Friday, July 01, 2005

The Lord is Near

I wrote yesterday that St Paul’s assertion, “the Lord is near,” is sufficient grounds for rejoicing and trusting in Him. We often read in the Scriptures, “the Lord is with you,” or “the Lord is near to all who call on Him,” or “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” But what does it really mean that the Lord is near? And what can we expect from this divine propinquity (we always have to ask that one, don’t we)?

The basic blessing is the surpassing peace I mentioned yesterday. It’s true that Jesus was a carpenter, but that doesn’t mean that his mission is to fix all the broken things in our lives—at least, not in the way and at the time of our choosing. He does work miracles sometimes, according to his inscrutable wisdom, when He sees it will advance our spiritual growth and salvation. But the fact that the Lord is near will not necessarily pay your bills, get you a better job, heal your arthritis, bring down the price of gas or clear up your daughter’s acne. We have to learn and experience how Presence alone is enough, how the peace his nearness brings contains within it joy, hope, strength, and a host of other blessings.

Life is full of sufferings, as you are probably quite aware, if you are over the age of three. We would very much like to be relieved of all our sufferings, and immense amounts of propaganda and money are expended in that futile quest. We might think that it’s God’s job to take it all away. But as one author insightfully wrote, Christ did not come to take away our sufferings, but to fill them with his presence. He has ways of making all things work for the good, even (perhaps especially) our sufferings, if, aware that the Lord is near, we offer them to Him in loving trust.

I remember a story I read many years ago by someone who stopped to watch the bucolic scene of a shepherd tending his sheep. They were in an open field, with no shelter nearby, and suddenly a rainstorm approached and a downpour ensued. The sheep, in their fear and confusion, simply huddled around their shepherd, for he was their safety and refuge. The shepherd, having nowhere to go for shelter, simply stood in the midst of his sheep and remained there, being what they needed him to be. That was evidently enough for them.

In the storms of life, God doesn’t promise us that we won’t get wet, only that He will be there in our midst as we gather around Him, our source of strength and peace and hope. “God is for us a refuge and strength” (Psalm 45/46). The sun will come out again, and we’ll go about our daily business like sheep going off to graze—though never wandering too far away—but we know we can count on his loving and peace-giving presence when we urgently need Him.

No one gets a free ride in this life; no one is spared suffering of one sort or another. But take courage: the Lord is near. The more you get to know Him, the more that will be enough for you. Be silent, listen, pray, wait: the Peace that passes understanding is approaching…