I once got lost in the woods. I had spent the day hiking with much of my novitiate class, and four of us toured an off-trail route later in the afternoon. Because of a hurt ankle, I lagged behind at a point where what the trail was—if there even was a trail—grew increasingly unclear. I doubled back figuring I’d run into the other three brothers, but at some point, we missed each other. After around 20 minutes, my chest tightened as I attuned to the reality that I was off-course and that it was increasingly doubtful my three companions were still anywhere near me.
The worst part was wondering what everyone else was doing. What did they know about my predicament? Did they know I was lost? At some point, once I’d been gone for about 45 minutes, they had to know. As time elapsed to 90 minutes: are they looking for me? Are they going to call someone? Are they waiting in the parking lot, unsure what to do, waiting for me to find them? In reality, I knew I hadn’t the faintest idea. Of course, they’re reliable and intelligent—but what are they doing? In either event, I could trust they were doing something, while I did my part to find my way back.
We can find ourselves asking these questions in our sojourn in this world. Things happen—whether by our own fault or not—and we do not know where God is or what he is doing. “Why would God allow this,” goes the classic question, “why does he not step in if he is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent? How could he allow terrible things to happen to good people?” Experiencing evil or trials can disorient us by underscoring how much we really aren’t privy to the particulars of God’s providence.
When all is well, we don’t have much skin in the game. When disaster looms or catastrophe and wicked plights harrow us, however, hope is a more expensive commodity. Despair is easier because it involves giving in to the present evil. Hope demands during present anguish that we still train our thoughts to something we want that seems less and less possible. Hope costs us because it stresses our minds to keep the present evil in perspective. The greater the evil, the more difficult this is to do. It requires grace, God’s help, to do it.
We know, as St. Augustine explains, that God permits evil or trials to bring forth good. That explanation is solid, but since the much-repeated phrase is easy to say, it can appear cheap in moments when trusting God seems so expensive. That is because trust isn’t cheap, and belief in God is bound to cost us everything. When evils occur to us or those we love, how many pleas for succor issue from the depths of our souls before we’re left wondering: where is God? What is he doing?
Yet God works hiddenly, even smuggling us grace to endure and keep our evil plights—however pernicious—in perspective. We don’t actually know what God is doing, but we do know that he knows our plight, that he loves us, and that he is working with us even now. We can let him work in his hidden manner, while we ask him to help us do our part and endure. Lord, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).
When I did emerge from the woods after a few hours, I found the other ten brothers had concocted an elaborate method to scour the trail looking for me and had been at it for quite some time. You see, they had in fact been doing something. Eventually, when our sojourn is over, what now is hidden from us will be revealed. No longer will there seem cause to wonder: where is God? For we will see him face-to-face.
Image: Ilya Repin, Job and His Friends