Why does God hound us?

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Francis D. Alvarez S.J. (The Philippine Star) - September 23, 2012 - 12:00am

“He was teaching his disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death, he will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him” (Mark 9:31-32).

Our Gospel today recounts the second time Jesus predicted his passion. In the three incidents when Jesus warned his disciples about what was to befall him, we can notice Jesus’ friends slowly hardening their hearts. The first time Jesus shared his fate with them, Peter took the Lord aside and disagreed with him (Mk 8:31-32). The second time, they did not bother talking to Jesus about his words even though they did not understand him. And the third time, it would seem that the disciples were not even listening to Christ. Right after Jesus talked about the suffering the Messiah must undergo, James and John could only ask the Lord for positions of power in his kingdom (Mk 10:33-37).

But Jesus, in these three times — and even after them, never stopped trying to reach out to his disciples. The first time, Jesus told Peter not to get away from him but to get behind him, to go back to following Christ’s way (Mk 8:33). The second time, though the disciples did not question him, Jesus initiated the questioning so that he could teach them again (Mk 9:33-37). And the third time, he even used the ambitions of James and John to once more clarify his message. Walang sawa, walang patid. God continues to reach out to us even though many times we do not reach back to him.

This did not begin with the disciples. All throughout the history of Israel, and even before there was an Israel, we see in the bible how God never ceases to try to bring us closer to him. I read about the second, third, fourth, and nth chances the Lord gives his people, and I can only shake my head and think, “If I were God, I would have given up long ago.” But we are blessed because God is not like me. Walang sawa at walang patid pa rin niya tayong sinusuyo.

As a 22-year-old novice doing my 30-day retreat, I read that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). And I disagreed: “There is something that can separate me from God’s love — myself. If I choose to distance myself from God, he can do nothing about it. He has to respect my decision. God is powerless in the face of my freedom!” I took foolish pride in being able to say that then.

As a 37-year-old priest, I would like to think that I am just a bit humbler and just a bit wiser now. And one thing I have learned the past 15 years is that not even my freedom can withstand God’s persistence and perseverance. Walang sawa at walang patid talaga.

Francis Thompson’s words capture this whole experience perfectly: “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the mist of tears...” Though we flee him, God comes, “with unhurrying chase, and unperturbèd pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy.” The title of the poem quoted here may shock us at first — “The Hound of Heaven” — but it makes sense. Why compare God to a dog? Well, because he doggedly pursues us. John O’Connor says this much more elegantly: “As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.”

Why does God hound us? What does he see in us? I look at myself in the mirror — disheveled in the morning, before washing my face, brushing my teeth, and combing my hair. I look at myself in the mirror again at noon — distinguished outside, priestly vestments hiding the disarray I feel. I look at myself in the mirror finally at night — many times distraught with my many disordered affections. And I have to ask God, “Why do you love me so?”

Why does God hound us? We may never know the reason while we are here on this earth. So let us ask another question that we may be more equipped to answer: Why do we run away from him?

Thy cynic in me has a ready answer: Because his message is “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him….” If this is what will happen to the Master, surely the disciple can expect a similar fate. And so we run. We run for safety and for peace, but we never really find what we are looking for. Maybe this is why God is hounding us — to tell us: “My way may be hard, but it is the only way towards fulfillment. Stop running away, and let me catch up. Then instead of hounding you, I will hold your hand and lead you. Remember, too, that it does not end with the Son of Man being persecuted and put to death. On the third day, we will rise.”

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Email: tinigloyola@yahoo.com.

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