God’s Apparent Powerlessness

Here is my homily for this Sunday.

In our gospel this Sunday we see a very clear demonstration of the attribute of God called omnipotence – the fact that he is “almighty”: he is able to do whatever he pleases; he has supreme power over all things. And even when he appears to be “checked out” of the scene – such as when Jesus was sleeping in the boat – yet he still knows what is happening and has power over it. Reflecting deeply on this scene will have important implications for our lives.

Indeed, in light of recent events, it might be good for us to raise a question about God’s omnipotence, for there are so many occasions when it seems to us that the Lord is asleep and doesn’t wake up, doesn’t respond. Think about the terrible shooting in Charleston – why did Almighty God not intervene? He certainly could have stopped the shooter. Even from our personal lives we can raise various examples and ask: If God is omnipotent, where was he when this or that thing happened? Why didn’t he change the outcome?

It turns out that in raising this very common question we are in good company, for it is even brought up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But the Catechism also gives an answer under the heading of “The mystery of God’s apparent powerlessness”. And I’d like to share the first paragraph with you. It says:

Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem… absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” It is in Christ’s Resurrection and exaltation that the Father has shown forth “the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe”.

This answer therefore challenges us, when we witness God’s apparent powerlessness in our world, to seek the wisdom of God, which is wiser than worldly wisdom. Worldly or conventional wisdom might tell us: God was absent in that event – he didn’t intervene. But God’s wisdom leads us to think of the Cross, and how Christ was apparently powerless there as well, yet conquered evil all the same.

In other words, we need a spiritual outlook that sees beyond the limits of this world, as we look forward to the world to come and a sharing in Christ’s life for all eternity. In that way, we can see the events of our lives through the lens of his suffering, death, and resurrection. Could God have stopped something bad from happening? Certainly. Would we have liked him to have stopped something bad from happening? Certainly! But did he do so? No. And that does not make him any less powerful – or loving. He has triumphed definitively on the Cross, and apparently, in his plan, tolerating some particular evil now means even greater glory to come. God can always bring good out of evil.

Thus the Catechism continues: “Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. This faith glories in its weaknesses in order to draw to itself Christ’s power. The Virgin Mary is the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God’, and was able to magnify the Lord…”. We have seen this type of faith at work in Charleston where – unlike the cycle of violence in other cities marked by terrible crimes and tragedies – the community has responded with forgiveness and love. They have accepted the mystery of the cross – “the mystery of God’s apparent powerlessness”. This is already a great good that has come out of a great evil. And we await other goods to come.

In our human weakness we want things to go easily and smoothly in our lives, but that is simply not realistic – even less so since we are followers of Christ. May he heal us, then, of any distrust in his omnipotence. Let us seek his wisdom in the face of evil and take that long view that sees beyond the apparent defeat of the Cross to the glory of his resurrection. He is all-powerful, and it will be our glory in the life to come if we learn to trust now in his power and his plan. May Almighty God, then, increase our faith. Amen.

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