Let's be clear here. To speak of God's "immutability" doesn't mean he's unable to be…
God has not abandoned us, even in this never-ending storm
Maybe it’s the result of having to work under constant, strict deadlines for the past two decades, but most who know me would say that I’m fairly low-stress. I take things as they come — or, at least, I try to — and I firmly believe that there’s no sense in worrying about what I can’t control. My wife — a classic worrier from way back — would even say that I don’t worry enough. When things bother her, they should bother me, too, I suppose. I say that we balance each other out.
But lately, that’s changed. Add my even-keeledness to the list of things 2020 has ruined. A never-ending storm will fray even the calmest of nerves.
As I’m writing, Tropical Storm Laura is strengthening and has its eye on Louisiana — a place that knows worry all too well. The death toll from COVID-19 continues to rise, as do concerns over the virus spreading through schools and college campuses across the nation. Three months after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers in Wisconsin sparked more protests — and more violence. The upcoming presidential election continues to divide the country even further. Wave after wave after wave of unsettling news pounds at our psyche, and we find ourselves gasping for breath.
Lately, instead of falling on my knees and bringing my worries to God in prayer, I’ve found myself sinking into despair, wondering why he would pile crisis on top of crisis.
Twenty-five years ago this month, Pope St. John Paul II addressed this very question in his international bestseller “Crossing the Threshold of Hope.” In the book-length interview released in September 1995, Italian journalist Vittorio Messori asked: “We cannot forget that in every century, at the hour of truth, even Christians have asked themselves a tormenting question: How to continue to trust in a God who is supposed to be a merciful Father, in a God who … is meant to be Love itself, when suffering, injustice, sickness and death [editor’s note: sound familiar?] seem to dominate the larger history of the world as well as our smaller daily lives?”
In his saintly wisdom, the pope responds: “Is the God who allows all this still truly Love, as St. John proclaims in his First Letter? Indeed, is he just with respect to his creatures? Doesn’t he place too many burdens on the shoulders of individuals? Doesn’t he leave man alone with these burdens, condemning them to a life without hope? … God does not need to justify himself to man. It is enough that he is omnipotent. From this perspective everything he does or allows must be accepted. But God … desires to justify himself to mankind. He is not the Absolute that remains outside of the world, indifferent to human suffering. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, a God who shares man’s lot and participates in his destiny … .
“If suffering is present in the history of humanity, one understands why his omnipotence was manifested in the omnipotence of humiliation on the cross. The scandal of the cross remains the key to the interpretation of the great mystery of suffering, which is so much a part of the history of mankind. Even contemporary critics of Christianity are in agreement on this point. Even they see that the crucified Christ is proof of God’s solidarity with man in his suffering. God places himself on the side of man.”
A generation later, these are vital words to remember as we find ourselves surrounded by suffering: “God places himself on the side of man.” God has not abandoned us. And just as Christ’s suffering on the cross leads to our redemption, so, too, can our own suffering lead us closer to him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it succinctly, saying: “By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion” (No. 1505).
As we strive to navigate the dark clouds under which we find ourselves, it can be difficult to see the sun, let alone feel the warmth of its rays. So it can be with God, but our faith allows us to know that he is present in our lives, even amid so much suffering.
Be not afraid, for “he is Emmanuel, God-with us.”
Scott Warden is managing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.