Few people I know complain of a shortage of difficulties and trials in life. Regardless of creed or caste, life hands us plenty enough trouble. But for Christians, among the most grievous of all challenges we face is when God seems silent, distant, unconcerned. Our prayers go unanswered. We may wonder if they are heard at all. We may get pushed to a place where we begin to doubt if God actually loves us, or if God exists. These are among the darkest, loneliest and most distressing times we face as followers of Jesus Christ. What is going on at these times? Why are we left feeling so alone? What purpose is God achieving in our seeming abandonment?
At the end of His Sermon on the Mount as well as elsewhere Jesus said, “Not all who call out to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will be received” (Matthew 7:21). And anyone who has petitioned God and felt that stony silence in return can testify that at times, this is true. We call out, “Lord, Lord” but our words are not received.
This is what He showed us when He took on the form of a human being and walked among us as Jesus Christ. He had a singular message and command—“Love others as I have loved you” (John 13:34). His life’s story in effect says: “I am totally willing to suffer and die for the sake of loving and helping you.”
The word “Lord” is not the problem. “Throughout heaven [Jesus Christ, Savior of the world] is acknowledged and worshipped as Lord, since He has all power in heaven and on earth” (Secrets of Heaven 14). But when we say or think the word Lord, it is important to think of Jesus Christ and His essential quality and message—love.
In Jesus, we see this. He did not bring down fire from heaven. He did not call on His legions of angel warriors. He did not speak back to His accusers. He did not even step down from the cross. He was crushed by the hate of humankind. However, while love seems so small and so frail, love is in fact, invincible. Love is omnipotent because God is Love. This is the bedrock doctrine and fundamental tenet of Christian faith. It is the true message of Easter.
So what do we do about these challenges to faith, when life seems cruel and God seems silent? We may wonder why a loved one must suffer so terribly with cancer, with alcohol, with depression, with loneliness or something else. Here is a simple, but effective spiritual remedy, which we can employ when we face these times of deep despair.
God’s plan for us is that we love one another. That is the plan. What do we do when our loved one is debased by heroin; what do we do when our own body is devastated by debilitating pain; what do we do when God does not answer our pleas for escape from our personal hells? We keep on trying to love, because that is the true God.
However, our true God bends human mistakes into healing for others (Divine Providence 281,Divine Providence 240). No matter what is happening or not happening in our lives, our goal is to love. Our peace is in loving. Our freedom is in loving. Our eventual happiness is in doing the exercises of love.
Often we want power to change reality more than we want to love reality. But God is the Author of reality as it is. It is the best possible plan for us. It is the ever-unfolding flower of pure love. Although this is easy to say, it is almost impossible to feel at times.
God is not big power, but frail, fragile love. No matter what reality is dishing out, our job is singular, same and simple, to love in each moment, the best we can. That is what it means to be a follower of Christ. That is what it means to be a Christian. This idea is not grand or even that appealing. But it does refocus our mind onto the real God, and His real message to us—love others. And in those very dark times when God seems absent or even cruel, it is comforting to realize that we have been petitioning the wrong lord without even knowing it. In those dark times, usually we will realize that we have not been seeking first and foremost to love others, but rather we have been seeking God to do something to suit our will and personal idea of what should happen in life.
It does not matter if our spouse is kind or cold. Our job is to love. It does not matter if the trip we have planned for months was ruined by rain. Our job is still to love. And in the loving, we begin to feel a certain peace and joy. The ups and downs of reality no longer matter all that much because they are inconsequential to our job. We just keep being lifted up on the simple, singular, same and soft task of loving others to the best of our ability in each moment, as it is, in the name of our true and visible God, Jesus Christ.
And we are just lucky to be given the chance to try to love.
Kent Rogers is co-founder of the Loving Arms Mission, a not-for-profit fundraising organization dedicated to creating and supporting New Church children's homes.