God doesn't promise a free ride

  • October 23, 2008
All Souls (Year A) Nov. 2 (Lamentations 3:17-26; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Matthew 11:25-30)

How do we react when we experience loss and tragedy? Many act with shock and outrage, especially if they consider themselves religious. Why me? Am I not faithful to God? Haven’t I practised my faith diligently?
Certainly — but this is not a guarantee of a life free from pain and suffering. After all, no one is exempt from the human condition. But many people believe that being religious means a smoother life. When negative experiences occur, their faith is either shaken or “destroyed.” It is natural to feel grief or anger when we have negative experiences. But what we are promised is God’s constant and unceasing love and guidance.

Lamentations has a wonderful way of expressing this — God’s mercy and love never end and are new every morning. Recently a woman who lost her home and all her possessions in a fire was interviewed on the TV. She was devastated to be sure. But she said that she would make it — she had family, people who loved her and her faith in God. In the midst of the pain she could be hopeful, blessed and even joyful. That is the gift and the power of faith. It is not just a security blanket or a promise of recompense in the afterlife as cynical despisers of religion claim. The presence of God experienced in faith is the power to meet whatever life presents with grace, courage, integrity and love.

Paul struggled to communicate to the folks in Corinth the connection between this life and the next. The main issue was how flesh and blood can inherit the kingdom of God. It can’t. Paul is able to think outside the box, for he demonstrates how the resurrected life is connected with this life but is not merely a continuation of it. The key is transformation: who we are and what we do in this life is the seed of what we will become. Our bodies will not be biological in nature but of an entire higher order. Death will be for us a transition and new birth rather than something to be feared.

The message of Jesus is not the result of intellectual reasoning, education or knowledge. In fact, much of what He taught runs against the current of human opinion and the world’s way of doing things. Jesus thanked God that the message was given to those who are able to intuit by means of the heart. The message of Jesus can only be received in simplicity of heart and humility. But Jesus continues with something rather surprising: He alone can grant people direct knowledge of God because He alone knows God. This is what is hidden from the wise and intelligent: the true nature and experience of God. His invitation to take on His yoke then makes perfect sense. Those who do so will find rest for their souls, for His yoke is easy and burden light. Those who are humble in heart and can receive this knowledge of God are gifted with the power and strength of God. They are no longer alone.

Just as Lamentations taught us, God’s mercy and steadfast love never ceases. The malaise of religion in our own time is partially due to a lack of that experience of God. We talk a lot about God but often without the authenticity or conviction of having experienced the reality we are preaching. This experience is far removed from holding various ideas or doctrines about God and it has little to do with moralizing. An experiential knowledge of God is what people are seeking when they wander and dabble spiritually or when they strike out on their own personal quest. Rather than judging society or individuals for the usual suspects — materialism, consumerism, greed, sex and so on — we should do some soul-searching. Are we truly helping people to drink from the living water of God’s Spirit? Do we have humility, an open and seeking mind and a willingness to learn new things? Do we help or hinder people on their journey to God by our attitudes and actions?

Hollow God-talk that lacks the authenticity and conviction of real experience only provides fuel for the growing current of atheism in our culture. We can talk about God for a whole lifetime, but one brief encounter can change our lives forever.