God’s Will & Suffering 

By Charles Johnston:

“And this is the confidence which we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” (1 John 5:14)

There have been volumes written about seeking and discerning God’s will, this will not be one of them. What I’d like to write about is praying for God’s will to be done, even if we don’t know what that exactly is, even when we are suffering.

We should be praying for God’s will to be done in our lives, and our world because Jesus explicitly and implicitly tells us to. When speaking of the final judgment, Jesus says “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

We might ask ourselves what exactly is the will of God? And the answer to that would depend on the situation, but in the end, the overarching will of God is that everyone be saved “and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.

“For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:39-40)

This is the will of God for us and for the whole world, so when we pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done, we are praying for our salvation and that of the whole world.

Jesus taught his disciples only one prayer, and a very important part of this prayer is seeking God’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

(Let’s stop to consider this line for a moment; We are praying for God’s will to be done, but not just that, we are praying for it to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Now we have to ask ourselves how is God?s will done in heaven? In heaven, we will be perfectly attuned to the will of God, then you could say that God’s will in heaven is absolute. Heaven is not a republic or a democracy, it is an absolute monarchy, ruled by the King of the universe, his will is the rule by which the kingdom is governed. So when we pray “on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying that God’s will be absolute and the rule by which we live an govern our lives here on earth.)

Now sometimes things come up and it’s just natural to ask “how is this, in any way, the will of God” but we need to remind ourselves that God’s ways are not our ways.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” (Isaiah 55:8) Because God exists outside the bounds of our finite world and outside of time, he can see everything come together before it does.

They say a good chess player sees 10 moves ahead, imagine that on a divine level. Sometimes we need something to motivate us, sometimes it’s a carrot and sometimes it’s the stick, but the end goal is the same; the salvation of the world. It all may not make sense to us now, and maybe never will this side of eternity, but as St. Paul said, we will understand “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

All of this hit home for me in a very real way, just a couple years ago. I was attending a charismatic renewal conference in Phoenix, back when I was just starting to dip my toes into the Catholic end of the pool, and found out they were having a healing service the next day, so I called my father and told him to come over with me.

My father had been battling a number of health problems for years, including recurring skin cancers. These cancers would be diagnosed and surgically removed on an almost monthly basis for about 20 years, sometimes requiring just a few stitches, sometimes reconstructive surgery. Right before the conference a biopsy had come back on a new tumor in a hard place to operate, and this time it just felt different.

So my father, my mother and I went to the healing Mass and a priest laid hands on my father and anointed him with the oil of the sick as the Bible says to do “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;” (James 5:14)

The prayer that Fr. Chris prayed over my father struck me as odd at first, but since has changed the whole way in which I pray. He didn’t claim a healing, he didn’t announce that dad would be totally healed, he didn’t even pray for dad to be healed, he prayed like this;

“Lord, bring comfort to this man and his family, bring him comfort of mind and soul to know that no matter what you are God. Give him the strength to bear this burden and this trial, he is about to endure, AND IF IT BE YOUR WILL, heal his body”

I was a bit shocked at first. How could he not pray for a complete healing? How could he just pray for the strength to bear what was going to be a very difficult trial? I became somewhat resentful at this. I had brought my father here to be healed not to receive the strength to die!

As time went on, and the side effects of the chemotherapy got worse, Fr Chris’ prayer came back to my mind. I started praying for God’s will to be done, not my will, or my family’s will, but God’s will. That prayer really did give me peace and after 9 months of trial chemotherapy my father lost his fight, but I was at peace with it because I finally realized, just like St. Paul said, we only see part of the story here. In the end the will of God works towards nothing but good, good for us and the whole world.

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Nowadays people try to encourage one another by speaking nothing but positivity, sometimes it’s just to cheer you up, sometimes it’s trying to claim things from God. These people attempt to claim healing, prosperity, happiness, you name it, and while well intentioned, I think it really sets people up for failure. When somebody says “I know you will be healed if you just believe it” and then that person isn’t healed, what kind of message does this send? It supposes that the person in question lacked faith, but this puts all of God’s graces at our disposal if only we work hard enough (through the act of the will that is believing).

This isn’t the way things truly are, sometimes bad things happen, but we should encourage each other by praying for the strength to bear the hardship and offer up our sufferings to God.

Take strength in the knowledge that sufferings and adversities are not always bad. Paul was afflicted by what he called a “thorn in the flesh”

“And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ” My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

When we bear suffering, either of ourselves or a loved one, we can let it pull us away from God or we can allow it to sanctify us, and draw us into a closer relationship with God. Allow your trials to lead you down the path to sainthood not the path to bitterness and anger. As long as we remember that God is in control and though we only see what’s in front of us, He sees the big picture, and that big picture is you and me in heaven with him for all eternity.

Suffering will come to us all, it’s how we handle it that matters. But we can take solace in the fact the He is greater than out tribulations

“I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

(This post originally appeared at Catholic365.com )

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