I’m sure there are still some people in the world who still think God is rather like the father who says to his daughter: “Janet, go and see what John’s doing, and tell him to stop it!” They think of God as some sort of supernatural spoilsport, an ethereal policeman, ever on the prowl to see if we’re doing something we shouldn’t be doing. Perhaps, even in the Church, there have been times when God has been presented primarily as a God of wrath, ready to wreak vengeance on the sinner.
And yet this image of God is a far cry from Saint John’s insistence that God is Love. And there can be little doubt which of the two views is the correct one. As we approach Christmas, we are reminded once again that the God we worship is the God of Love. “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son.” In our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the love of God is made manifest to us – it’s revealed to us – in human terms, in ways we can readily understand.
And so, far from trying to catch us out in order to punish us, God watches over each one of us with constant loving care, just as a loving father should. As Christians, we are united to God through his Son. And because we are united to Our Lord we can, in a very real sense, call God our Father. God truly is our Father and we are his adopted children. And how else could he look after us but with loving care and concern?
But this shouldn’t mislead us into thinking that we can simply sit back and leave everything to God. We are sometimes tempted to do this when we run into difficulties. We want God to come to our rescue and get us out of an awkward situation, or to solve all our problems for us. But God’s care for us isn’t to be thought of as some sort of insurance policy, to be drawn on only when things go wrong.
Part of our dignity as human beings is that we can cooperate freely with God in his plan for humanity. We must use the intelligence and the talents he has given us to face our problems squarely, and be ready to make informed choices and decisions. And just like John the Baptist, we must play our part by working actively to prepare the Way for the Lord.
But there’s another mistake we can make when things get tough. We can go to the opposite extreme and imagine that God no longer cares for us. We may be tempted to say: “If God really cared for me he wouldn’t have allowed this difficult situation to arise; he wouldn’t have allowed this illness; he wouldn’t have allowed the death of someone I love.”
It’s always difficult to come to terms with suffering, our own or other peoples. And it’s impossible to explain it away. But we can be certain that the presence of suffering in our lives doesn’t mean that God has deserted us and withdrawn his love from us. We only have to look to Our Lord’s life to be assured of that.
God’s plan for each one of us is that we should enter into glory through being united to his Son. But if this is to happen we must grow more and more like Our Lord in our Christian lives. And that’s why suffering is an inevitable part of every Christian’s life. Can we expect God to deal with us any differently than he dealt with his own Son? We can’t doubt that the Father was constantly with Our Lord during his life on earth, and with him even more closely at the hour of his passion and death. How can we possibly doubt that he is also with us, and especially in times of suffering?
God has a plan for each one of us. He loves each of us as though there was no one else to love. And each of us has a special place in God’s plan, each of us has a task that only we can perform. To do it we must be ever open to God’s Will, ever open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit moving within us. In his loving care God is leading us, step by step, to the fulfilment of his plan for us. And so let us pray today, and every day, that we will always co-operate faithfully with him.