Why God Allows These Things
March 23, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Sunday of Lent
Reading I (Exodus 20:1-2, 7-8, 12-17)
Reading II (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)
Gospel (St. John 2:13-25)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul tells us, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” When we look around at what is happening in the world, what is happening in the Church, what is happening even in individual lives, we oftentimes wonder, “Where is God? Why is He allowing all of these things to happen? Why does God allow two babies every second to be killed in this world – over a million and a half in our own country, and from contraception, nine to ten million every year? Why does God allow all of the abuses within the Church? Why does He allow the abuse of children? Why does He allow all of these unfortunate things? Why does He allow things to go wrong in my life? Why does He let people dislike me? Why does He allow me to lose my job? Why does He allow people to gossip about me (or whatever it might be that we have suffered with)?” We wonder why all of these things happen, and we wonder where God is. We are tempted, sometimes, to think that He is not there, that He has abandoned us and we begin to wonder and doubt. Questions come up about our faith and we begin to lose hope.
It is precisely in that that we begin to see where the wisdom of God lies. It does not look like a very wise sort of wisdom from our human perspective. “After all,” we would say, “if God loves me, He would do all kinds of good things for me.” If we just took thirty seconds and really thought earnestly about it, we would find that, all day long everyday, God is doing lots of good things for us. But the problem we suffer from is that God allows one or two unfortunate things to happen and we forget all the good things and focus on the unfortunate things. Then we complain, we kick and scream, and we doubt. It is an amazing thing in human nature that we can focus so easily on the negative and so quickly and easily forget all the good. Just stop and simply think about the fact that without God’s help we could not even take a breath. At every second of every day, God is doing marvelous things, miraculous things.
But even with that aside, it is very easy for us to ignore that good. We wonder to ourselves, and very often out loud to anyone who is willing to listen, “What is God doing? Why does He allow these things?” And as we suffer through these difficulties, we begin to realize that God allows all of these things precisely to test our faith and our hope and our charity, the three theological virtues. He allows them also in order to develop, to strengthen, and to perfect all of the other virtues that we need to work on. In other words, if God simply did all kinds of really nice things to us – from our perspective of what that means – we would all be sitting back, fat and happy, and we would not have a thing to worry about. We would think we were the most virtuous people that had ever walked the face of the earth because, “Boy, we are just always happy! We never get angry about anything! We are kind to everyone around us!” And the first time that something goes wrong, we find out how much virtue we really have – or shall we say, how much virtue we do not have.
That is precisely why God allows these things to happen: because we need to grow in virtue. We need to develop the holiness, and the only way that is going to happen is when we have to put it into practice in difficult circumstances. When everything is going real easily for us, it is easy to have a smile on our face and be kind to people. When things are not so easy for us, it actually requires virtue to put a smile on our face and be kind to people. That is where that is developed. And we can see in that kind of a way that God’s wisdom is at work in our lives. His foolishness is wiser than our wisdom because we do not think that is the way He ought to do things. Yet that is the most perfect way, which is why He has chosen to do it that way.
And so we see that what happens in our own lives is precisely what happened in the Gospel reading today. In essence, the Lord comes into the temple of our souls, He makes a whip out of cords, and He drives out everything that should not be there. The scene in the temple that day was not an orderly one nor was it a pleasant one. The people did not have smiles on their faces and they were not real happy when God decided it was time to purify and cleanse the temple – not anything unlike us when God decides it is time to purify this temple. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.” He was talking about the temple of His own body. Each one of us, Saint Paul reminds us, is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and that temple needs to be purified. It is not going to happen in a way that is all that dissimilar to the way Jesus purified the temple 2,000 years ago. He has to drive out all of the robbers who are there exchanging the money, in essence. He has to drive out all the things that do not belong there. He has to turn over the moneychanger’s table and He has to order out everything that is unbecoming of the temple of the Most Holy Trinity – which each one of us is.
We can look at the wisdom of God from another perspective, the wisdom that people of our day consider to be utter foolishness. Just look at the first reading. We see the Ten Commandments there, which in our day we do not see very many of them being followed. I find it interesting that if you look at that reading, even giving it just a cursory glance, the first three commandments which deal with our relationship with God get much more ink than the last seven, highlighting the absolute importance of what those commandments are about. But in our society, the First Commandment is totally thrown to the wind; the Second Commandment is ignored as much as anything in this world; and the Third Commandment, we have turned it backwards to make it sound something more like “Go shopping on the Sabbath Day. Do unnecessary work on the Sabbath Day. Ignore the fact that it is the Sabbath of the Lord and do whatever you want.” The first three commandments, which are the most important, are most frequently broken – and these deal with our relationship with God. Do you think that the temples of our bodies, of our minds, of our hearts and souls, need to be cleansed a little bit?
The next seven, of course, deal with our relationship with the people around us. Lying, cheating, and stealing do not seem to be a problem for a lot of people. Murder is the way of the day. The vast majority of the people of childbearing age are taking contraceptives or have had themselves sterilized; life means nothing to the vast majority of people in our society. Purity is thrown out the window, even to the point where parents are encouraging their children to go out and sin. Looking at things and desiring people and things that we have no right to, turning people into objects for our own selfish pleasure. We have taken the commandments of God and we have not only rejected them, but we have turned most of them completely backwards. It is almost as if we have taken the word “not” out of most of the commandments, or the ones that did not have the word “not”, we have put it in!
So we begin to see how desperately our temple needs to be purified. We need the Lord to come in and drive out all of the things that are not supposed to be there. We look at the wisdom of God and we scoff! We have a different set of commandments that we think is better! We have a different way that we think is better! That is utter foolishness. For as we go around pounding our chest like King Kong and thinking that we are so powerful and great, it demonstrates more than anything the utter depths of our human weakness. It is in that vein that we are able to see the strength and the wisdom of God working in the midst of our weakness and our foolishness. It is time that we decide to simply cooperate with God, let Him do what He needs to do in our lives, and quit fighting Him. Quit telling Him that we have a better way and let Him do in our lives what He needs to do.
What we see in the life of every single saint that the Church has canonized, and every single person who has developed any level of holiness, is that it all happens the same way. It is through the struggles and the sufferings, through the difficulties, through having everything driven out of the soul that does not belong there. That is how they become saints. God wants us to be saints as well, and we are not going to become saints in any other way. When we look at what God has been able to accomplish through His saints, it is then that we realize that what we thought would be so foolish and so weak is really the most wise and strong. When we see the fruit of what God has done in the souls of so many throughout history, it is then that we can put our guard down, quit fighting Him, and accept what He is doing in our lives, and realize that “the one who is weak and foolish is me – and the one who is strong and wise is God.”
And when we look at the way that humanity has decided that God’s commandments are foolishness and weakness, it is not long before we are going to see the strength and the wisdom of God displayed in the way that the world will consider the weakest and the most foolish – because He is going to send His mother, and she is going to take care of it all. The wisdom of humanity will be exposed and the strength of humanity will be shown in its depravity. The foolishness of God is indeed wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. We need to trust. We need to turn our lives over to Him and ask Him to do whatever He needs to do to make us saints. Trust in His wisdom and in His strength, and quit trying to tell Him how to be God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.