This reflection was taken from the Sunday Mass Readings of Oct. 6, 2013:
Today’s first reading asks a question that a lot of us still wonder about. Many people don’t know where God is during the hardships of their lives.
Due to the fallen nature of our world, this life–obviously–isn’t able to be completely filled with comfort and pleasure. That isn’t God’s fault. It’s ours.
We may be inclined to blame Adam and Eve; after all, they were the ones who originally sinned. When you think about it, though, how many of us alive today would have done anything different? How many people could resist the temptation that the devil put before Adam and Eve, to be “like gods”? Think of all the little things that we already know we can’t resist doing, despite our knowledge of how evil they are. That’s thanks, in part, to Original Sin clouding our minds, but it also goes to show just how fallible we are as human beings. We can’t say for certain that we would have done any better than our first ancestors.
When things go wrong in our lives, or when people mistreat us, we may be tempted to blame God. We might wonder where he was when bad things were going on, and why he didn’t do something about it. He was actually right there–and he wasn’t just sitting and watching.
All evil and hurt and maltreatment come from our sins. Say, for example, I fell down the stairs and broke my leg. I could choose to think to myself–and God–gee, thanks a lot for helping me with that one, Big Guy!
When we think things like that, we forget that we don’t understand all the workings of God. If I hadn’t fallen down the stairs today, and broken my leg, how do I know that I wouldn’t have fallen down the stairs tomorrow, and broken my neck? (Just so you know–I did not actually fall down the stairs and break anything.)
Now we get back to free will: God gave us free will, and we used it–wrongly. We used it to destroy the perfect Creation that he made for us, to break our relationship with him in this life. He tries to help us, but we still have free will–and therefore can refuse his help. Additionally, because of the marred existence we’ve made for ourselves, he would almost be breaking his own rule of allowing us free will by stepping in and alleviating every problem that it causes. He can–and does–work miracles, yes; but if he granted us exactly what we asked for, every time we asked for it, would we even appreciate it? Obviously, we can ask for his guidance; but if we want it, we’ve got to be able to accept it. He’s not going to help us achieve evil ends–even if we pray for it. Since his will is what’s truly best for us–and he knows that–we should pray for what he wants to have done, hence the term in the Our Father “Thy will be done.” Sometimes, things that we wish would happen just weren’t meant to be.
As for falling down the stairs, any number of things could have caused that. Maybe I was carrying too much stuff, and was overconfident in my carrying abilities; perhaps somebody had left something on the stairs; I might not have been paying attention to what I was doing, or I could have been wearing slippery footwear. Inevitably, in a “perfect world,” none of those things would happen. However, thanks to us, this isn’t a perfect world.
My point is that it probably wasn’t any more of God’s idea for me to have to fall down the stairs than it was mine (unless, for example, I would somehow learn something important about my faith from a hospital minister that I wouldn’t discover anywhere else). Maybe he allowed me to fall one direction instead of another, or one day instead of another, for reasons unknown to me; but unless he had some really good reasons to cause me to fall, I was going to fall either way.
Mankind’s free will can harm us far more directly than an accident on the stairs. Like when a bunch of druggies beat somebody up to get their money. That wasn’t God’s plan! However, God isn’t to blame for “letting it happen.” While the druggies were planning to beat up the guy for his money (and while they were doing it), God–in their minds, through their consciences–was begging them to not go through with it. If they had been listening to him, they would have gone by his plan, and they wouldn’t have beaten up the guy.
This arouses an interesting point. How long did the druggies in question have to close their minds to God’s will to get into such a sad moral position in the first place? To get to the point where they could beat somebody up, just to satisfy themselves, means that they would have spent a long time whittling away at their consciences. Thus, their consciences were so corrupted that they saw little or nothing wrong with mugging the guy, so that they could get more money to buy more drugs.
It is never God’s will for anyone to turn away from him. He would’ve tried everything short of slapping those druggies to get them to see the error of their ways. It would actually make God sadder than it would the guy that those people could go that low, since he understands the full implications that the druggies’ sins would have upon themselves–plus the fact that he knows exactly how the guy would feel about it.
If we can grasp that, we can perhaps begin to understand why bad things can indeed happen to good people. It’s not God’s fault. The fault lies in mankind, through our sins. If he had never given us free will, we might be happier; but we would also be puppets. No one–including me–likes to be forced to do anything. If God didn’t give us the freeness to do what we wish, we would be forced to love him; and the only way to truly love is to love freely.
“The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, will live.” We must not demand that the Lord’s will coincide with our own, or act impulsively without consulting our conscience; instead, we must be patient. God’s will will come, and we will be satisfied in a way that no earthly pleasure can please us, but only when the time is right.
Another thing I want to say (which, hopefully for all of us, will take far less time than the last thing I said) is about the Gospel. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” What Jesus means is that even the smallest bit of faith can do amazing things–things we never thought possible. He doesn’t mean he’s going to let us be Jedi and use the Force to fling trees into the ocean. Faith in God means belief in his will; those with such belief will understand the general pointlessness of actually planting a tree in the sea. But tell me this: which is truly a greater achievement…moving a mountain, or freeing a person from sin–whether it be ourselves through repentance, or our friends through conversion?
by Cameron Daly