Posted April 8, 2010
“Where’s the milk?” asks the time-pressed, breakfast-hustling husband.
“Where it always is—on the shelf in the fridge,” chirps the patient wife.
Life is punctuated with countless seemingly “urgent” questions that have simple and often overlooked or even ignored answers. One such question that bounces around in the mind of almost every human, sometimes almost as a petulant demand, at other times, just a silent, drifting cloud of wonder, is this:
Where is God when I need him?
To that challenging, often angry, question, Jesus, in his serene majesty—like the indulgent wife countering the querulous husband–provides a simple but often overlooked answer, clearly, succinctly and trenchantly: “Ssurely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). The basic truth of our Creator’s unwavering presence is reasserted insistently throughout his word: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).
However, Jesus also tells us that someday our very questioning of his presence will become irrelevant to us: “You are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. On that day you will not question me about anything” (John 16:22-23).
“On that day”—the day of his Second Coming—our present questioning of God’s presence will seem utterly silly. Only those rare individuals with a mature faith who had never questioned God will find a question-free state quite normal. But “on that day” faith-anemic souls—that’s most of us—will be embarrassed by having questioned God’s presence in our suffering, especially as we recall Jesus’ own question in response to our question: “When the Son of Man comes again, will there be any faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Job, though he was the holiest man on earth in his time, felt really silly and stupid when he underwent the stultifying experience of his great theophany (Job 42:3-6). His stupidity in questioning God became patent when God questioned him (40:4). Jesus’ esoteric prophecy about the future time of no questioning had been personally preempted for Job by his insightful ecstasy.
For us, as spiritually anorexic children of God, there is a continuous need to feed on God’s nourishing love, which undergirds his divine and mysterious plan that surcharges life’s hurts with meaning. And we must do this without denying the ineffable, inscrutable and disturbing mystery of suffering itself. Jesus’ prophesied non-questioning period coincides with the non-suffering period—“when your hearts will rejoice.” That rejoicing will start with the Parousia (Jesus’ Second Coming) and will continue through heaven’s eternity.
As we grow in our reliance and trust in God’s loving presence, and in his mysterious providence that fashions crowns from crosses, we’ll find ourselves, like Paul, advancing from complaint to gratitude for life’s lacerating thorns. As we strive to cope with our harrowing trials in this vale of tears, while snuggling into God’s compassionate presence, heaven itself will begin to come into view.
John H. Hampsch, cmf