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Praying from the Cross

Many people, like Job’s wife, base their theology on their circumstances. Job’s wife, seeing what was happening to Job, decided that God had abandoned him and cursed him. God, for her, was not unlike the gods of the nations, fickle, given to his own whims, his predominant characteristic being his power. And if, in his power, he had changed and turned against Job, what could Job do? He was helpless and her advice to him was a counsel of despair: “Curse God and die.”

Job’s theology, though, was rooted somewhere beyond his circumstances: “If we received the good things from the Lord's hand, shall we not bear the bad?.... I came naked from my mother's womb; naked also shall I return there; the Lord gave; the Lord has taken away; as it seemed good to the Lord, so it turned out; blessed be the name of the Lord."

So what do we do when circumstances seem to go against us? What do we do, that is, when our circumstances seem to indicate that God doesn’t love us or has abandoned us? We have two options, the theology of Job’s wife or the theology of Job. And it should probably be obvious that in a Faith whose primary symbol is the Cross any theology based on circumstances is getting off on the wrong foot.

But while that is true it is also true that we do experience difficult circumstances, times when God seems distant or absent at best or, in the worst case, downright adversarial. He seems to be against us, or at least it feels that way. What do we do then? Faith in God beyond our circumstances is essential, but how do we live, love, and pray in these times?

I’m going to suggest something that might sound scandalous: try to love God more than he loves you. I’m not saying, of course, that God doesn’t love you, only that - in the middle of pain and suffering and spiritual darkness - you might not feel his love, that you feel like he’s abandoned you or is persecuting you. Fine, take that argument as it stands. Then show him up by keeping his commandments and loving God even though he feels like your enemy.

That is, after all, his own teaching: “Love your enemies.” If God feels like your enemy then keep his own commandment. Say, in effect, “I’m going to love you even if it feels like you don’t love me. I’m going to stay with you even though it feels like you have abandoned me. I’m going to keep your word and see if you will keep to it, as well.” It takes courage to speak to God that way, that freely, but even more because it will require real Job-like faith in the face of adversity. But love - real love, loving our enemies - always take great courage and faith.

If you really want to be brave then pray the words of Christ, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?“ But before you do there’s something you should remember: Jesus prayed those words from the cross, offering himself in total, self-emptying love. So if you have courage pray that prayer. But you can only do it from the cross. Cursing God in despair isn’t prayer. We can only truly pray from the cross.

With love in Christ,

Fr John

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