The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Friday, August 3, 2012

Where is God?

"Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord."
Psalm 130

Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep?
Arise, do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face from us
and forget our oppression and misery?
Psalm 44

All of us experience periods of spiritual dryness or desolation, times when God seems distant or absent altogether. And when we or others are suffering physically or emotionally, we are bound to cry out as did the author of the Psalms above. It is part of the human experience.

Yet, if there is no hope, why do we cry out, and to whom?

The absence of hope brings death. Hope in the midst of suffering can redeem it and restore life in ways we cannot begin to imagine. God is not distant or absent from our lives. If that were the case, we would simply cease to be.

This is a theologically rich topic. Acres of text stretching back to the Gospels and beyond have explored this mystery, so central to the Christian faith. As Christians, we believe Christ gives our suffering--even our doubts--meaning and purpose by taking on our humanity and dying on the cross, where the Second Person of the Holy Trinity himself cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22)

But it doesn't end there. Eventually, the darkness of Good Friday gives way to the light and life of Resurrection. "I am the life and the resurrection," Jesus says in John 11:25. In the words of the late Paul Claudel, a French poet, "Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it, but to fill it with his presence" (emphasis is mine). God is with us in Christ--in Word and Sacrament, and in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ. And he is with us in the very depths of our hearts, through which he breathes his life-giving Spirit. Every heartbeat testifies to God's abiding presence in our lives, which he created. And every cry coming from the depths of our hearts not only reaches him, but beats in unison with that Spirit within.

The truth of the matter is that sometimes things seem distant because they are so close. Can you appreciate a Monet with your nose pressed up against the painting? Can you see the misplaced glasses you're searching for perched atop your head? "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1Corinthians 2:9).

Msgr. Charles Pope from the Archdiocese of Washington has a nice blog reflection on all this titled, When God Seems Distant. In addition, Path of Life Publications has produced a number of Catholic Perspectives CareNotes addressing this topic in various ways, including: "Where is God in Human Suffering?", "The Healing Cross: Reflections for the Sick and Suffering," and "How Spiritual Doubt can Make Our Faith Stronger."

And, of course, the Psalms are a perfect way to pray this mystery in unison with Christ, as we do each day in the monastery. As we pray in Psalm 91 at Compline in the evening: "Since he clings to me in love, I will free him; protect him for he knows my name. When he calls I shall answer: 'I am with you.' I will save him in distress and give him glory."

Faith--is the Pierless Bridge
supporting what we see
unto the scene that we do not--
too slender for the eye.

It bears the soul as bold
as it were rocked in steel.
With arms of steel at either side--
It joins--behind the veil.

To what, could we presume
the Bridge would cease to be
to our far vacillating feet
a first necessity.
Emily Dickinson

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