The role of the father in our society has evolved, at least in the course of my lifetime, but there are certain bedrock principles of fatherhood that don’t change. Every child needs the love and guidance that is best provided by a father and best exemplified by our Father in Heaven.
Two readings from Scripture provide us radically different models of faith in the face of adversity. The story of Job, which is familiar to nearly everyone, is the model of faith, regardless of how bad things become. Likewise, the story of the Apostles flailing at sea describes the scenario of a group much in need of faith development. In my own case, I tend to resemble the Apostles when adversity strikes, but I want to talk about someone who, at least outwardly followed a different path.
In my years at the seminary, I have met many fine and faith filled people, but few were more exemplary than my friend Carl. Carl was the father of two children. When I met him, in addition to his studies for the permanent diaconate, he held a senior level finance position for a major consumer products company. His position and his expertise took him to many corners of the globe on a frequent basis, but regardless of the hours or where he went, he always placed his family first.
As has happened so often in the past few years, the company for which Carl worked was acquired by another larger international company, and his position was deemed redundant. He was laid off, but he never complained. His trust in God and in his own abilities led him to believe that he could strike out on his own and succeed. He formed his own business, and for a time, he began to build an adequate revenue stream, but the same recession that has presented challenges for many of us, proved to be a perfect storm for Carl’s new venture. After about two years of long hours and slender paychecks, he decided that the only practical decision was to fold the business.
Just a few weeks later, shortly after they had finished dinner, Carl’s wife noticed that he was having difficulty speaking. Sensing that this was a serious matter, she rushed him to the emergency room. A few hours and an MRI later, the doctors noted that there was a mass on his brain, and that exploratory surgery was the best option. The surgery was scheduled, and the diagnosis was the worst possible scenario- Stage 4 Brain Cancer. Certainly what Carl faced could be considered the modern equivalent of what we read in the story of Job or of the Apostles’ situation.
Of course, most of us know the story of Job, one that paints a picture of a conversation between God and Satan, where Satan admires Job’s faithfulness, but postulates that such faithfulness to God only exists because Job has been blessed and that his faithfulness would not survive adversity. So God permits Satan to visit adversity upon Job for a time, much as a prudent father might permit a son or daughter to be challenged by a situation, staying in the background to make certain the child doesn’t sustain serious or irreversible harm; and though Job never denounces the Lord, as those close to him urge him to do, he does begin to question the Lord’s goodness, or at least why the Lord would permit the adversity that has come. Still, Job constantly affirms the reasoning wisdom, and love of the Lord. He doesn’t falter.
But what about the Apostles? As the storm rages, the Apostles reach a stage of panic. Now, in fairness to them, their fears were not without justification. They were experienced seamen at a time when advanced engineering in boat building was still at least a millennium away. No doubt they had lost friends and associates to rough waters, and they may well have felt that their time had come. In fact, their waking Jesus to ask if He could do anything, is itself an act of faith, albeit a rather crude and tentative one. Jesus, though outwardly disappointed that the Apostles have not done a better job of cultivating their faith, nonetheless shows His love, compassion and concern, and calms the waters, much as a concerned father might come to the aid of a fearful child. Of course, fatherhood is involved even for Jesus, since, as He acknowledges elsewhere in Scripture, His power to do such things comes from His Heavenly Father. What happens next, though, is interesting. Instead of feeling relief or gratitude, the Apostles feel fear. Just Who is this that He can command the sea and have it obey? Though it isn’t stated in Scripture, I have to wonder if they are thinking, “He was able to calm the waters; does that mean that if He becomes angry with us, he can stir them up too?”
Of course, that’s possible in theory, but our God is a loving and gracious God. We punish ourselves, but He doesn’t punish us. His mission is one of mercy and salvation, but we have to accept it, as we know The Apostles ultimately did. After Pentecost, the Apostles shed their fears and went on to offer their lives for The Church and, really, for us, just as a courageous and loving father would do for his children. Certainly, without their efforts, the Church as we know it would not be here. Their embrace of the faith becomes our embrace of the faith, an embrace that I saw nearly perfected in my friend Carl.
No one could have blamed Carl for cursing his circumstances, his faith, and God. But that was not Carl. Through it all, he maintained a positive attitude, determined to beat the Cancer, if that was God’s will, but prepared to accept that will whatever it was. I wish I could tell you that Carl’s story had a fairy tale ending on this side of heaven, but it didn’t. I was touched to my very soul that Carl attended my ordination, to celebrate with me, but eight days later, he went home to God, quietly, bravely, never complaining, an example to all of us of faith in our Heavenly Father, the kind of faith God asked of the Apostles.
We can learn a great deal from these examples. First, none of us is perfect in their faith, especially not without God’s help. Second, that help is available to each and every one of us, if only we ask, whether confidently as Carl did or tentatively as the Apostles, and most of the rest of us do. Finally, if we accept God’s help, and His will, we will never regret it, not in this life, and certainly not when we meet Him in the kingdom.