Monday, December 8, 2014

Does God protect us even when we suffer and enter into trials?

There are many faithful, including Christians, who have a certain idea and pre-conceived notion of God that seems to hold that if God is all knowing and all loving, that we should then never have to undergo much sufferings in life.  This God of ours should constantly be on guard to prevent our entering into any darkness or trial which require of us to suffer.  Perhaps this notion of God is something that we began with when we were first introduced to God in our first introductions into the spiritual life, and this is understandable.  But if we do not make that necessary and difficult journey into life with its strange twists and turns, seeing us suffering in numerous ways which are often beyond our fathoming, and confront these with our first innocent notions of a nanny-like God, we may well end up with a stilted and warped theology of God’s love and omnipresence, giving us reason to walk away from our faith later on.

Whenever disasters (natural or otherwise) of epic proportions strike, leaving so many thousands suffering and wounded, with their lives torn asunder, a corresponding ‘natural’ question on the lips of many is “where is God in all this?”  This is understandable, especially when we hold on to a very sterile idea of divine care and providence that seems more to be passive than active, more inert than dynamic.  Events like the tsunami that hit many parts of South East Asia in 2004, and the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City in 2001 are two such examples.  Closer to home and much more personal is when one experiences a loss, a failed marriage, or when one gets a cancer with a prognosis that one has a certain number of months left to live.  Somehow, when these happen, and one has an undeveloped notion of God’s providence, we are not armed with the correct vocabulary to articulate just how God is still there, despite his seeming and disturbing silence.

But it is when one dares to broach these instances with a heart that allows one to persist in faith to still experience God as providential and loving despite what befalls one, that one begins to open a very important doorway of faith that leads to a ‘paradoxical wisdom’ that is rare but very needed.  What is this ‘paradoxical wisdom’ that spiritual masters like James Finley speaks about?  It is precisely the wisdom that allows suffering and unexplained turmoil to happen in our world and in our lives while at the same time also allowing a deep belief that God has not let us go in some abandonment of divine proportions. 

That God’s presence doesn’t mean an absence of suffering and trials, but are often the very means through which God shows us that he is ‘sustaining us in all things’ gives us new eyes and new hearts to look at these events not with our minds, but with a new heart.  God’s presence in our lives and in our world does not prevent tragedy.  It is what helps us go through the pains and tragedies themselves, much like the way that Jesus went through the pains and tragedies of the Cross.  Was God hidden in the event of Calvary?  Very much so.  Was God also hidden in the sad and heart-rending events of the tsunami and the downing of the World Trade Centre?  It certainly appears so.  We can ask an endless litany of “but why?” questions, shaking that proverbial fist heavenward, but there have also been many instances where years after the event, where there had been a slow rebuilding of lives and physical structures, that we realized that through the swell of the storm there had been a certain perceivable calm that had carried us along the very tragedy itself. 

Faith enables us to hold on to the belief that God doesn’t just carry us through the tragedy or sadness, but that he carries us through life all the way till he appears before us and when we see God ‘face to face’. 

Could this be what Jesus was hinting at when he said that ‘everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man building his house on rock’.  What is this ‘acting’ but an active living out of our faith in the very Word of God, who is the second person of the Trinity, and building our lives on this faith? The effects of nature that Jesus mentions like the rains coming down, floods rising and gales blowing affects both kinds of houses – those built on rock as well as those built on sand.  Obviously, this goes to show that regardless of its foundations, there will undoubtedly be tests and trials in life.

I’m not a builder of concrete structures, but it doesn’t take much intelligence to know that building on rock is far more arduous and requires much more effort (and equipment, cost and time) than building on sand.  The preparation for the groundwork is far from being a walk in the park.  Faith that is built not just on a saccharine notion of God’s providential presence but a willingness to hold this in and despite the adversities and calamaties in life is difficult and challenging – like building on rock.  This is our ultimate Christian calling to faith.

1 comment:


    God hath not promised skies always blue,
    Flower strewn pathways all our lives through,
    God hath not promised sun without rain,
    Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

    But God hath promised strength for the day,
    Rest for the labor, light for the way,
    Grace for the trials, help from above,
    Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

    God hath not promised we shall not know
    Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
    He hath not told us we shall not bear
    Many a burden, many a care

    God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
    Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
    Never a mountain rocky and steep,
    Never a river turbid and deep.

    Dearest Fr Luke,
    When I read your reflection today, immediately the poem above popped into my head, and out of curiosity I did a search for the author, of the poem that held so much wisdom.

    Her name is Annie Johnson Flint, 1866-1932, and as I read about her, I felt she must be one of the many uncanonised saints… being non-Catholic.

    I will like to share her testimony – The many crosses to bear (obtained from google)

    Her analogy of crosses along the growth of a Christian coincided with a new experience I had over the weekend… that we are called for more transformation of ourselves than we dare imagine. We are all called to move from milk to meat in our spiritual diet … the only thing holding us back… is our fears. But the reward in trusting God is what our hearts yearns for. He is our Creator, to whom shall we go? He is still the ever generous gentle God, blessing us every day; it is only us who failed to see His blessings as it is.

    Quoting you - God shows us that he is ‘sustaining us in all things’ gives us new eyes and new hearts to look at these events not with our minds, but with a new heart. God’s presence in our lives and in our world does not prevent tragedy. It is what helps us go through the pains and tragedies themselves, much like the way that Jesus went through the pains and tragedies of the Cross.

    A very comforting song I will like to dedicate to all who may at this point in time, overwhelmed with sadness & trials – To take heart and to trust...Our Lord will carry you …

    Keeping all in prayers.

    Take care Fr Luke.
    Thank you for your faithfulness in your vocation.