The power of our discreet God
Regular Network Norwich and Norfolk columnist James Knight asks why God sometimes doesn't make His presence obvious.
I had a few thoughts about why God often seems absent and seems happy to remain hidden backstage. Here's what I concluded. In Matthew 6 Jesus says something which gives an indication of why God’s presence is not immediately made obvious – He sets a pattern for us to follow, and that pattern is that we are to do nothing to draw attention to our good deeds, lest we become proud and take our focus off the intrinsic goodness itself. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” He follows this by saying “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.”
And further we are told that God who sees in secret will reward us for our own secrecy and humility. This stretches to prayers too – “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” – the message is all about a virtue found in suppressing the ego and not soliciting credit. And the reason seems to be because those who act in accordance with personal solicitations diminish the value of an act that is supposed to be purely and wholesomely Christ-like.
I used to ponder the absent God and wonder why on earth a God who is supposed to love and care for us so much, and moreover one that supposedly desires a relationship with us, keeps doing everything on the quiet. But then one day a series of observations led me to what I believe to be the right answer. I was sitting outside a coffee shop with a friend, and a man holding a charity box was standing over on the far side of the road. As I observed the different ways that people put their money in the box, I could see that some made a big show of their giving and others did it very discreetly. I know full well that we often face an inner conflict when it comes to good deeds – generosity and kindness can seem frustrating if we never get to tell others what we’ve done.
But the more we find ourselves giving discreetly the more we seem to want to give, and the more frequently we seem to want to do it – somehow the act seems to become a pure gesture between oneself and God. We find that the more this occurs the more we crave it, because in the midst of a world that moves us along with its busyness and its tumult those moments when we find discretion (in prayer or in giving or in kindness) are soon becoming the times we find ourselves closest to God.
If I give two hundred pounds to a charity and tell everyone about it I am soliciting the approval of men, but if I give that two hundred pounds discreetly it then becomes a point of closeness between God and myself - I act purely, and in doing so I get a big sense of why God bestows gifts in the same way. To know that God is continually bestowing blessings on our lives while we as a human race continue to neglect to thank Him, and in some cases never even acknowledge it is Him, that says so much more to me about how praiseworthy He is than if He continually acted in dramatic ways, demanding attention every five minutes.
We may say that just as He is discreet in allowing His love to pour on us, so too He is discreet in being seemingly absent in the midst of natural disasters, and that is true. He is discreet in both – but in being discreet He is bestowing on us the gift of causality and responsibility in not being slaves to His whim, but as creatures who are genuinely able to love and care and praise and hope freely. We should not be surprised that this is His nature – after all, the same God who made the entire cosmos made Himself small enough and humble enough and discreet enough to be incarnated in a carpenter’s body in a remote part of the world. Until He was thirty years old He worked in ordinary ways under ordinary backwater conditions, while all the time indwelling the discretion of God. And after His baptism when the Father sent the Holy Spirit He took the power of God all the way to the cross and died for us in the face of ridicule and mockery.
And I think it is only when people really get to grips with the nature of our suffering and dying God that they begin to know why He is discreet. He wants to give to us in the same way that He wants us to give to others – with pure and wholesome love, not initially for the attention or benefit of others (although that can come as a result when we put our relationship into practical use for goodness). That is why one’s communion with the Holy Spirit can only be a personal event – and I think the thief on the cross looked across at the tortured Christ next to him and saw that despite His being without sin He still took His place there for us to pay a price that we couldn’t pay. As the thief saw those things he saw something in a few moments that it takes many a lifetime to see - God's discretion is part of His love and His grace and His power to save.
The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users. We welcome your thoughts and comments, posted below, upon the ideas expressed here. You can also contact the author direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
James is a Norwich local government officer, author and Proclaimers church member in Norwich. You can access his current collections of columns here
Meanwhile, if you want to find out more about Christianity, visit: www.rejesus.co.uk