In the face of overwhelming pain and suffering, fear and anxiety, frustration and fatigue throughout the world, as nations and local communities, leaders and families grapple with the unfolding global pandemic and its horrific implications, along with the widespread loss of employment that fuels the world’s economies, the financial debts incurred by wage-earners who are at the moment earning no wages, our healthcare system visibly strained to the breaking point tragically exposing a significant portion of human society it does not serve, the invaluable service rendered by a veritable army of medical professionals who risk their own safety and that of their loved ones to save lives, the growing clamor for critical medical supplies, and the shameful lack of foresight and political will to impose effective and necessary measures to impede the insidious spread of this disease, we cannot but find ourselves wondering why, along with a multitude of questions for which there are no answers. What is the meaning and purpose of all this suffering? And where do we go from here? And why are some people being so stubborn and selfish? And where, O where is God to be found?
We hear in our own hearts an echo of Jesus’ heart-rending plea from the cross, as he prays to the Father the words of the 22nd Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It is the anguished prayer on the lips of every person suffering from the coronavirus fearful that time is running out. It is the prayer on the lips of their loved ones who cannot sit with them or hold their hand or speak words of comfort to them fearful of contracting the illness themselves. It is the prayer on the lips of many doctors and nurses physically and mentally exhausted fearful they could have done just a little more for that last patient. It is the prayer on the lips of many dedicated public servants making very tough decisions fearful of attracting conspiracy theorists and negative public opinion. It is the prayer on the lips of ministers and religious leaders rendered helpless as their people face their darkest hour. And yet in all this, all is not lost.
We indeed face great spiritual peril when we are overwhelmed by pain and suffering, by fear and anxiety, by frustration and fatigue. That feeling of devastation forces us to call out to God in anguish. But we forget that the God in whom we placed our hope and trust when all was going well has not left our side. Not for one moment. God who is merciful and compassionate beyond measure, who sent his own beloved Son to suffer and die that we his children might possess his very own life, this very same God still walks alongside us even when dark shadows dance around us, even when we cannot feel God’s presence nor see his face nor hear his voice. Our God is not fickle or petty as we often are. And God’s word is always true.
Some of you may have heard this story before. When I was pastor of 2 parishes down by Smith Mountain Lake, I would travel the dark roads of Franklin and Bedford Counties to hear confessions at youth retreats conducted at the 4H Center. And when the moon was full, it was a welcome sight where streetlights were few and far between. Sometimes the moon would be straight ahead of me, and sometimes it would be out of sight somewhere behind me. Yet in that half hour between my front door and the 4H Center, there was never any significant change in the distance between me and the moon. So the distance between us and God doesn’t really change a whole lot either.
Our perception does not always match reality, and we are easily persuaded by suggestions that God is subject to fickle and petty human thoughts and behaviors. What often appears to us as the devastation of Jesus’ passion and death was in actuality the fulfillment of the Father’s awesome plan to create us anew and to reconcile us to himself and to one another. There are a great many mysteries in God’s awesome and amazing creation and in God’s all-encompassing plan for us and the universe that we will never grasp no matter how much we try. And God is also in no way obligated to share any of it with us no matter how much we ask or claim we deserve an explanation.
Ultimately, devastating hardship and painful suffering and global pandemics are not the test. Rather, the test is how we adjust our thinking and behavior to address the changing circumstances life will throw at us, so we persevere in loving and serving and supporting one another, living as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, as children of the Father in word and in deed. As we come to experience God’s tremendous care and boundless mercy through the reassuring presence, the kind words, and the dedicated service of another, so we in turn extend the same experience of God’s care and mercy to our neighbor through our presence, our words, and our service. The distance separating us from God is exactly the distance between our need and the generous and selfless service of those who extend God’s care and mercy. The distance separating us from God is exactly the distance between those in need of God’s care and mercy and our generous and selfless service toward them.
It was Jesus’ mission to bridge that distance. It is our mission as well, we who claim to be his followers and disciples, so that no one should ever have to call out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” God is never too far away. God is as close as we are to any of God’s children in need.
Rolo B Castillo © 2020