Sunday, November 11, 2012

Providence, Smoke, and Faith

Photo credit: Teresa Love
I've been thinking about Maclin's comment on the Providence post and instead of responding there, I decided to respond in a new post. What Maclin said was:
[L]ooking at it from the broader historical perspective, I keep thinking of the English Reformation, of Henry's break with the Church, etc. All providential, we have to believe and trust. Yet the whole of British civilization was lost to the faith then, and has never returned, with profound consequences to the whole world, considering the reach of British influence. I'm not suggesting that that means it wasn't providential, only that the ultimate purpose remains hidden, even after all this time.
Well, that's true, and I doubt any of us will ever know the answer to that dilemma in this life. It reminds me of Aslan saying that he never tells anyone any story but his own, or God's oblique response to Job. We just don't know. We don't. And he won't tell us, but He asks us to trust Him anyway in much the same way that he asks the disciples in John, "Do you also want to leave?" Either He has the words of eternal life, or He doesn't.

I was thinking about this in Mass this morning when I heard the readings about the two women who gave everything they had. That's what God asks of us all--everything. It's not just our possessions. He wants our senses, our affections, and our faculties: memory, will, understanding, intellect, the whole lot of it. We have to throw everything into the pot, and not hedge our bets, or keep anything back for a rainy day. 

One of the hardest of these things for me to surrender is my intellect, because in my own image of myself, that is what defines me. It's where I excel--what I like best about myself. I want to understand. I want to know. I want to be able to explain things to myself and to everybody else. When some concept, like the suffering of the innocent comes up, I want to find the book that lays out the answer for me. I think it's a sort of intellectual shirking to let it go and trust God to know what He's about. "Other, more naive people can just blindly accept this difficulty, but I'm more demanding than that."

There are a couple of problems with this, the first being that I am demanding something of myself that I can never deliver. I will never be able to understand more than a sort of Janet-sized portion of Who God is and what He is doing. It's ridiculous to throw my intellect up against the "infintely perfect Being Who made all things and keeps them in existence." The second is that I'm demanding something of God that He knows I don't need, that would probably harm me if I had it. Also, I'm putting Reason before Faith, and that's a fatal mistake. I'm not a child of the Enlightenment; I'm a child of God. I can't always reason things out, but I can always choose to believe and to trust.

I think that it's a mistake to let ourselves get too much caught up in these unanswerable conundrums. They can paralyze us. While our minds are running around and around in an inescapable maze, we miss whatever it is that the Lord is asking us to do. We don't have time for that. There's too much at stake.

Our perceptions in life are often similar to the picture above. Sometimes the smoke is so thick that we can't see the flames underneath. Sometimes the world is so cold that we can't even feel the heat, but the fire still burns.


And I just have to say that my granddaughter is one amazing photographer.


  1. Great post, Janet. I am right there with you on this. For me to understand some things (algebra, for instance. lol), I have to know the whole background on it and all the whats, whys and hows - so sometimes these unanswerable conundrums, as you put it, are really hard to give up to faith. I like what you said - "I can't always reason things out, but I can always choose to believe and to trust."