When I was in high school, I spent a horrible week consumed by doubt that God is a good God. A trusted community member abused a child of a family that I cared about and this abuse caused deep and reverberating wounds. In the wake of this abuse, I could not understand how a good God would allow such a terrible thing to happen. I was angry and I felt betrayed by the God who I had always trusted implicitly. As a result, I raged at Him exactly as you might expect a rebellious teenager to do. In His mercy, he responded by leading me to the Book of Job.
As I devoured the book, I found myself echoing Job’s accusations against God: “He destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent. When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges. If not he, then who is it?” (Job 9:22-24) Then, suddenly, into the storm of my rage, God spoke through the same words He spoke to Job.
“Who is this that obscures my plans with words and without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…Who shut up the sea behind doors…Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place…Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Can you comprehend the vast expanses of the earth…Have you entered the storehouses of the snow…Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water…Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food…Do you give a horse its strength…Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom…Does the eagle soar at your command…Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” (Selected verses from Job 38-40)
Like Job, I could only respond by asking myself, “Who am I to question God? Am I worthy to doubt His justice? Do I understand enough to condemn Him?” Like Job, my doubts evaporated in the wake of His overwhelming, mind-blowing presence. I had questioned the God who described Himself as “I Am that I Am,” He whose infinite majesty, vastness, and power are beyond human description.
As I realized Who it was that I challenged, my arrogance was replaced with an awareness of how little I truly knew. Who was this God that I had dared to challenge, this One whose power was so far above and simultaneously so encompassing of all the ways of man? Who was this Almighty Strength who could destroy me with a glance and yet who chose to mercifully forgive my accusations and draw me more intimately to Him through my doubts? Could a God who has so many responses at His disposal, but chooses to respond with gentleness, be anything but good? For the first time, the realization that God was far beyond anything that I had ever thought or known engulfed me. I had always rested in God’s fatherly intimacy, yet in that moment, I came face-to-face with His otherness. It was this awareness of the differentiation between God and His creation that helped me to make sense of how an all-powerful, good God could coexist with the evil committed by His people.
Over the years, I have frequently returned to the lesson that God taught me during that torturous week of my adolescence. I relied on it when I faced my own abuse by a person who was studying to be a youth minister. I depended on it as I journeyed into the Catholic faith while being well aware of the Church scandals that were covered up in the city of my birth. I clung to it as I wrestled with allegations of abuse and corruption within my own Catholic community. In each of these challenging situations, I was reminded that God and His Truth exist regardless of the actions of His creations and even of His followers.
Yet, recently, it has been harder to remember my high school lesson. Over the past few years, too many Christians have done unimaginably heinous things to mar the precious Body of Christ here on earth. Members of Christ’s body have supported ideologies and lies that foment hate. They have failed to sacrificially love and protect one another. They have devalued the precious worth of all life. They have allowed petty divisions to shatter Christian unity. As Catholics, we have been confronted with the unbelievably horrific acts that members of our faith committed in Canada’s Native American Schools. We have been faced with still more victims of abuse by Catholic Priests, this time in the French Catholic Church. We have watched in horror as people we once considered to be model Catholics have used our faith to justify violence and, in some cases, we have even faced threats of violence made by those who are supposed to be our brothers and sisters. We have wrestled with the unnecessary COVID spread and deaths caused by the decisions of our own priests and bishops.
In so many ways, the recent actions of those who make up Christ’s body here on earth have been heartbreaking and they have made it difficult to recognize Him in His people. This makes me think of Christ’s other body and how humans similarly marred and distorted it beyond recognition. I think of the image left on St. Veronica’s cloth – bruised, beaten, bleeding. I think of the gaping back wounds and the pierced hands. I think of the swollen, discolored, and lifeless body that was brought down from the cross. I think of a mother who knew that she was cradling the body of her Son, but who would not have recognized Him if she had not been there with Him throughout His agony. I think of a powerless corpse that was laid in a tomb and left to succumb to death’s decomposition.
And then…Glory! That body had the power to do what no body had ever done before. It defied death, defeated it, and it walked out of the grave.
Somehow, God took all the damage and destruction that had been done to His son’s body and made it the ultimate picture of Who He really is: a God of infinite love, mercy, and power. Out of the distortion that His creations had inflicted on His image, He drew the purest, truest representation of Himself. He who described Himself simply as the One Who Is was so far beyond the deeds of his creatures that what they did could not diminish Him. He still was who He was. In fact, their worst intentions and brutal abuse only led to His glorification.
I do not know how God will deal with the misrepresentations and distortions of His image that are rampant here on earth right now, but I know that they will not be the end of the story. God exists independently of anything His people do or do not do. His goodness and His truth are not dependent upon us – they are realities that exist by their own right. He is, He has always been, and He will always be infinitely good, infinitely merciful, infinitely just, infinitely powerful. Nothing we do can change that.
Image Credit: The Burial of Christ by Jozef Simmler. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain.
Ariane Sroubek is a writer, school psychologist and mother to two children here on earth. Prior to converting to Catholicism, she completed undergraduate studies in Bible and Theology at Gordon College in Wenham, MA. She then went on to obtain her doctorate in School and Child Clinical Psychology. Ariane’s writing is inspired by her faith, daily life experiences and education. More of her work can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org and at https://mysustaininggrace.com.