ENCOUNTERING GOD WHO IS OUR FATHER
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Ex 3:1-6. 9-12; Ps 103:1-4, 6-7; Mt 11:25-27]
Why do some people believe in God and others do not? Why is it that some of the brightest and most intelligent people are God-fearing and others are not? Why is it that some believers are more passionate in their faith than others? It all boils down to one’s encounter with the living God. How we encounter God will determine how we relate to Him. This is true even in daily life. We relate to different persons differently, depending on how they respond to us. If they are friendly and disarming, we will also respond with warmth and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to them. So, too, in our relationship with God.
What, then, prevents a person from encountering God? Firstly, many of us are distracted by our worldly commitments. We are so focused on our work and ambition that we fail to see the presence of God in our daily lives. We go on with our day-to-day activities, giving our heart and soul to them, meeting all kinds of people daily in our work, and yet fail to see God’s presence in what we do and who we meet. The truth is that as the angel told Moses, “Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” The whole of creation is filled with the presence of God. If we pay attention to what is happening around us, the people we meet and speak with, the work we do, we would also see the face of God. And that was what happened to Moses. He encountered God not through some planned activity but in the course of his daily work, looking after the sheep of Jethro. He did not seem to be an exceptionally holy and pious man, always at prayer. He was an ordinary person like any of us. He fled from Egypt and settled down in Midian. He was just minding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, priest of Midian, doing his work quietly. He was not seeking a God-experience or expecting a personal revelation from God. Whilst tending the sheep, “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the shape of a flame of fire, coming from the middle of a bush.”
Secondly, many cannot encounter God because of a false image of God as a result of their upbringing. Our parents, particularly our earthly fathers, are images of God as our Father. But many of our earthly fathers are imperfect as models of our heavenly Father. Some fathers are impatient, harsh, selfish and irresponsible. So if our earthly image of our parents is negative, then our relationship with our heavenly Father is marked with distrust, anger, fear, suspicion, resentment, and distancing. It is difficult to conceive of a heavenly Father that looks after us when our earthly father is tyrannical, impulsive and capricious in his dealings with us. We tend to project on God what we experience in this life.
In contrast, Jesus’ relationship with God is one of a Father-Son relationship. He calls God, “Abba” or daddy in the most intimate terms. He prayed to His Father like a Son who trusts in His Father’s love and providence. That was how He prayed in today’s gospel. He exclaimed, “I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus knows the Father intimately and personally. He understands the heart and mind of His Father. For that reason, He is identified with Him in every way, especially in His love for His people.
Thirdly, many people lose faith in God when they experience trials and challenges without the support of anyone. They feel that God is not with them and God does not care for them. If that were so, there is no reason to believe in God. In truth, God is always encountered when we experience His mercy and compassion whenever we call to Him. Conversely, it is when we are in a state of helplessness and desperation that we are driven to come to Him because we know that we can no longer help ourselves. It is when we surrender in faith to God’s mercy and wisdom that we come to know the love of God. This was how the psalmist’s faith was founded. “My soul, give thanks to the Lord all my being, bless his holy name. My soul, give thanks to the Lord and never forget all his blessings. It is he who forgives all your guilt, who heals every one of your ills, who redeems your life from the grave, who crowns you with love and compassion. The Lord does deeds of justice, gives judgement for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses and his deeds to Israel’s sons.” Indeed, when Moses was in doubt about his ability, he heard God saying, “I shall be with you and this is the sign by which you shall know that it is I who have sent you.”
This was clearly the case of Moses when he encountered God’s mercy and love. It was at Mount Horeb that the Lord revealed Himself to Moses as the God of his Father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. He encountered God as the merciful and compassionate one. This was because the Lord said to him, “And now the cry of the sons of Israel has come to me, and I have witnessed the way in which the Egyptians oppress them, so come, I send you to Pharaoh to bring the sons of Israel, my people, out of Egypt.” For Moses, God was truly “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Ex 34:6f) As a consequence of this encounter, his life was changed radically. He was not just transformed but was liberated from his fears of the Egyptians. Instead, he felt the call of the Lord for him to liberate his people from slavery.
Fourthly, the greatest obstacle in coming to encounter God is always our pride. We have the intellectual pride of the atheist and the agnostic. There are some people who are so full of themselves and proud of their intellect and knowledge that they think they can solve all the problems and mysteries of this world. They would not believe in anything that they cannot understand, and that is why they believe very little since we do not understand most things in life. They expect God to measure Himself according to their finite and limited mind. They lack the humility to recognize that the mystery of life is beyond human capacity to comprehend and to manage. This, unfortunately, is the arrogance of the modern world. The human person has extolled himself so highly that he believes he knows everything and he knows best. He does not need any God or revelation to guide his life.
But there is also another kind of subtle pride which is that of the religious. One would think that religious people encounter God, which is not always the case. There are some religious people, clerical or lay, who have no personal experience of God because their faith in God is purely an intellectual conception of God. They study the scripture, the history of the Church, the traditions, the different theological interpretations, but it is all cerebral knowledge. They also think they know a lot about God and His wisdom and His ways, but in reality, they have never experienced Him. They have not much time to relate to Him. They are afraid to waste time in prayer and in silence. They are always reading, thinking, writing and teaching about God. They can produce all kinds of beautiful theology about God and yet have no real personal relationship with Him.
This is why the Lord in the gospel said, “I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.” Only those of us who, like little children, can submit in faith and in trust to our Father, believing in Him and trusting in His wisdom and providence, can truly encounter His love and care for us. Humility is the gateway to understanding God and His ways because we are docile and vulnerable. Humility makes us aware of our finiteness, dependence on Him and our inadequacies. So the only way to come to God is by having a humble heart and an open mind. Without humility, pride would stand in the way. Pride will lead us to sin and the consequences of sin, which harden our heart further in our relationship with God.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.