Monday, September 13, 2010

God's busy - can I help you?

I was in town last week, and spotted a man wearing a T-Shirt with a rather eye-catching phrase emblazoned across the front. It had the drawing of what was obviously the scowl of the Devil (in the typical fashion of a horned beast-like visage) in the middle part of the T-Shirt. On top of this was the phrase “God’s busy”, and on the bottom of it, the second part of the phrase was “Can I help you?”

Just on the level of words, or some other superficial level, there is some kind of humour involved there that might elicit a chuckle or two. But as all things are, if we can find the humour in it, it means that there is some relation, some connection to reality as we see it. That is what makes something funny. Like the old joke about what three priests did to chase away the pigeons that were making a mess of the parish grounds. They finally decided to baptize and confirm the pigeons because that would mean they would hardly come back again. If we find that funny (and it is on some level), it means that in reality, we do see this actually happening, where teenagers once confirmed hardly come back to church at all.

As I pondered further on the message of that T-Shirt, it became apparent that for many people, God is someone who is meant to be doing things all the time, and many people seem to find that they can hardly get God’s attention. God’s ‘job’ seems to be to be constantly running from person to person, making sure that his or her requests and wishes are met with efficiency – like some divine Concierge, so that he gets the love that he craves for. It’s like as if that was God’s job description.

But is that God’s principal task? The opposite seems to be the other common idea of God – that he is distant and uninvolved with our lives (that’s the Deist’s mis-understanding of God), and he is imaged like that great retired architect of the universe, who just stays in some corner after creation, and watches, from a distance, how we manage to get on till the end of time.

Truth be told, both extreme views are toxic, and leads us to a host of problems. The former will always make us God, and leave God becoming our slave and runner (or concierge). Our ‘job’ as human beings is then to “direct” God so that he knows what we need, and to get him to do our bidding through a series of holy transactions. If I fulfill X number of novenas, or if I don’t commit sin, or if I don’t miss Mass on Sundays, God will be happy, and grant what I want. And if he doesn’t, then, as the T-Shirt says, he’s probably busy with other peoples’ requests. (It seems that God cannot multi-task). And what’s worse is the suggestion that we seek the Devil’s assistance, which implies that the Devil has a greater ability and far greater resources than God.

The other extreme view is equally toxic - that God is almighty, God is creator, but he’s so far and distant from us. He’s hardly interested and is just waiting for it all to end. The incarnation, showing God’s deep interest in our well-being is totally ignored, and his stepping into our world concretely is totally rejected. God’s love has nothing at all to do with anything. People with this notion will be those who have no supreme pattern or blueprint of love (from God) to mirror, and would probably reject any suggestion that we should be loving beings, following the love of God that created us. They become the author of their own lives.

What most of us struggle with is the middle path between the two, where on the one hand, God is needy and simply hopes for our worship, obeisance and love, and the other, where God is disinterested and ambivalent towards us. Keeping that balance between the two extremes is thus the task of faith, where we allow God to unfold his divine plan in our lives in his time. It takes a lot of humility to be led (often in silence), and to not think that when he is silent, that he is busy, and to go to the Devil for help.

The problem is that if the Devil is only imaged in his most horrible, macabre and heinous form, we will outrightly reject him. But truth be told, he is also known as ‘the Deceiver’, ‘the Accuser’ and the ‘Father of Lies’. Every sin known to humankind is always seen as an attractive, sensible and justifiable option. That’s the way evil works, and that is the only way evil seems to operate. Evil will hardly present itself as a sinful, iniquitous and nefarious choice.

What a close walk with the Lord in prayer gives us is a deep inner sense to detect ‘what is’ from ‘what appears to be’. And we will then have eyes to differentiate between holiness and hatefulness, and between glorifying God and horrifying God.

Perhaps it’s not that God is too busy. We are. And most of the time, busy with the wrong things.


  1. Hi Fr. Luke,

    God NEVER distances Himself from us. How could it be that He, who sent His only Son to suffer and die for us - be so aloof, so ambivalent?

    No. God is as near to us AS WE ALLOW HIM TO BE.

    It is we, who by our own foolish pride, choose to distance ourselves from Him. Yet here we are, running around like spoiled children, complaining that God doesn't do our bidding.

