Turning to God in Times of Trouble
The many troubles we experience that put us into “foxholes” can certainly do that. Countless times I’ve heard people I know blurt out “God!” or “Oh my God!” when fearful, startled, shocked or desperate, but who in good times would either not profess any belief or faith in God or would reject either. But woe unto God and all his believers, if the atheist, agnostic or borderline believer/doubter does not receive a reply to that emergency call!
The answer we want in response to our plea for help is often not the answer we need, which is our transformation into better versions of ourselves–as a result of the emergency, dire circumstance or suffering–especially the suffering we cause others. How do we realize that transformative experience? First, by finding meaning and purpose in our suffering. Can we find anything of value in our travails, and in how we handle them? Those questions take on additional importance when our sin is the cause, because we must use our suffering as a motivator to conversion away from the bad behavior. We can use the pain as a hammer on an anvil, to shape our character and help forge virtue in us, by developing, for example, our humility and repentance. The former should come easy, by the obvious lesson that we are often not in control of life and almost never in control of other people. This humble response should make us more empathetic to others in their suffering–especially if we have caused it. President Lincoln is quoted as having said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees, by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
Second, and most importantly, we should learn from the greatest example of a transformative experience through suffering: the persecution, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I understand that many only believe the first two happened; but they–and we–should remember Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John:
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13)
Notice Jesus does not say, “…to lay down one’s life and then resurrect…” The loving on His part was in emptying Himself completely by giving up Himself totally–for the well-being of others. Jesus’ humility is attested to by St. Paul, when the Apostle tells us that “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself” (Phil 2:6). That’s a tall order for us, and something much more likely to be fulfilled when we have a relationship with another. You would, in all likelihood, sacrifice yourself for a loved one or friend before doing that for a stranger. That is one reason for developing a relationship with our Creator, through His Son and with the help of the Holy Spirit. This help comes from the Spirit’s biblical role as Advocate, Comforter and Counselor, depending upon the translation (thus the great prayer, “Come Holy Spirit, fill my heart).
The centurion,whose servant was desperately ill, was the first to believe that Jesus’s Word–not his presence—could perform the healing miracle. The Roman’s faith marveled Jesus, prompting our Lord to say, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Mt 8:5-13, Lk 7:1-10). Catholics repeat the essence of his humble request during every Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy, to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”) The power and importance of this experience is to believe. The centurion had faith and chose to believe in Jesus. When we open ourselves up to the gift of faith we can then make the free will choice to believe in Jesus, especially in the poverty of spirit and humility that results from having our backs against the wall.
In the Fourth Gospel John never writes the noun belief; instead he records the verb “to believe,” almost seven times more often than the next closest Gospel, because Jesus wants us to do something: do His will! Having faith matters little, if at all, if there’s no doing faith:
“By their fruits you shall know them” (Mt 7:16).
With the help of Felix Just, SJ, PhD (http://www.catholic-resources.org/John/Themes-Believe.htm) I’ve listed some of the effects of believing in Jesus from having a relationship with Him. We:
- become “children of God” (1:12)
- don’t perish, but have “eternal life” (3:16) Note “have,” not “will have,” a promise that the Kingdom of God IS at hand and available for those who believe (3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47)
- won’t be “condemned” (3:18), come “under judgment” (5:24) but will pass from death to life (5:24)
- “know” Jesus and the Father (4:42; 6:64, 69; 10:38)
- will not hunger or thirst (6:35)
- abide/live/remain in Jesus and in God (6:56; 14:17; 15:4-10)
- have “living water” flow out of one’s heart (7:38); receiving the Spirit (7:39)
- be “disciples” of Jesus (8:31; cf. being Jesus’ “friends”; 15:14-15)
- see the “glory of God” (11:40; cf. seeing “greater things” 1:50)
- become “children of light” (12:36); not “remaining in darkness” (12:46)
- do the works that Jesus does, or even “greater works” (14:12)
- have “life in his name” (20:31)
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit: As is so often the case, we can look back in history to the Hebrew Scriptures for context in our effort to understand something in the Christian Scriptures. So let us examine what Isaiah has to say in the 61st chapter of his book. He affirms his anointing by the Lord and his acceptance of the Lord’s gift of faith, and that with the spirit of the Lord he will encourage the oppressed, heal the brokenhearted, free the captive, give solace and comfort to those who mourn and make them “oaks of righteousness” (Isa 61:1-3). This poverty of spirit acknowledges our incompleteness or, in fact, emptiness, and therefore our total reliance on God. And in that belief, we must not hesitate to “ask,” “seek” and “knock” in order to receive the blessings of God promised to us by His Son.
The great difficulties of life overwhelm even the strongest of people, making them meek and mournful. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays for removal of the overwhelming cup of his crucifixion; however his next statement points to his great humility, and his total abandonment to his Father’s will: “not as I will, but as you will.” Can we abandon ourselves (our ego) to God’s will (“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”)
Can we make ourselves totally reliant on God?
Can we abandon ourselves to Christ?
Only through our total surrender, our self-emptying, will we find our treasure in God, because this change allows Him to fill us with His love. That treasure is not the petition we made to God, our “blessing dispensing machine,” for the thing or result we wanted; rather, it is the truth of Christ and the belief that He will ultimately be with us.
Read Satan’s temptations of Jesus; each of them were designed to make him strong (cf Johannes Baptist Metz Poverty of Spirit), because Satan fears the emptiness God chose in order to be frail and weak in His act of salvation.
Fr Tomáš Halík, in Night of the Confessor, affirms that “to ‘take up one’s Cross’ is one of Christianity’s most valuable teachings. If we follow Jesus, then we must go through our own Gethsemane, Good Friday and descent into Hell.” Bracing words, for sure. By joining our suffering with Christ we allow Him to help us carry our cross; but, most importantly, we form or deepen a relationship with Him, and find the ultimate meaning in the suffering: transformation as described by St Paul: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” He knows this because of the promise of Christ that we find in the book of Revelation (21:3-5):
“Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold I make all things new.'”
And we become renewed because we have a relationship with God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, based upon love. So go ahead and make your 911 prayer call, if you’re in trouble; but before that happens, I strongly recommend you call on Him–often–to say “Hi” and to share your life with Him. Get to know Him; open yourself to Him; love Him.