Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Do you have Confidence in God's Providence ...

Father John J. Lombardi 

... or do you ask: Why God's seeming absence?

Do the Lord's words to St.Thomas--"the doubter"--and his response, describe you?: " 'Stop having doubts'…and Thomas said,'My Lord and my God!'"(Jn.20:27-28); or does this description fit better: "For the one who doubts is like a wave of sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind" (Jas. 1:6)?

Do you ever wonder: Where is God when you need Him the most?...Why God does not intervene in the world more?…Where is He in the midst of personal suffering? Well, you're not alone-there are billions of others who experience similar questions.

These are valid questions (as long as we ask from a faith perspective); as a matter of fact, they are addressed in the Bible. In the Book of Job, God teaches the Israelites (really, by extension, all of us) that His providence is pervasive, even in spite of tragedies…The Book of Ecclesiastes proves that meaninglessness is true if you don't have God…The Book of Sirach says the holiest, truest wisdom in God. The Gospel of John indicates, in its famous Prologue, that all meaning and reason (logos, is the Greek word) has entered human history--and culminates--in Christ.

Most of us experience, at least sometime, doubts about God's activity in the world--who wouldn't like to see God more active in the world? So, just why does God not intervene more in the world-why is He seemingly absent?...He does act, but are you really looking? God guides creation by His providential wisdom, but we seldom reflect on this. If the Lord did not mix the precise amount oxygen and hydrogen in the air that we breathe, we would suffocate; if He didn't carefully plan the temperature of the universe in pin point fashion, we humans would melt or freeze; if He didn't blend infinite and minute wisdom in the proper exchange of chromosomes and genetic information between mom and dad, we literally wouldn't be ourselves…

Regarding God's action in the world there are two errors we all may make-and should avoid:

Determinism means we want or overemphasize God's interactions in the world to the exclusion of our own responsibility. But, consider: if God did everything we would complain about that, too. Then we would say we are robots-controlled by Him with little or no freedom, like puppets on a string. Our free will and the principle of secondary causality (the inner causes of things and how they work, to get to their goal-like a seed naturally becoming a plant), would be cancelled out. The spiritual antidote to this is to see that God definitely directs and guides things and people, but He never controls or overrules their independent cause or value...To adapt an old saying, He guides us to the stream but He doesn't make us drink.

Fatalism, the opposite extreme and tendency, means that we believe or act as if God does not direct anything; that He is not in charge and there are no inner, divine, principles guiding things. This stance also implies that humans must do everything because God does not, or cannot, providentially help us. The spiritual antidote to this is, rather, to see that God does allow each of us, and people along with creation, a certain freedom and creativity in order to honor their autonomy, and also to allow each to truly trust in His will and wisdom to come to maturation.

"The Third Way"- Bottom line: God always wants us to get stronger in our faith relationship with Him, even if it is through trial and error; even if we think He is absent (when in fact He is omnipresent-"all present" in His infinite extensionality), even if it is-especially-- through suffering-"no pain no gain."…This whole affair-called "Life 101"-is also known by the fancy name of "participationism": humans working with God's grace as He empowers and inspires the Mystical Body of Christ to lovingly and consciously function in His divine plan, and thereby participate with Him to execute His governance and order.

St. Paul likens this to the image of one part of the body helping another part, illustrating that we are interdependent creatures (c.f. I Cor. 12:12-26: "As a body is one though many, it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ…if one part suffers, all parts suffer with it…" God, in His infinite wisdom wants to infuse the universe with His love without controlling the processes of His creatures and creation, so that "He may be all in all"-(I Cor. 15:28). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it this way: "God is the sovereign master of His plan. But to carry it out He also makes use of His creatures' cooperation. For God grants His creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other and thus cooperating in the accomplishment of His plan"(#306)…

