Her pain was visible as she began to describe the reason she was angry at God and no longer believed in his goodness. They had prayed for a child for years and it appeared that after 9 years of trying it finally had happened. Then the unthinkable happened she miscarried and with it their joy and faith was lost with their child. Losing a child does that to parents. She had prayed for something and their prayers were answered only to be taken away. Why did God allow it to happen was her question?
Anyone dealing with grief will tell you that any answer we can give in response to that question is inadequate. Instead of giving answers we listen and pray for them. We know that time does not heal that wound but time can restore a belief in God’s promises as absolute truth and restore faith in God. If we can open the doors to that reality then we have allowed faith to answer the questions and remove the deep sadness that fuels doubt in God.
Doubt is our greatest enemy for it does destroy faith and it does pull us further and further from God. We can see doubt or misunderstanding in all of our readings today. Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the stars and a land to possess. What was Abraham’s response to the promise; he wanted to know “how could he be sure God would come through.” His exact words in our first reading were “how can I know I shall possess it.” In another biblical translation of this verse says “how can I believe.” There is the question “how can I believe what God says will happen to me or to those I love?
Yes how can we believe when we are constantly experiencing things other than the abundant life God has said he came to give us? That mother was so deep in her pain she could hardly perform small tasks much less trust in the promises of God. How can we know or trust that God hears our pleas or that he will answer them unless faith is rewarded in some way. How do we keep going when God seems to be distant or when our prayers are not answered?
Paul in his words to us today tells us to imitate him. Paul the great persecutor of those who believed in Christ tells us to imitate him! His belief in the promise of God began after an encounter with the risen Christ.
Paul’s encounter with Christ gives us a clue to all the answers we seek. We need to have a personal encounter with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit. Every saint, every figure in scripture, every story we hear of faith had an encounter with God. Abraham had it on that day and he needed to know it was real. Paul had it and he was not sure until Ananias prayed for him to regain his sight, to be filled with the Holy Spirit and was baptized. Peter has such an encounter in today’s gospel and his desire was to prolong the experience.
Even in her pain that lady was seeking God in her questions. The fact that we are in church today tells me that all of us are seeking the presence of God. We want contact and answers that tell us that our faith will not disappoint. I will tell you God desires for that same contact with us and it can happens when we begin to listen. Abraham was obviously listening to God or he would not have heard him speak to him. Paul, even while he was persecuting the church listened to the witness of those he persecuted. Their witness had to make him wonder what allowed them to stand firm in faith in the midst of their pain. Peter had to be a man who heard the voice of God in order to leave everything to follow Jesus.
But all of these giants of scripture had to have some sign from God in order to continue in faith. Abraham voiced his doubt and had an answer when God spoke to him. His proof was in hearing the voice of God speak directly to him. Paul had a visual and sensual experience with Christ appearing and had his eyes opened by the Holy Spirit. Peter had that same kind of experience by seeing Christ transformed and by hearing the voice of God.
What is our experience of God? Is God distant or have we had an experience of feeling the love of God poured into our hearts? Have we felt the arms of the Father enfolding us as he did the prodigal son? Have we heard the invitation of Christ to follow him? Have we experienced the life giving water that satisfies all thirst? Have we experienced Christ washing our feet? Have we felt the Holy Spirit transforming us into the very image of Christ?
God invites us today to experience that same Christ experienced by shepherds at his birth and by saints and sinners at their rebirth by spirit and fire.