God Sightings

There are difficulties many of us have with God. Like many others, I’m often baffled by the way God runs the world. The world often is not gentle for many people. There are the horrors visited on people from long-term debilitating illnesses, paralysis, dementia, natural disaster, personal brutality, old age. It’s a world of spinal meningitis, of cerebral palsy, of neurochemical imbalances that can make people hate having to exist. There are the genetic disorders that blanket people’s skin in ulcers. There are all the carcinomas. Epidemics blot out millions of people, tsunamis engulf thousands, mothers weep for their fallen soldier sons. What is going on? What is God doing? As Job says, “if it is not He, then who is it?” (Job 9:24).

Few human beings would inflict these things on those they loved. I don’t understand why God allows children to suffer. I don’t know what it means. God doesn’t explain. If God is good, why are there genetic defects in newborn children? Why is there so much that seems ungood?”

A friend said he pictures God bestowing a cancer here, a deformity there, for you a septic embolism, and for you a compound fracture, etc.

There is the disappointment of unanswered prayers. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of “cries like dead letters sent to dearest Him that lives alas! Away” (I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day). Hopkins also wrote “Comforter, where is Your Comforting?” (No Worst, There Is None).

Wordsworth wrote of “hearing often times the still, sad music of humanity.” In the poem No Worst, There Is None, Hopkins uses the term “WorldSorrow.” There is that insightful statement from the movie The Hard Way: “People get hurt. It’s nobody’s fault. Just live and get hurt.”

There are those shocking passages in the Old Testament, for example, God’s directive to King Saul to kill every living Amalekite—man, woman and child, and even the sheep, and camels and donkeys. Saul fell short. He left the Amalekite king alive and spared the best of the sheep and lambs. As a punishment for the incompleteness of the slaughter, God took the Kingdom from Saul and his heirs and gave it to David (First Samuel 15:3-29). There are similar texts in the Book of Joshua that shock us. A loving God seems to be ordering the policy of genocide.

The answer given for all these situations is that God’s ways are past our understanding. Isaiah tells us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways. Karl Rahner was always talking about the mystery and incomprehensibility of God. John of the Cross spoke of God “whose ways are past finding out.”

In the 1960s, Archbishop John Foley stated that AIDS was God’s punishment for sexual immorality. Pope John Paul II, when asked about the archbishop’s statement, replied that “it is hard to know the mind of God.”

Thus, Orion is a gorgeous starlight spectacle, and the horse is a marvel of construction and instinct. Nevertheless, innocent children die, and the world is full of seeming random disaster. We are a people struggling with the mystery of God.

On the other hand, there is great goodness and beauty in the world. It’s got the sound of rain on the roof and the smell of the rain on fresh-turned earth.

There is the theology that asserts that God comes to you disguised as your life. God makes Himself known through the events of our lives. God made Himself known in my life. Examining my life convinces me that there have been a number of “God Sightings”—unmistakable moments when He revealed Himself; times when I sensed that the Lord had been mindful of me, attended to me. Like Job, I can recall times when “the friendship of God was upon my tent” (Job.28:4). God showed Himself under various disguises. He sometimes was a God of surprises. We name things “accidents” or “coincidences” or “lucky breaks.” God enters the scene. There are the infinite multiplicity of the ways God deals with humans. Each has a different access.

The Scriptures tell us that mercy is the deepest quality of God’s love. There are the beautiful words of Lamentations 3:22-23: “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted. His mercies never come to an end. They are renewed every morning.” Hopkins put it this way: “Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs – Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and Ah! bright wings” (God’s Grandeur).

Again, as I meditate on my life, I can sense the action of God in it at various times. There were His interventions, “God Sightings.”

On his 75th birthday, Karl Rahner was asked what was the primary truth he had learned about God? He replied: “it cannot be anything else but God as mystery.” Rahner also said that God is to be found in the details of life. We can all recognize God’s hand in some of those details. I have become an optimist about God and His mercy. I think I can sense an essential Goodness around me, holding me up, carrying me on, and despite the perplexities we can have concerning God, I think “the earth is full of the kindness of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5).