    Our Heavenly Father has not held anything back; He has given us EVERYTHING (isn't Jesus everything?) and yet we want for more. No wonder we're unhappy!

    God Bless,

  2. There are sometimes certain life's situations where there's absolutely nothing one can do ( not for want of trying) and where God seems to have taken a vacation. These could be the ambiguous moments of uncertain diagnosis of an illness or heart-rending moments of final goodbye to someone we love. It is in such times that we face the stark reality that all the knowledge we have prided ourselves on, all our ingenuity at finding solutions to life's problems have come to naught. In these moments of truth, a laying bare of ourselves - can we still stay in that moment with those we love & just be there....seemingly doing nothing & knowing we can do nothing, but still believing that in learning to make ourselves present to them, we are doing the most important thing of all....loving them -in our impotence ? This calls for a taming of our impatience, a dying to our pride or as you've said " a humility to be led..."and perhaps a new dawning of faith ? tessa

  3. The Tshirt quote reminds me that we often like to "humanise" God and the Devil, whether as a joke or whatever. That's what Hollywood does to supply the world's entertainment. The God we know is too "boring" for entertainment....the world has completely missed the point! I hope we have not.

    God Bless!

  4. Hey Fr. Luke - I made a few modifications when I posted my reply on my blog. So, please use this one instead of the previous one. Thanks.

    Fr. Luke,

    Whenever I read a statement I often look at what's there and what's not there; and so, when I read the statement on the T-shirt I asked myself, what’s missing? And then I realized, Christ’s name is missing! In other words, the writer did not say “Christ’s busy” but rather “God’s busy”.

    Now this may seem insignificant but I don’t think it is because I find that the beauty and uniqueness of Christ is being abolished by a diminished understanding of the Catholic Christian Faith. Let me give you an example. I was teaching a class on the attributes and nature of Christ to adults and a woman interrupted me and said, “you make it sound as if Christ is God.” And I said, “yes, that’s a fundamental belief of Catholic Christians.” And then I asked her, what’s your objection? And she said, “I think that God is bigger than that.”

    While there is some truth in that statement (that is, after all, the emphasis of Apophatic theology), but there are also some enormous fallacies that are being propagated in the statement. First, the interlocutor takes away and/or restricts God’s freedom. Second, Faith is reduced to the religious sense. In other words, the interlocutor presumes that the being we call God never revealed Himself and that we find ourselves, once again, in front of an unknown. Third, from this presumption it naturally follows that the interlocutor tells himself or herself (most often unconsciously): well I guess “God” exists but I don’t know what he/she/it is like; and so, is it for me or against me?

    And so, when we accept that God is someone other than a Community of Love made up of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Faith is lived as one of the many hypotheses that we can choose from to face life’s situations instead of the only way to actually face and embrace life in its totality.

    And then we are back to the T-shirt.

  5. Hi Fr. Luke,

    There were times when man looses his faith and rely on his own knowledge or certain point in life that we think that everything is doing well. The only time that we would remember our Father Almighty is when everything that we have expected does not come true. Only in these time of hardship that we come to realize that not everything could be done by ourselves alone, that we need the guidance of our Father.
    People often neglected to nourish their souls by praying or attending mass. It is so disappointing that we only do this thing if we needed something to our Lord and forget Him once that it is given.
    There's a certain point in my life that I almost loose my faith. Everything that I expected does not happen. But again GOD provides, he provided me with your Novena mass which helps me to get through the hard times.
    Before the start of the Novena mass, I was thinking that I would attend to this mass so that my wish would come true. But during this past 7 days of Novena, I was more blessed, it is not that my wish had come true but my faith to our Father has grown stronger than before, my married life have been blessed so much and my whole family is doing well and all of my worries are gone.
    Things may not happen as we have expected but, believe in our Lord that something great will come.

    Thanks Fr. Luke and Fr. JJ for your wonderful Novena Mass.

    You have enlighten my life.

  6. Hi Fr Luke,

    Thank you for this reflection. It really nudged me especially for this part
    "It takes a lot of humility to be led (often in silence), and to not think that when he is silent, that he is busy,.." and the last part "Perhaps it’s not that God is too busy. We are. And most of the time, busy with the wrong things."

    It has reminded me to spend more time listening to God and to trust more in Him.