The Epistle I St. Peter 5.5
Dearly beloved: All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant: because your adversary the devil as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith: knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all Grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
In his sermon two weeks ago, Archbishop Haverland pointed out how the propers for the three Sundays leading up to Trinity Sunday were each devoted to one Person of the Triune God. Today the lesson from St. Peter’s first Epistle focuses on the first Person of the Trinity; God the Father. More specifically, he focuses on the role that the Father plays in our lives. And St. Peter does this in two ways; by reminding us of God’s perfect example of “fatherhood”, and of our responsibility to be obedient to Him.
In the course of modern times, there has been a trend among some supposedly “Christian” bodies to reject any reference to God as “Father”. From what I can gather from my reading, this rejection is based on the secular interpretation of the role of a “father”; meaning simply a male parent. This overly simple interpretation allows us to accuse those who presume to the role of “father”, and by proxy God Himself, of any number of human faults and sins.
Perhaps you have heard some of these accusations; “I can’t think of God as my Father, because my own father was abusive. I can’t think of God as my Father because my own father left my mother or cheated on her. I cannot think of God as my Father because I never knew my own father. In each and every case, the rejection of God as “Father” is based on our human notion, our human experience, of “fatherhood”.
But that human ideal is not what God the Father offers to us; Rather, what God offers is that perfect example, that perfect model, that Divine ideal of “Fatherhood” from which we may draw comfort, strength, hope, and peace.
Now to be sure, God must be known unequivocally in that human concept of a “male parent”. Indeed, Our Lord told us that we should relate to God in this way, “Abba, Father”. There has been no modern concept or doctrinal interpretation produced that can contradict this statement from Jesus Christ himself, unless one wishes to divert completely from the Catholic Faith. God is the Father of all; He who gives us life.
But the “Fatherhood” of God does not end with the giving of life. With God, this is only the beginning; for it is at this point that the Father assumes, possesses and reveals all the perfect attributes of “Fatherhood”, by showing His Paternal care and protection over His Creation.
In Old Testament terms, this care and protection was known as “the mighty hand of God”. In the 13th Chapter of Exodus Moses tells the Israelites, “With a strong hand hath the Lord brought thee out of Egypt”; and likewise in the 3rd chapter of Deuteronomy; “O God, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness and thy mighty hand”. The idea here is that God’s hand is upon the destiny, the care and protection, of His Creation. But there is a very crucial element to God’s care and protection that we must always remember; our responsibility.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God“. God will direct and strengthen us through all the trials of our daily lives if we will only accept his guidance with humility. Or put another way, “Father knows best”. Whereas we might have some experience when our human fathers did not provide us with the best directions, God’s guidance always leads to the best result.
Remember the story of Joseph who suffered terrible indignities after his brothers sold him into slavery. But in the end, Joseph was raised up to a position of authority by Pharaoh himself; from which he saved countless lives, including those of his family, during the seven years of famine in Egypt and the surrounding regions. But the key point of Joseph’s story is that throughout his trials, he never lost his faith that God was in control of his destiny. It is this faith that Joseph conveys to his brothers as a means of comfort to them; “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph accepted his tribulations with humility, confident in the knowledge that all he suffered would be used by God for the greater good.
By this type of humility, by our acceptance that “Father knows best”, by our faith in the care and protection of God’s mighty hand, we may also gain serenity and peace of mind; and this again goes to the Divine ideal of “Fatherhood”. We may know that, for the most part, our human fathers intend the best for their children when they give advice, direction or even chastisement. But the difference is that whereas a human father “thinks” or “believes” that they are doing right, our Heavenly Father KNOWS. And he knows because it is his plan, his Will that he is guiding us towards. The result of his direction will always be for the good; how could it be otherwise?
This is where things get a bit sticky for those who are hung up on a human ideal of fatherhood; and they ask all the seemingly “hard” questions; If God is a good father, how can he allow war? If God is a good father, how can he allow murder? If God is a good father, how can he allow suffering, particularly the suffering of children? If God is a good father, how can he allow me to suffer?
And if God were a human father, more specifically, if God were to be limited to the human ideal of “fatherhood”, these would be legitimate questions. We are appalled when we hear of a human father who has caused or allowed his children to suffer; and so we are likewise appalled at the idea of a Heavenly Father who could allow such suffering. But remember, we are talking about God as the perfect, Divine ideal of Fatherhood. As such, he is free of human mistakes, human frailties, human intentions, human sin. The Divine ideal of Fatherhood includes none of those characteristics.
Here we have fallen into the trap of equating the word “allow” with the word “cause”. When we fail to heed the advice of our human father to avoid buying that certain used car, he did not “cause” it to ultimately be a lemon. Likewise, when we fail to humbly submit to the direction of our Heavenly Father, he does not “cause” the suffering that results. God provides humanity with all it needs to make the “right” decisions; he then “allows” us to make those decisions, which all too often lead to suffering. To be sure, God anguishes when we go astray and suffer the results, just as our human fathers fret when their children make bad decisions, but the cause of our condition is still our responsibility.
This is where that Divine ideal of Fatherhood once again appears. Our human fathers might be able to offer some financial aid to get us out of that bad car-buying decision. But God offers so much more; for he is able not only to deliver us from the suffering that came from our actions, but he is also able to use that suffering to point us, and others, on a greater, more glorious path. And again, all it takes is for us to humbly submit to his mighty hand.
“O cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall nourish thee, and shall not suffer the righteous to fall for ever” (Psalm 55:23); “take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself” (Matt. 6:34). In these verses, the Psalmist and Our Lord himself are telling us that we should not be anxious or worrisome about all the suffering that we experience today. From this, we may gain peace and serenity, because we know that all we need do, all we must do, is to humbly turn our burdens, our worries, our anxieties, our sufferings, over to our Heavenly Father. He will take it from there.
Likewise, we must turn the sufferings of the world over to him, and cease to fret about them. We must do so confident that He will use these sufferings and turn them to produce something good, something glorious. We may still lament and anguish over the suffering of innocents, but we must never lose our faith that God’s mighty hand is ever present over all; God transformed the trials of Joseph from an evil act into a greater good; the salvation of thousands from the depth of famine. Much later, he would turn the suffering of His Only Begotten Son into the Salvation of the World.
In God the Father, we are given all the ideal attributes of the Divine Fatherhood; a male parent who exercises paternal care, protection and comfort over his creation. In his Eternal Wisdom, our Heavenly Father has given us such direction and guidance as we should need to follow his Holy Will.
He has instructed us so that we may avoid causing suffering in this world; and he has gone even further in that God is able to transform our mistakes, our sins, to a greater purpose; so that we may be sure that our Heavenly Father so cares for us and protects us that we can accept all the challenges of this life and proceed in serenity because we have “cast our burdens upon the Lord”, and know that when we have “Humbled ourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.”, that he will likewise exalt us in due time, because “he careth for you”.