Sunday, August 25, 2013

God as good Father

In today's readings we are faced with Jesus saying yet more difficult things. Foremost among these is Jesus' insistence that not everyone who claims to believe in Him will enter the Kingdom. He says that some who strive to enter the narrow gate will not be strong enough to do so. What does He mean? What can He mean? Are we expected to enter into God's Kingdom by our own strength, our own effort? If so, we can't be left with much confidence because we know ourselves. We know our own hearts.

I think our reading from Hebrews provides us with a key to unlock what Jesus is telling us. If we do not "disdain the discipline of the Lord," but see what comes our way in life, the stuff of life, experience, as the means we use to achieve the end of accomplishing what we are (presumably) hoping for, namely everlasting life in the God's Kingdom, then we become strong in the way the Lord indicates, strong enough to enter through the narrow gate. One way of stating this is that we conquer through submission.

When discussing these things I believe it is important to bring up the issue of causality. In the normal ebb and flow of life, God is not the immediate cause of what happens to us. In other words, when bad things happen it is not God testing us, or chastising us for some wrong we've done. Seeing things that way, at least to my mind, is the hallmark of an immature faith and can easily lead the person who holds such a view to take a superstitious approach in her/his relationship with God, constantly trying to appease God, who loves you more than you can imagine, which love is made manifest in the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, whose sacrifice appeased whatever wrath we had coming our way (see John 3:16-18 and Romans 5:1-8).

I think a more accurate way of viewing this is to understand that the all-powerful God of the universe, while not actively causing bad things to happen to us, certainly allows such things to happen. Yes, God could intervene and stop anything, to change the course of any and all events in the world. I believe sometimes, according to His will and purpose (I avoided the word "pleasure" on purpose because in this context it makes God sound arbitrary), He does. I believe in miracles because I've witnessed a few things that I believe were miracles.

I like that the sacred author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes the analogy between God and a human father. I would be a terrible father if, especially as my children grew older, I constantly intervened to shield them from the consequences of their actions, or even from those things in life that happen to them unexpectedly and not as a consequence of a decision they made. But I would also be a bad father if I abandoned them completely in such circumstances. Hence, our trials, our struggles, our failures, our disappointments are opportunities, not only for us to see clearly our great need, but to acknowledge our need and to experience for ourselves how near the Lord is to us, how compassionate He is, how He meets our need. Let's not forget that, at root, the word "compassion" means to suffer with another.

In our Gospel reading from several weeks back, teaching about our need to be persistent in prayer, Jesus said, "If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?" (Luke 11:13). Let's not forget, the Holy Spirit is the mode of Jesus' resurrection presence in us and among us. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the way the Lord is present to us now.

It's Sunday, let's eat the bread for our journey, keeping in mind that the word "companion" is derived from a the compound Latin word com + panis= "with bread." So, the source of our companionship is our partaking the Eucharist together.

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