In my most recent post discussing the continuing intercessions of St. John the Wonderworker on our behalf, I noted both my struggle with despair over my situation and a tangible answer to our needs. I must confess that my requests for St. John’s intercessions were more often irregular and motivated by anxiety and despair. I do not know why that is, for not only has St. John proven an able patron of our family’s needs, but this most recent answer to his prayers, and our own, for a new job and for housing is not an anomaly.
More to the point, St. John’s intercessions are efficacious for us for one very important reason: God loves us.
A friend and I were remarking to one another how fundamentally the Orthodox Liturgy has reframed our understanding of God. Speaking for myself, I knew God as mostly a God of judgment. Yes, he loved you, but mostly he was waiting for you to step out of line to punish you for your misdeeds. But a few years of continually hearing, “Thou art a good God who lovest mankind” and hearing that God is the “man-befriending” God, have really and radically reshaped my understanding and experience of God. What it has done is helped me to allow my faith to be strengthened.
I say that knowing full well that I have wrestled with and too often surrendered to darkness and melancholy, to a very pessimistic view of the future. I have too often thought that God would not help because after all this was my own doing and I deserved what I got. But thank the man-befriending God that this thinking is a lie. We do not get what we deserve: which is precisely the point of the Gospel’s message of grace. And God isn’t waiting to punish us, but is, instead, waiting with a towel around his waist to wash and bathe weary and sore feet. On divine authority we know that he waits to give us rest and guidance in the midst of our struggles and temptations.
There is no doubt either that we will suffer discipline to correct our misdeeds and set our souls in virtue that we may be made ready and worthy to participate in full union with the divine energies for all eternity. But this is not the same thing as punishment. This is the coach allowing the athlete to endure the muscles which seize, the breath which comes in searing and burning gasps, the pain and ache of growth in size and speed and flexibility. This is the father which lays the rod athwart the backside, not in anger nor in implacable quest for restitution, but with, if I may venture an overbold analogy, tears and love.
This God is, of course, the God who has “come through” again and again and again for us. Lincoln, Illinois. Baton Rouge. Chicago. With numerous and varied examples in each place.
I do not yet believe as I should. I am ever the father in the Gospels who cries, “I believe, help thou my unbelief.”
But with such luminscent examples as St. John and his spiritual son (and one of my patrons), Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim, and with a growing experience of the God who loves mankind, it is becoming easier to believe than it is to doubt.