Do you believe in God? All of you who read this blog would quickly answer “Yes.” You would, of course, be right since you are reading this blog precisely because you are a believer. But I have often wondered whether or how much we actually believe in God since faith like love is shown in action more than in words. For Jesus, it seems, lack of faith shows itself in fear. When the disciples were frightened during the storm at sea, he said, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26). In a discourse to his disciples on not worrying or being afraid he said, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you–you of little faith!” (Luke 12:28). When I examine myself against Jesus’ criterion for believing in God, I recognize how weak my faith really is. I have a number of addictions, but the deepest one, I have come to see, is the desire to be in control. As a result, of course, I am often afraid, afraid that I will fail to give a good homily, afraid that something I write might not be accepted by everyone, or even be found suspect, etc., etc. Since it’s an illusion of gigantic proportions to believe that such control of life is possible, I am quite chastened about my supposed faith in God. It seems that faith in God comes down to trust that “all will be well, and all matter of thing will be well,” as Julian of Norwich put it at a very dark time for herself and for her world.
In other words, to believe in God is to believe that the world is God’s action, an action that has a good purpose, the purpose Jesus termed the Kingdom of God. Our actions can be in tune with God’s purpose or be out of tune, but God is the One who calls the tune, and that tune aims at a world of harmony and peace, a “new heavens and a new earth.” As Paul says, in Christ “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the Cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). If we believe in God, we will try our best to be a part of this great work of God done in Christ and to act in tune with God’s purpose. And we will do so without worrying about what people will think of us. But we also know full well that we will fail at times so to act. In other words, we know that we are sinners, but sinners beloved by God. We recognize that our best efforts may and do fall short of what we had hoped to achieve, sometimes because of our own shortsightedness and self-centeredness, sometimes because of the actions of others. But to believe in God means to believe that God wants us to keep up our efforts to join in the great work of creation, that, in fact, God depends on us to keep up our efforts. God, we believe, has created a world where the divine dream cannot come about without us. God’s dream will not come about through violence and force, but only through our willingness to join our meager, shortsighted, best efforts to what Jesus has done, to do our best to be a human being who is an image of God. We cannot do this on our own, only with the help of God, but that help will never fail. We will fail, of course, because our faith, like that of the disciples, is frail. And so we pray one of the best prayers of someone in the Gospels, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
Fr. Bill Barry, SJ is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC New England. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. Presently he resides at Campion Center where he is co-director of a nine month Jesuit Tertianship Program and gives retreats and spiritual direction. He is the author or co-author of 15 books, including The Practice of Spiritual Direction, God and You, Finding God in All Things, Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God, Who Do You Say I Am?, With An Everlasting Love, and Contemplatives in Action with Fr. Robert Doherty. For more on his writing please visit Loyola Press.