I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but God doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry about most things. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn.
We live in a loud, fast-paced world, one of constantly breaking news. Crisis and urgency always seem to be the order of the day. Instant communication and quick responses are expected, if not demanded.
On the national level, there is little reporting by the media before there is a rush to analyze, comment, and then demand a response and plan of action from public officials.
On a personal level, I seem to irritate people frequently by not responding sufficiently quickly. “I sent you a text, didn’t you get it?” If I don’t respond back to an email within a day, I may get another one with a subject like this: “*** Second Attempt ***.”
In many companies voice mail has been discontinued because it’s “too slow.” Many younger people seldom answer their phones let alone initiate calls. Communication is more commonly accomplished through instant messages, texts, and tweets. This results in a clipped quality to conversations that limits thoughtful discussion.
Yes, we are in a big hurry, but back to my question: Have you noticed that God doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry? God could easily solve everything instantly with a mere snap of His fingers, but he doesn’t—and He has His reasons. Perhaps it is important for us to live some of our questions in order to appreciate their depth. Maybe the problems we want solved are themselves part of a deeper solution that God is working to make us humbler, wiser, and/or stronger.
God’s slow pace can be dismaying as well as puzzling. Why does God allow the wicked to inflict so much damage for so long? Why does He allow error and heresy to go unchecked? Why does He permit sinners to remain uncorrected and unpunished?
The Church, too, is often slow to respond or act. She will go on for decades, even centuries, pondering and reflecting while the world rushes forward into error, darkness, and confusion. We want the Church to turn on a dime, but that’s like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around.
Though at times imponderable, God’s delay is sinless. The Church’s delay, however, may be admixed with sin, sloth, and resistance. This does not mean that all the delay of the Church is sinful. Especially in today’s world of quick, often rash reaction, there is still the need for careful, thoughtful, prayerful deliberation. Our faith doesn’t reduce easily to sound bites. The gospel does not fit on a bumper sticker. The Church should not be reduced to an emergency response unit. The urgent should not eclipse the important.
All of this has been hard for me to learn; I am impatient by nature. I tap my foot incessantly in meetings, thinking, let’s get to work already! I am a bit like the field hand in Matthew’s Gospel (Mat 13:24ff) who wanted to tear out the weeds from amongst the wheat. The Lord cautioned against doing so because it might harm the wheat. He said that they should be allowed to grow together until the harvest; the day of judgment would come in due time.
Rash actions can cause harm, even if unintentionally. Overly quick or draconian measures to eliminate error and sin may hurt the saints and ration the Holy Spirit. Conflicts do have their place. They can serve to sharpen the distinction between the good and the wicked; darkness can permit the light to shine even more gloriously.
But Father, but Father! What about the many souls who are lost and confused in the silence while the Church delays, reflecting and pondering? I have no simple answer except to point back to God. While the Church’s delay may or may not be given today’s expectations, God’s delays and lengthy silences shine before us and challenge our instinct to respond rashly and/or too quickly.
God takes His time. The Jewish people were 400 years in slavery and 40 years in the desert. From then it was 1800 years to the Christ, who spent 30 of His 33 years in seclusion and silence.
Yes, for reasons of His own, God is in no rush. For my part, I must learn this hard lesson and be careful to enter into the silence of God through prayer. Having prayed in that silence I must emerge to teach and preach the faith He has revealed. I can do no more, but I can do no less.
Cardinal Robert Sarah’s words are a fitting conclusion to this difficult lesson for us moderns:
Silence is of capital importance because it enables the Church to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, imitating his thirty silent years of Nazareth … and his intimate dialogue with the Father in the solitude and silence of the desert ….
Light makes no noise. If we want to approach this luminous source, we must assume an attitude of contemplation and silence …. The true nature of the Church is not found in what she does but in what she testifies. Christ asked us to be light. He ordered us not to conquer the world, but to show men the way, the truth and the life.
I know well that God’s silence constantly runs into man’s impatience … [but] nowadays man fosters a kind of compulsive relationship with time. One day we will understand everything. Until then it is necessary to seek without making noise.
Who can understand God? … As with all questions connected with God, there is a stage when the search can go no farther. The only thing to do is to raise our eyes, to stretch out our hands toward God, and to pray in silence while awaiting the dawn … [Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, pp. 219-221].