On God’s Terms
Fr. Gregory Hallam · October 12, 2011
Perhaps it seems capricious and arbitrary of God to deal one way with one situation and remain distant in another; but to demand to know why God does certain things and not others is to demand that He should be answerable to us.
The incident we have just listened to is found only in one gospel. We do not have anything like a complete record of what seems to have been our Lord’s three year ministry. Even a simple memoir of an ordinary individual needs editing down and pruning. St John says: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
Today’s reading shows Christ taking pity on a bereaved person in a powerful way. Many of us here are all too aware of the reality of death. We recently had the funeral of a dear sister and friend in this church.
Why do we face bodily death? Without it our lives would be endless toil. Creation was made, as we were, with the potential for perfection. After the Fall physical death is a gift of love from God not a punishment for sin, but [more as] a consequence of [that] it. It limits the time we have to endure, for life now is a prelude to life in the renewed Creation.
The story of the widow’s son is stated as a simple event, no great moral point, just an example of something Christ did. It is a very simple event, and I believe there must have been many other such actions, not to make a point, but simply to help someone in a particular circumstance. They remind us of certain aspects of Christ’s character. I think we tend to forget that Christ as a person has a personality and a character. For example, He takes pity. Here Jesus is entering the city with the usual collection of followers and meets another group coming out, the funeral procession for this man. Unlike many stories of Christ healing someone, on this occasion, He is moved by simple compassion. He acts spontaneously.
The son would have been vital to a widow. Without a man to support her and look after her, and with nothing like social security, a widow was in a difficult position of course. Such was the society of the day. She was facing destitution; it is hardly surprising Christ had compassion on her. Like Elias and Elisha, both of whom were instrumental in restoring someone to life, He returns the son to the mother alive.
There are differences between their stories and this. Unlike the prophets or the disciples later on Christ does not need to pray to perform miracles, He is God incarnate. It is always God who works miracles, just as it is always God who sanctifies the sacraments. The person praying or asking for the blessing is simply the agent of God.
I simply do not know why everyone is not healed. I do not have God’s knowledge or wisdom. I can trust Him to know what is best for us though. I also know that, whatever the situation, He is there with us. I do know, however, that we shall all rise again. Of that we are assured.
This is the God who burst the gates of death, He is the one who creates us and recreates by our invitation.
John 3:8 contains one of Christ’s pithier sayings: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”
Perhaps it seems capricious and arbitrary of God to deal one way with one situation and remain distant in another; but to demand to know why God does certain things and not others is to demand that He should be answerable to us. It is rather like a child sulking because he does not get to stay up late, or eat his favourite food to excess. Parents know there are reasons why an over indulgence in ice cream is bad, or too many fizzy drinks, or lack of sleep. The child does not know best. In the same way, God allows some things and not others.
I do not know better than God, so I do not demand an explanation, I trust God knows best. I do not blame him rationally because I trust Him to know what is good for me. If I am hurt or angry, I can tell Him so. Indeed if I am angry at what he has done I need to tell Him and let Him deal with it. There is no point in denying it, it is a personal relationship and personal relationships need to be honest.
Sometimes we can see a reason, sometimes we cannot. The story of the widow’s son is a simple one, no explanation or moral point, just a demonstration of the compassion of God and of the power of God in a situation of great need. He can restore the dead to life, but usually He does not this side of the general resurrection.
Christ’s miracles in His earthly ministry, were needed to show Him as what He is, as God the Son. Miracle working alone does not show that, but if He had not done such things He would have seemed to be a mere teacher. He is that as well of course but the revelation of the Divine demands demonstrations of power. The fact that He could perform such acts makes His surrender to the earthly powers later all the more telling.
Sometimes there are miracles beyond comprehension. Sometimes people manifest the power of God in great ways. Sometimes something well within the natural order shows the working of God as well but to do such things one has to be open to the power of God, to work with Him and allow Him to do what He will.
The fact is miracles still happen in the context of the Church. The building here is a significant example. Faced with a considerable sum of money to raise as a deposit to purchase the place and a short time to do it, the money was found, after due prayer, by a (then) small congregation. If that is not a miracle I do not know what is. From that small band of dedicated pioneers grew a now thriving Church which gets ever more beautiful. It draws people in and welcomes them; it has people of all sorts of nationalities. It is a wonderful blessing to be part of it.
There are saints alive today who achieve remarkable things, but we cannot demand that they happen to us. We have to allow God to move and be open to Him.
The compassion of God is wonderful and He may indeed act in strange and powerful ways but like the case of the widow and her son, God will act as He sees fit, in His time. Do not demand action on your terms, accept it on His then He truly can do great things in our lives… but always in His time and as He sees fit.
Whatever happens, He truly loves us, has compassion on us and wants nothing but the best for us.
To Him be glory now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.