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When God Doesn’t Make Sense - Week III

Bumps in the Road of Life

Dear OLPH Family,

Week three of our Lenten Message Series: When God Does Not Make Sense. Today, we are focused on obstacles and growth. We are seeking to make sense of why God seems to place obstacles in our path at times. 

Anything worth doing is not easy. When we witness greatness: excellence on the ballfield, in the concert hall, or even in the kitchen, we can forget all the sweat equity built up over years of dedication and toil to arrive at a moment which appears effortless, but in fact requires - and has required - the greatest of care, effort and attention.

Today in our readings, the Church places before us two examples of obstacles and the stories of resulting growth: The woman at the well and the Israelites in the desert. Let’s focus on Israel here.

In the first reading, the people of Israel are thirsty in route to the Promised Land, and they grumble against the Lord and Moses. In isolation, the episode seems normal: thirsty people want a drink. Greater context makes all the difference. Israel has witnessed ten plagues, including the death of every first born in Egypt (which they were spared). They crossed on dry land through the Red Sea while pursuing armies died in the waters. They have been fed with manna and quails. Yet each time, they cry out like little children. They whine and moan and murmur and complain. It would seem that again and again the Lord God must “prove himself” to Israel, jump through hoops, show his power. Not unlike the crowds in the Gospel who always seek a sign or wonder to behold. Yet their hearts are not converted; they do not embrace the way of discipleship.

Moses may have lamented to the Lord: “When are these people going to grow up?!” The lessons of trust do not have their desired effect. Perhaps some learn to trust and grow, but the great number is ready to make an idol of the golden calf when Moses goes up the mountain to receive the Decalogue. 

As we learned last week, our trials - our sufferings and deaths - are opportunities to unite us with the life-giving cross, to Christ Jesus who offers himself to our Father. The journey of Christian discipleship is a journey with Christ to the Cross. The “obstacles” in life are really occasions for growth. Just like the Israelites, we too need to be stretched and tested, to become more mature in the journey of faith.

God did not cause all the imperfection and woundedness in the world. Most of the credit goes to humanity, with our sin, violence and war. God is working to repair the communion that has been broken, a fissure that even inflicts creation itself. Paul writes of a different sort of groaning, a holy yearning for the completion of the work of redemption, not only for the children of God but for all creation:

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God... that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Romans 8:18-23)

In all honesty, we can admit that we do not always appreciate the trials, hardships and obstacles in our path. They can feel onerous and burdensome. At the same time, our Faith asks us to trust that God is good. Our challenge is not to give up, not to murmur or complain, but to embrace what is before us. “Embrace the suck,” in military jargon. 

Spiritual masters speak of surrender. Surrender into the arms of our merciful Father. Saint Teresa of Jesus composed one of the best prayers for surrender. I shall leave you with it: Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.

May this Lent be a time of spiritual maturation for all of us!

Fr. Joel Wilson