensing that Jesus is leading. There was then no thought of a ‘binding and a tying up’ to offer as sacrifice like you said. And that made me wonder with much misgiving whether I’m stumbling my way through the thickets, lurching from faith to fear and back, seeking integration or fleeing disintegration and at the same time exposing the heart’s darkness to His embrace and light.

    However, a timely reminder by a mentor-guide that “the road to Calvary was not an ascent all the way, just as the ascent to Mt Everest goes through many small ascents and descents” – somehow was re-assuring and puts things into better focus. Besides, some of the most wonderfully beautiful words in the Bible can be found in Psalm 91 where the comforting words speak of God as the refuge and fortress ie the protector to those who trust in him.

    Added to that, I was struck by your words above........ “God is our ultimate cause for salvation.....” This word Ultimate opens the floodgates of memory – the ultimate ‘good’ in life is to be with God to enjoy His presence and the ultimate ‘evil’ in life is to be separated from Him. In this perspective of eternity, then, the sufferings or adversities of this life are brief and may even be transformative, giving hope to all who turns to Him for their security and safety - their salvation.

    God bless u, Fr