The Incarnation: The word Emmanuel means "God is with us". St. Paul reminds us that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ (cf. Rm 8:28). Jesus came to show us the ultimate statement of loving witness-how, under pain and affliction, He trusted in the Father, Jesus calls us to do the same, with all our doubts and struggles... St. John of the Cross says: "In giving us His Son, His only Word, He spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word and he has no more to say…"

In times of troubles and trials-which we all will have, and when we may sometimes ask where God is-we must always go back to the basics-practicing the virtues like saints-heroically. Theological virtues are loving habits that are conscious ( ones which I choose mindfully),consistent (lovingly repeated), and consecrations ("spiritual glue") which help us adhere to God:

Faith is the theological virtue which helps us to trust in God and His divine Providence when we cannot see or feel His Presence in the midst of trials. "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1)…+How can you nurture the virtue of faith more in your life precisely through difficult times by re-consecrating yourself to Him in the heart?

Hope acknowledges darkness but also realizes God is a Light Who will guide us no matter the intensity of pain and strife . St Paul says, in Heb 6:18-19: "Hold fast to the hope that lies before us-this we have as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul." +How can you more consciously embrace the light of God at the end of "spiritual and physical tunnels to become stronger in Faith?

Love is a consecrating virtue that helps us embrace compassion even when it is difficult, because "…Love never fails" (I Cor. 13:8). +How can you "spiritually glue yourself" to God's way by imitating Christ and the saints, in unloving situations?

So, when you have doubts, be reminded of these lessons, and also the following Bible stories:

  1. In Genesis, ch's.12-15, Abraham doubted, but his doubts ended by believing God's word…+How can you be strengthened by meditating on God's word in the Bible, in the saints and sacred tradition of the Church- to feed your soul by supernatural food?
  2. Moses himself questioned his faith in Ex. 33 15-19, but this terminated in 33:21, by seeing God's glory…+How can you see God's glory in the Eucharist more (the Emmaus story says that when Jesus gave them the blessed bread " their eyes were opened"-Lk. 24: 31); and also marvel in His providentially-ordered creation ("In Him-Christ- all things continue in being"--Col. 1:12-15).
  3. St Peter, the first Pope and, in a way, "Everyman," wavered, while trying to walk on the stormy water, but prevailed when he reached out to Christ in Mt. 14:28…+In rough waters and storms how can you more consciously and consistently hear Jesus calling you in your soul? (-Bible sources adapted from: The NRSV Exhaustive Concordance: Zondervan, 1991)…

St Augustine found out a beautiful truth-"God is more intimate to me than I am to myself" …So, now, ask and answer these questions: Is God around to help me?-- "The Lord will always be on your side, He will never abandon you" (Dt. 31:6); and, What can I do to help myself?: "Have no anxiety about at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, make your requests known to God…guard your hearts and minds in Christ" (Phil. 4:6-7)…Emmanuel-God is with us!

Briefly Noted

SACRED DESIRE "Desire for true happiness frees man from his immoderate attachment to the goods of this world so that he can find his fulfillment in the vision and beatitude of God. 'The promise of seeing God surpasses all beatitude…In Scripture, to see is to possess…Whoever sees God has obtained all the goods of which he can conceive." Catechism of the Catholic Church: # 2548…

PRAYER (memorize and practice): "Not the voice but the will. Not the sound but the love. Not the chords but the heart….make the psalm heard by the ear of God. Let the tongue sound in accord with the soul and the soul be in harmony with God."…

MASS PRACTICES: During the "Our Father" does the Church call us to hold hands? No. This arises because individuals and congregations practice different things, depending on the priest, style of worship, etc. The new Sacramentary (official prayer book of the Catholic Church) stresses the minimum uniformity we all must do at Mass, and this does not include holding hands at Mass. A good liturgical principle to remember is: no one should coerced into anything uncomfortable … What about silence and greeting at Mass? : Some think these cannot go together-horizontal (human) acts, and vertical (worship) acts. Who says so? "There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embraces…a time to be silent and a time to speak" (Eccl. 3:5,7 ). Are you fully practicing these?

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi