Usually I tend to write my material “free style” for the most part. I read scripture, meditate and pray, then wait until I feel the Holy Spirit has moved me to compose. Though clerical, I do not often refer to the structure of the Lectionary. But as is the mystery and beauty of the Holy Spirit, God will provide. God will find a way, and make a way. So when I was feeling recently uninspired, God did in fact move me through the Lectionary.
Today, the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, one of the designated readings was a scriptural verse I use time and time again- “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” [Psalm 91:11] This is a verse I use in every letter I write to the Department and family of a fallen police officer. It is a verse which is posted on my ministry website, and a verse which hung inside my uniform locker when I was a police officer.
In an unpredictable world, most especially in unpredictable occupations- there is a time when faith must be surrendered blindly to God. That is not to say to follow God blindly and indiscriminately, but rather as suggested by scripture; “For we live by faith, not by sight.” [ 2 Corinthians 5:7] The point being- let go and let God. God is after all, the architect- the Creator. Ultimately God will provide, God will protect and God will bring justice.
So many times, particularly in times of violence and grief, we feel lost. Angry with God. Questioning God. How could God let this happen? Why does God not intervene? Why do the good suffer so, and evil people seem to prosper and ‘get away with it?’ These questions become acute and painful when, as a police officer and now as a priest; they are asked by the parents of a child killed by a drunk driver, the family of violent crime victim, a solider lost in combat- or more difficult to answer, the ones who look for answers following the death of a beloved family member from prolonged or sudden illness. Where was God in there illness and pain? Where is God in their suffering?
God is where he has always been for us- held to a cross. We cannot make sense of our suffering through our pain. When Christ himself hung on the cross, no one could see the good in that suffering. His followers felt crushed, betrayed and even angry with God. Jesus himself questions God from the cross saying, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mark 15:34] and even feeling more alone and isolated, whispers- “It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” [John 19:30]
Yet what one could consider the worst tragedy possible- the death of the Son of God, becomes- by the power of God, the most glorious event in history. Through Christ’s suffering, passion and death- “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16] That what we perceive as loss, death and tragedy- dare I say, even evil- can become a catalyst for goodness and salvation. We respond to such sufferings as humans. Where is the justice, the fairness- the good? As is said, sometimes we have to hit rock bottom- so that we can understand that God is the rock.
It is so very important here to remember, as on the cross- God knows our suffering and pain. God did not create it. God does not delight in it. I get angry when I hear people or clergy say- God needed a little laughter in heaven at the death of a child, another soul to join the saints when a loved one is lost or worse (making my blood boil) it is part of God’s plan. God’s plan does not include drunk drivers, war or torturous illness and affliction. God cries and suffers with us. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew 11:28]
It is God’s love for us- that gave us free will. God could have made the world perfect without our errors in judgement, but then how true would our love for God- for each other be? We would be following blindly, as previously stated, and not following by faith. Famous theologian C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks to us in our conscience but shouts to get our attention in our pains.” We become like Job, questioning God. Demanding a perfect world without suffering, while most of us sit idly by. But God let Job suffer only to the point, where Job could find and see God in his pain.
In the book, The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel; Dr. Peter Kreeft, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Boston College poses this question to the author: “Sometimes I would like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine, suffering and injustice to continue when he could so something about it. I am afraid though, God might ask me the same question.”
Most merciful God, we are not forsaken. You call to us from the cross- do not be afraid my children, I love you. Come to me. I do not run or hide from you, for I am held fast to the cross. God is there in His mercy and His compassion. In our suffering and pain, He embraces us. He lifts us up. He refreshes and He renews. He begs us to receive His mercy and to accept freely His gift and promise of eternal life. Let us, let go and let God.
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasure of compassion is inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to you holy will- which is love and mercy itself. Amen.