A dozen minutes had already passed. The ceiling brightened as daylight fingered its way through our bedroom curtains. My eyes were fixed and my mind was churning.
“Do you ever wonder why God isn’t more obvious?”
I rolled over and looked at my wife as she yawned and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
“You know,” I explained. “I believe in God and pray to him. Why do you suppose he doesn’t just answer us straight? Why don’t we have our own burning bushes, pillars of fire, Gabriels a-visiting, Christ explaining?”
She looked at me thoughtfully. “We have to be patient. And open.”
Yes, yes. I know. I know.
I stopped short and realized.
I don’t know.
I am impatient. And I am more walled-off from God than I care to admit.
I pray and lament the quietness. I ask and wonder where the answer is. I forget to pray because I wasn’t sure how good it did the last time. I am impatient and turned inward.
My wife was right.
I have to be patient and open. But how?
First, I am not to put God to the test. When Jesus Christ stood on the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem with the devil tempting him to throw himself down only so that he could be saved by angels (the Evil One quoting Scripture for his own wicked purposes), Jesus admonished him,
“It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7)
I realize that when I expect God to answer me on my terms (and, often, wanting him to also respond with my preferred answer), I am putting God – the Creator of the Universe, the Source of Love, the Alpha and the Omega – to my puny, ill-considered, little human test. Not cool. Which leads to…
Second, God is God and I am not. Faith means understanding that I will not fully understand God in all of his majesty, in all of his operations and in all of his plans…and yet I must trust him anyway. Faith means believing that God’s love is so large that even that which I consider difficult, unfair or painful is ultimately rooted in an uncompromising and loving divine sensibility. Job’s suffering was great and his demand for justice was earnest. But God’s grace is greater and his expectation of our faithful patience trumps our righteous protest. God has infinite love for and patience with us. Perhaps we owe a little bit in return.
Third, God is here, I just miss him. We humans have a peculiar habit of missing God when he is standing right in front of us. As Moses marveled at the burning bush, God had to figuratively rap him upside the head to recognize that something holy was happening. When Jesus sat with the Samaritan woman at the well, he had to tell her flat out that he was the Messiah. God was missed by Pharisees who debated with him, disciples who followed him and crowds that clamored for him. He was overlooked by Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, unrecognized by Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and utterly missed by Pontius Pilate in the prefect’s palace. And St. Thomas had to press his finger into the gore of Christ’s wounds to believe he was truly God. Is it any surprise Christ sighed,
“Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:29)
Is it any wonder the Christ marveled when Peter declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Christ’s reply?
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 16:17)
Fourth, once I come close to God, it can be a little frightening. Among the most compelling evidence for the truth of Biblical stories is the authentic reaction man and woman have to their encounters with God. First, they miss him. Then, they are scared of him. From Genesis to Revelation, God impresses us with two overwhelming themes: I am here and do not be afraid. If you plumb your own personal relationship with God, it is likely you will recall moments when there was no explanation for an outcome other than a prayer being answered. Also, you may recall times were the presence of God’s hand in a matter was almost jarring, unsettling. But in those moments in particular, the endlessly repeated assurance, “Do not be afraid” should ring in our ears. Closeness to God can unsettle, but always for the good.
Finally, I need to be quiet, have my ‘antenna’ out and trust that God will guide me in his chosen way. My wife once relayed to me a discussion she heard on the radio between a nun and a priest. They were lamenting our modern tendency to confidently invoke words like fate, karma, coincidence and chance about certain happenings in our lives, while neglecting to consider the very likely role of the Holy Spirit. By changing my thinking on this matter and I was stunned by what I saw. But to acknowledge the Holy Spirit, I first needed to be quiet and then put out my ‘antenna’ so that I was receptive and aware. Pope Benedict XVI astutely observed,
“We are no longer able to hear God…there are too many frequencies filling our ears.”
As I thought about my wife’s simply but profound answer to my question, another image came to mind. The first time I encountered the poem, Footprints in the Sand, was in my childhood and I was rocked by the clever twist at the end. I had forgotten this sweet and sentimental poem for many years. But what’s more, I may have forgotten the enduring truth it was trying to tell. A man dreamt he was walking with God on a beach. As scenes from his life illuminated the sky, he saw two sets of footprints in the sand belonging to him and to God. Later, he lamented the many times (especially during his life’s greatest trials) that only one set of footprints were on the beach. These were times when he felt God abandoned him. And God responded,
My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you
Whether we know it or not, God is here. Profoundly loving. Eternally invested in you and in me.
Or it should be.
Photo credit: The Incredulity of St. Thomas from Wikipedia
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