After a number of decades as a Christian pastor, I am convinced that most of what God does in our lives and in our world remains hidden. I have many thoughts as to why this is so – but that it is so, I have no doubt. There are things in my life, which at the time they took place, seemed confusing and contradictory – but after careful, slow, reflection, have clearly seemed to be the hand of God. There are things that I have suffered through the years, that I now see as beneficial and even salvific, that I would never have considered to be so at the time. As a pastor, I am always hesitant (with others people’s lives) to offer that insight – in the midst of great suffering, such “insights” can be very difficult to receive.
I have been a pastor (both Protestant and later Orthodox) for over 30 years. I have buried over 400 people, many of whose deaths I was present for. I have seen the death of young children, the accidental deaths of children and spouses, suicides, and ever form of disease and suffering. And having been witness to all these things, I remain convinced of the goodness of God and His kindness.
I can never begin to describe the difficult situations in which I have pondered and even doubted the goodness of God. I am sure that my experience would be echoed by the experience of many others. And yet, despite everything, I remain convinced of His goodness and kindness towards us in all things.
The witness of Scripture draws a witness to the work of God: with a secret hand the Lord wars with Amalek.The secrecy of God’s work is perhaps what we find most scandalous. We would prefer that His work be open, undeniable and the content of our proclamation to the world. But believers often find themselves in the position of apologists, defending God, making effort in the face of human events to assure others that He loves us and cares for us. The most difficult attacks on the faith are those made against the goodness of God.
I believe the witness of Scripture holds the key: with a secret hand. What God is doing in our lives and in our world frequently remains opaque – we cannot see it clearly. I also believe that the opacity is not because of God, but because of the hardness of our own hearts. We do not see clearly, do not judge rightly, and rarely see the work of God in its proper perspective. This is the work of our own sin – and not a failure on God’s part.
I can say, of mine own experience, that I have occasionally seen this to be true, usually in rebuke of my own hard-heartedness. But I also take account of the witness of those good souls (such as the saints) who have told me far more than my darkened heart could see on its own. Such witnesses have never scandalized me – except for the scandal of my own darkness.
I was asked by a friend recently, “What makes a good confession?” I could only offer an answer from my own experience as a sinner. A good confession (for me) is one in which I bring the darkness of my own heart into the light of God. My darkness is generally surrounded in secrets – and not of the healthy kind. The light of God destroys the darkness of hidden sin and makes all things new. God’s “secret hand” is only for my healing. My secret hand is usually for my destruction.
The goodness of God is true and trustworthy. I bear witness to this as the truth – even with the flaws that my witness contains. But I have never heard it contradicted by the saints.
God give us grace to behold His secret hand and to give thanks always, for all things.