When I was in high school, I spent a horrible week doubting that God is the good God who He says He is. Like far too many in our world, a family I cared about had been wounded by the abuse of someone who should have been safe for them and I could not understand how a good God would allow such a terrible thing to happen. I was angry and felt betrayed by the God who I had, up to that point, always trusted implicitly. Believe me, I let Him know about it. I raged at Him exactly as you might expect a rebelious teenager to do and, somehow, He responded by leading me to the Book of Job.
I devoured the chapters, accusing God alongside Job and then, suddenly, God spoke back. Who was I to question Him? Would I discredit His justice? Did I understand enough to condemn Him? Me, who was not there when the foundations of the earth were laid, who cannot command the sun and the moon, who has never walked in the heavenly storehouses full of snow? Like Job, my doubts were consumed in the wake of His overwhelming, mind-blowing presence. At the same time, my certainty that I knew enough to challenge Him was swallowed in the doubt that comes with the awareness of how little I truly knew. Who was this God I had challenged, this One whose power was so far above and simultaneously so encompassing of all the ways of man? Who was this Almighty Strength who could destroy me with a glance and yet chose to mercifully forgive my accusations and draw me more intimately to Him through my doubts? Could a God who has so many responses at His disposal but chooses to respond with gentleness be anything but good?
For the first time, the realization that God was so far beyond anything that I had ever thought or known engulfed me. I had always rested in the fatherly intimacy of God, yet, in that moment, I came face-to-face with His otherness.
It was this separation between God and His creation that helped me to make sense of how a good God was not irreconcilable with the evil committed by His people. Over the years, I have often come back to that lesson that God taught me during that torturous week of my adolescence – when facing abuse by a person studying to be a youth minister, when journeying into the Catholic Church with eyes wide open to the abuse that was covered up in the city of my birth, when wrestling with allegations within my own Catholic Community. Always, I am reminded that God and His Truth exist regardless of the actions of His creations and even His followers.
Yet, more recently, this has been harder to remember. Over the past few years, it seems that too many Christians have done unimaginably heinous things to mar the precious Body of Christ here on earth. From supporting ideology and lies that foment hate, to failing to sacrificially love and protect one another; from devaluing the precious value of all of the lives God has created, to allowing divisions to shatter Christian unity; from the unbelievably horrific acts in Canada’s Native American Schools, to the 330,000 child victims of abuse by the French Catholic Church; from my own Diocese’ choices that continue to lead to unnecessary COVID spread and deaths, endangering my own children, to the desires of some radical traditionalists for the Pope’s death – the actions of Christ’s representatives on earth recently have been heartbreaking.
Yet, I can’t help but think of Christ’s other body and how man similarly marred and distorted it beyond recognition. I think of the image left on St. Veronica’s cloth – bruised, beaten, bleeding. I think of the broken back and the pierced hands. I think of the lifeless body, brought down from the cross and laid in the arms of a mother who knows she holds her Son but would not recognize Him if she had not stayed with Him throughout His destruction. I think of a powerless corpse, laid in a tomb and left to succumb to the final destruction of death’s decomposition.
And then that body had the power to do what none had ever done before. It defied death, defeated it, and it walked out of the grave.
Somehow, God took all of that damage and destruction of His son’s appearance and He made it the ultimate picture of Who He really is: a God of infinite love, mercy, and even power. Somehow, out of the distortion that His creation had inflicted on His image, He drew the purest, truest representation of Himself. He who described Himself simply as the One Who Is, was so far above and beyond the deeds of his creatures that what they did could in no way diminish Him. Infact, inspite of their worst intentions, their abuse only led to His glorification.
I don’t know how God will deal with the misrepresentations and distortions of His image here on earth right now, but I know that they won’t be the end of the story because I believe that God exists independently of anything His people do or don’t do. His goodness and His truth are not dependent upon us – they are realities that exist by their own right. He is, He has always been, and He will always be. Nothing we do can change that – it can only serve to glorify Him, whether or not that is our intention.