By Canon Gerry Conroy
As this pandemic continues, more people are asking what is going on, and I am certain that people with faith have asked the question about what God intends by what is happening. Is it a judgement, a warning, a punishment? Is it something else entirely, is God even involved in it? These are questions that arise, I think, because no matter how strong a person’s faith is, there is always something unknown about God. That very fact can put people off faith because increasingly we will accept nothing short of certainty, so it can make people doubt God, it can make them question if they can trust someone they don’t really know. Perhaps what they are looking for is more about something to help them control life and make it turn out the way they want. There is a passage in the book of Exodus where Moses asks God to let him see his face. In other words, he is asking that question everyone of faith asks at some point in their life: ‘What is God really like?’ Partly that story is told in Exodus to help us realise that if someone as important as Moses asked the question, then it is a normal question in the life of faith. What God then says in reply to Moses is, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’ The point being made is, there is a goodness and a freedom that God has that escapes our attempts to put him in a box. The Gospel parable that Jesus told us today, is, I think, saying the same thing to us in a different way. We can’t put God in a box and say he has to behave like this or like that, just because that is the way we think he should behave or want him to behave. God has the freedom to be himself and we have to respect that or else it is not really God we are dealing with, but someone whom we create to answer our needs. St. Francis de Sales wrote that, in the spiritual life, we ought to be seeking the God of consolations, not the consolations of God. It’s a subtle but important distinction and one that requires a certain spiritual maturity, it requires a certain emotional maturity that allows us to relate to others as free individuals and not simply as someone to provide for our desires and needs. But the point being made isn’t simply about God being free to be himself, it is also about how we measure goodness. God said to Moses he would reveal his goodness which is revealed in his freedom not to be hidebound by our sense of justice. So the freedom of God isn’t about him being free to be a maverick, or to bring some disaster down on us if he feels like it. It is about him being free to show mercy when he wants and to whom he wants; it is about him being free to love. It was that freedom Christ revealed above all on the cross. There is in this little parable, a lesson about life and how we live it that we can all benefit from.
Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton.