Now Moses built an altar and called its name The-Lord-My-Refuge; for with a secret hand the Lord wars with Amalek from generation to generation (Exodus 17:16 LXX).
After a number of decades as a Christian pastor, I am convinced that most of what God does in our lives and in our world remains hidden. I have many thoughts as to why this is so – but that it is so, I have no doubt. There are things in my life, which at the time they took place, seemed confusing and contradictory – but after careful, slow, reflection, have clearly seemed to be the hand of God. There are things that I have suffered through the years, that I now see as beneficial and even salvific, that I would never have considered to be so at the time. As a pastor, I am always hesitant (with others people’s lives) to offer that insight – in the midst of great suffering, such “insights” can be very difficult to receive.
I have been a pastor (both Protestant and later Orthodox) for over 30 years. I have buried over 400 people, many of whose deaths I was present for. I have seen the death of young children, the accidental deaths of children and spouses, suicides, and ever form of disease and suffering. And having been witness to all these things, I remain convinced of the goodness of God and His kindness.
I can never begin to describe the difficult situations in which I have pondered and even doubted the goodness of God. I am sure that my experience would be echoed by the experience of many others. And yet, despite everything, I remain convinced of His goodness and kindness towards us in all things.
The witness of Scripture draws a witness to the work of God: with a secret hand the Lord wars with Amalek.The secrecy of God’s work is perhaps what we find most scandalous. We would prefer that His work be open, undeniable and the content of our proclamation to the world. But believers often find themselves in the position of apologists, defending God, making effort in the face of human events to assure others that He loves us and cares for us. The most difficult attacks on the faith are those made against the goodness of God.
I believe the witness of Scripture holds the key: with a secret hand. What God is doing in our lives and in our world frequently remains opaque – we cannot see it clearly. I also believe that the opacity is not because of God, but because of the hardness of our own hearts. We do not see clearly, do not judge rightly, and rarely see the work of God in its proper perspective. This is the work of our own sin – and not a failure on God’s part.
I can say, of mine own experience, that I have occasionally seen this to be true, usually in rebuke of my own hard-heartedness. But I also take account of the witness of those good souls (such as the saints) who have told me far more than my darkened heart could see on its own. Such witnesses have never scandalized me – except for the scandal of my own darkness.
I was asked by a friend recently, “What makes a good confession?” I could only offer an answer from my own experience as a sinner. A good confession (for me) is one in which I bring the darkness of my own heart into the light of God. My darkness is generally surrounded in secrets – and not of the healthy kind. The light of God destroys the darkness of hidden sin and makes all things new. God’s “secret hand” is only for my healing. My secret hand is usually for my destruction.
The goodness of God is true and trustworthy. I bear witness to this as the truth – even with the flaws that my witness contains. But I have never heard it contradicted by the saints.
God give us grace to behold His secret hand and to give thanks always, for all things.
I do not have to know everything.
A simple and perfect expression of faith. Thank you.
And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.
I like this scripture verse
Father Stephen, your description is vivid: God’s secret work is quiet. Even if we are really quiet and pay attention. we don’t know what to make of what we’re seeing. Something akin to this was made plain at my fiftieth high school reunion: 200 real people helped shape my life through their daily presence, and 50 years later, I am still reflecting their influence.
I can only wonder about the thousands of other people who have been agents of God’s Providence (wittingly and unwittingly just as I have been) in my life. And since God was at work in secret through all of them, all I can be sure of is that His goodness is infinite.
Cheryl’s concise statement, “I do not have to know everything,’ is comforting.
Thank you father, your words comfort me. I find it particularly difficult not to spy on myself. My instinct is to be in control, and for that, I need to know. But the fathers show us a better way, to trust in the mercy, goodness and power of God. If I knew, I would probably ruin everything.
I’m glad He continues to work in my life in spite of all the obstacles I put in His way. One has to love a God like that!
Thank you for this Father Stephen.
Beautifully and unobtrusively expressed.
Once again you express with simplicity and clarity things I know to be true but have trouble expressing. Thank you, Fr Stephen.
Father Stephen, thank you for this beautiful lesson. It was helpful to me. +
thank you, father stephen. this is comforting to me.
Thank you, Father Stephen. This came at a time when I have been asking myself: “What could God be up to?”
A suggestion. During my life as a missionary I had to send out a prayer letter every three months. I was not allowed to write anything negative about the situation I was in. I learned that having to sit down every three months and write a public letter forced me to look at life in an entirely different way. What God was doing in my life? What did I have to report home about.
You don’t have to be a missionary to do this. Just take the time every few months to sit down and reflect and write out what God has been doing in your life.
“A good confession (for me) is one in which I bring the darkness of my own heart into the light of God.”
Father, thank you so much for this jewel of wisdom! I have been going through a wrestling of sorts in these past few days. I have heard a part of my heart urging me to confession. But another part has said, “You have nothing to confess.” Yet why, I would wonder, is there a voice urging me to confess?
Truly, within the darkness of our hearts and minds there is a propensity to hide from one’s own sin. It is not always intentional, and thus why we confess before partaking of the Eucharist that God would forgive us of transgressions “involuntary” and committed in “ignorance.” And so this day I pray, “O Lord, teach me wisdom in my secret heart.”
“But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” May we desire that Christ’s light shine into all the dark places of our hearts and minds that we might be vessels of noble use, always ready to be shaped and molded into His likeness.
When the darkness accumulates in one’s own heart, by building up mountains of lies, only a huge crash and crumble of them can save one from the hell he has built for himself. Many are not let by their own hard heartedness – the need to defend the ego – to let the moutains crumble, and the more they do this, the more they identify with them, so the more they need to defend them, so their hearts harden even more.
Sometimes these come to a crash by life events – and at the times it happens, the first feeling is often devastation.
This reminds me Stalin’s funeral; all of USSR wept for what its leader never was – the constructed Stalin myth:
There are some funerals that leave a heavy sense of grief, while others that leave a light sense of relief. It depends what we reckognise as burried.
Thank you so much Father. As we get lost in the study of God and the Church, we lose sight of the basis of our faith: God is good. I really needed this.
Thank you Fr. Stephen! Truly inspired post.
All I can say is, Thank you! for this excellent post, and for the photo too, which is an ikon of Orthodox faith.
WOW, Thank you sooo much. God IS good!
Thank you for this…something that I needed to read today…and I did! Thank you!
Thank you for this post. Just found it today by God’s design. I wouldn’t have appreciated it back in 2010. I appreciate it very much now.