Whose Side is God On?
It seems of late that sports arenas are becoming the last bastion of public prayer in our culture outside of churches. Whether it is the pre-game locker room ritual or the post-touchdown Tebowing, prayer on the game field still seems to be an acceptable, or at least tolerated, pastime. Although I am not a big sports fan I still have asked the question, “If both teams are praying, how does God choose sides?” This is a silly question perhaps but one which becomes more serious when we move out of the arena of games and into the arena of war.
In the first reading we find the army of the Israelites completely outmatched by the Philistines and having lost 4000 men in battle. They turn to God and ask the question, “Whose side are you on?”; a fair question given that the Israelites are supposedly God’s “chosen” people. Rather than cut their losses and run the Israelites proceed to unveil the ark of the covenant in the manner of a “Hail Mary pass” presuming that the last-minute substitution will earn them victory points with God. The result the second time around is the loss of another 30,000 men and the Ark of the Covenant with which the Philistines abscond.
In matters of serious conflict it is hard not to want the creator and sustainer of the universe on your side, but ultimately I am not sure if that is how God works. We might say that God stands with these who are righteous but how many self-righteous conquerors have claimed victory in the name of God while leaving behind nothing but devastation of biblical proportions? If God is involved in war it is not as a secret weapon of destruction the likes of which has never been seen and against which the opposing forces stand no chance of victory. Rather it is in the much more humble position of being in the trenches with those who are frightened and far from home and by being at the side of innocent civilians whose homes are bombed and whose murdered loved ones are deemed “collateral damage“.
This is the God represented by Jesus who, when faced by the scourge of leprosy, did not eradicate the dreaded illness from the face of the earth but rather, moved by pity, heals the one standing before him who asks in faith to be cured. Why the half-measures, one might ask? Well, because that allows us to meet God halfway. It allows for us to use our wits and our efforts and our compassion to heal the effects of natural and human evil in the world. That is the work of the Kingdom that we have been called to do.
When St. Marguerite Bourgeoys arrived in Montreal as a pioneer in a land which was primitive compared to her former way of life she did not pray to God for paved streets and a high-speed internet connection. She asked God for strength and perseverance to accomplish what needed to be done given the circumstances in which she found herself. This is work that God does. This is the work that we also have been called to do.