In this state of self-abandonment, in this path of simple faith, everything that happens to our soul and body, all that occurs in all the affairs of life, has the aspect of death. This should not surprise us. What do we expect? It is natural to this condition. God has plans for souls and he carries them out very successfully, though they are well-disguised. Under the name of ‘disguise’ are such things as misfortune, illness and spiritual weakness. But in the hands of God everything flourishes and turns to good.
Jean Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
I am sometimes surprised when I hear people say, ‘How can you believe in a God that would let something like that happen to me (to my sister, brother, friend, lover…)?’
I know some people, some of whom I respect and admire, who have felt this way. For some reason I never have. I have not led a particularly sheltered life, at least for someone who has lived most of his life in England in peacetime, and I have been close to those who have suffered.
Why don’t I feel this rejection of God? Why don’t I turn away from the one who created this world in which there is such great pain, such injustice, such cruelty? Why don’t I blame him for the suffering of the innocent, the defilement of beauty, the loss of hope?
Of course it’s not because of any spiritual qualities of mine, and I don’t think it’s because I am unusually insensitive to others’ pain. I think the answer, so far as there is one, must have something to do with this ‘self-abandonment’ de Caussade speaks of here.
For some odd reason the sense has become clear to me – in some ways I think it has always been there – that God does have plans for us, and that these plans are indeed, ‘plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.’ (Jeremiah 29.11) God, it seems, would rather do this gently, in peace; but he will do it, no matter what we do, or what is done to us. The Prophets, Jeremiah particularly, make this pretty clear, in their stories of hope and blessing on the far side of war and exile; but the Cross makes it blindingly clear, and, through the grace Christ brought to us there, it opens the door to hope and blessing, to restoration and peace beyond all our trials.
Paul wrote, ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us… We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8.18,28)
All things. For me it has somehow always been so. Oh, it’s hard to express this clearly enough without somehow seeming to rebuke those for whom it is terribly different, and I truly don’t want to do that. I just know that God has blessed me even in the worst times with his presence and his love, and he has shown me things I could not otherwise have seen.
Somehow – and for me it has always seemed to be caught up in the practice of the Jesus Prayer – these blessings have come about in the conscious, if not intentional, abandonment of my own self-interest. Somehow, as far as I have been able to respond to God’s call to set down my own instincts to self preservation, and abandon myself into his hands, I have been blessed with ‘treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places.’ (Isaiah 45.3)
‘God is light and in him there is no darkness at all…’ (1 John 1.5) But his light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. (John 1.5)