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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

God's Action and Human Freedom

The Lord sometimes invites us to see his glory in a powerful way, but we hesitate and balk before this invitation. We see all the problems, all the hunger, and we ask Him to make them go away. He sees those He loves and his heart aches for them. He commands, what seems to be from our limited human perspective, the impossible, "Feed them yourselves." By the natural light of reason we know we do not have the resources to fulfill His command. Furthermore, our freedom only works self-sufficiently within the visible, the possible - but God is about what is impossible for the human person left to only his natural resources. The Lord invites his followers into his loving action, unceasing eternal activity which transcends all natural capacities and at the same time that toward which all of nature is oriented. Why do we try to dismiss God's invitations and commands? Instincts of self-preservation kick in. Such movements of the heart, because they are wounded by sin, do not incline us to trust God when He directs us beyond our natural limits. At such moments of crisis, whether or not we realize it, our faith is being tested, we stand in judgment, and our heart is being revealed. Our instinct is to preserve us from such vulnerability. Yet when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable at this moment, when we do so out of devotion to Christ, we begin to see the truth about who we really are. Humbly accepting such moments, we discover deep questions and fears that haunt us: If we say "yes" to God, will we lose our liberty? Or similarly, if we say "yes" to God but fail to be successful in what we think He wants, then what? These doubts, if not submitted to Christ, are impediments to fully thriving in our life of faith. Growth in faith depends on our willingness to overcome such obstacles. The answer to such questions is a question provided by St. Paul, a question which should lead us into deep prayer - what can separate us from the love of God? The path for resolving conflict between God's action and our freedom is to enter into silence and beg the Lord for a deeper trust. Our humility and perseverance in making such a petition attract his countless blessings. Through these we begin to experience our natural liberty and God's supernatural action not as opposing forces but rather as mysteries ordained for each other. Rather than a battle, the relationship between our freedom and God's action is more like a dance. The whole visible cosmos of this present life is like a ballroom filled with the music of the Holy Spirit. The Bridegroom invites us to enter into movement with Him and waits for our response. In this dance, even should we say no or put Him off, He accomplishes his purpose while continually offering new invitations. His great hope in us is not vanquished by our doubt. In this way, the Author of our freedom is constantly at work in our decisions, bringing to completion His designs. If we confidently step out in trust and keep our eyes fixed on Him, his radiance draws us so that what seemed to be a barrier becomes a stepping stone into his embrace. God is always thrilled when we say "yes," even if all we have is a few loaves and couple of fish. This is because our "yes" makes space for God's power to be manifest. Such space affords the world a glimpse, a foretaste of the final consummation of all things in Him. This eschatological vision is enveloped in His exceedingly generous love. Even if it is unrecognized, what is manifest is the great wedding feast which has been prepared from all eternity. We are indeed awaited by love - will we seek Him how seeks for us? Blessed John Paul II points to this mystery in is own reflections on what it means to thrive, to realize the perfection of our human liberty in the action of God:

"God's action in no way restricts man's freedom; it leaves man free to try out his own plans and his own solutions; it even allows evil to exist, in order to bring out of the good that is latent in all human initiatives. At the same time this action of God in the world, this divine economy in human affairs, does lead—through all the complexities and deviations as well as all the authentic achievements of humanity—to the shape of things which man and the world are, in the end, to come to accept. It will be accepted because of the indubitable fact that the affairs of man and the world reach consummation in the hands of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who embraces and penetrates the entire world. The great German poet said, in Faust, that Satan is a force that always desires what is evil, whereas the good always goes into action."
Blessed John Paul II, Sign of Contradiction, New York: Seabury (1979) 175-176.

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