God’s will and faith in a world of suffering

By Deacon Derick Cranston

If you have never said no to God, you probably have never truly said yes to God. If you have never rejected God’s will, you probably have never fully grasped the enormity of what God’s will demands of us. And what is God’s will for us? To love God with all our heart and all our soul, and to love our neighbor (and our enemies) as we love ourselves. This is God’s greatest commandment and everything else is just footnotes.

How often do we mechanically gloss over “God’s will be done” when we recite the Lord’s Prayer? It is easy to say, but putting it into practice is much more difficult. We are like the son in Jesus’ parable who says he will go out to his father’s vineyard, but does not do so. We find hope however in the example of the other son who says no to his father, but changes his mind and does as his father asks.

And therein lays the Good News of the Gospel: it is never too late to change one’s mind and do the will of the Father. Our Father’s love for us is infinite and he will always forgive us if we truly repent and ask for his forgiveness. No matter how often we screw up, no matter how often we reject Christ in how we live, it is never too late to change our ways and ask for our Father’s forgiveness.

There is the story of the “good thief” crucified next to Jesus who rebuked the thief on the other side of Jesus because the second thief mocked Jesus. The good thief goes on to ask Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Think about this: the first one to enter paradise with Jesus wasn’t a prophet or apostle, nor was it the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was a thief who in the last hours of his life turned to Christ and opened himself to God’s forgiveness.

The good thief realized that rejecting God’s will ultimately leads to suffering and only by asking for Christ’s help would he be brought into the kingdom of heaven. Likewise, our rejection of God’s will can bring on great suffering. Not because God punishes us for not doing his will, but that we bring it upon ourselves.

It is like having diabetes or heart disease and the doctor orders you to follow a certain diet and exercise regime. If you ignore the doctor’s orders and become sick, is it the doctor that is punishing you? No, you have brought it upon yourself for refusing to follow a plan that will help maintain and improve your physical health. Similarly, when we reject God’s plan for salvation, we can bring suffering and heartache upon ourselves.

But what about the evil in the world we have no control over like earthquakes, hurricanes, cancer or multiple sclerosis?  We can follow God’s will to the best of our ability, but even that will not prevent us from being killed in a hurricane or having a child born with a disability. We have done nothing to bring this suffering upon ourselves.

There is no adequate answer to this question or comforting metaphor that will suffice. We can only take solace in the knowledge that when we suffer, we are not alone.

God shares in our suffering and gives it meaning.  We have faith that in the end it will all make sense. For faith is not the conviction that things will always turn out well. It is the certainty that these things will ultimately make sense. It is the sure and certain hope that when we pass from this life into the next we will find that every tear will be wiped away, and every broken heart will be mended.

(Deacon Cranston is pastoral associate for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He can be reached at derickcranston@gmail.com

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