Friday, 7 June 2013


“You wouldn’t dare!” That was my rash challenge as we rounded off an exhilarating week with singing round a camp-fire.   A group of teenagers had come to Spode Conference Centre for a week’s discussions.  These were meant to prepare them for what would lie ahead for them as Christians, after they’d left school and entered the adult world.

As a safety precaution we had a number of buckets of water at the ready.  I was tending the fire when a teasing, pushy, girl threatened to throw a bucket of water over me. I, secure in my priestly status, brashly I replied, “You wouldn’t dare!” Fool that I was! No way did I expect her to rise to such a challenge. Little did I realize I'd just put her reputation in the eyes of her peers on the line.  She had no choice. Here, the chance for unspeakable glory! ... to douse a priest, at his to speak!   The next thing I knew I was drenched.

At that moment the world stood still. We were all in a state of amazed shock. What if she had seized the initiative and dared me to retaliate and douse her with a bucket of water? She would have had me cornered. I could not possibly have taken her up. The consequences would have been unthinkable. At that moment I was on trial with the whole circle of young people being my jury and judge.

 God came to my rescue. From my throat He forced a massive roar of indignation and then a fit of hysterical laughter. All joined in, much relieved...and most grateful for this surprise piece of entertainment.

But it certainly provided me with food for thought.... about the danger of issuing challenges and calling people’s bluff.. “Never must I do that again -unless I’m prepared to be taken up on my challenge.” And what of Annie (not her real name)?   What did she learn?  That actions do have consequences?  That there’s no telling with least with this one?

Now, this got me wondering. Does God call our bluff?    Can we call His bluff and put Him to the test?  How often have we complained, “If God really loved me He wouldn’t let me suffer; He would cure me and my loved ones. After all, we’re good people, who keep His commandments and do more than that for Him. Surely   He owes something to His loyal subjects!" Right?  No.  No. No. Wrong.   Yet how many have abandoned God, because they think He’s deaf to their prayers and that He has deserted them?”

If that’s the way we’re thinking aren’t we testing God’s love for us in the same way that Satan tempted Jesus in the desert?  There the devil challenged Jesus to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple.  Was He going to trust His heavenly Father to save Him from falling to His death? To this challenge Jesus replied, ‘It is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ (Matt. 4. 7).

We cannot, we, must not, put God and His love to the test.  God doesn’t have to prove Himself; He owes us nothing; we can’t put Him in our debt.   All that He does for us is a free gift of His love, not something we deserve.  That’s why Jesus condemned the Pharisee who reminded God of all his good deeds and expected to be duly rewarded for them.  But Jesus praised the publican who threw himself on God’s mercy as He begged His forgiveness.

What about this for a way we often put God to the test?  We reason, “Since  God is all merciful He wouldn’t condemn and punish anyone, especially not a nice guy like me.” Or, “If I’m a sinner, God will always give me time to repent, so why rush to cut short the enjoyment of my sinful ways?” 

  The Book of Ecclesiasticus brings us to our senses with a bucket of cold water, “ Do not say, ‘I sinned, yet what has happened to me?’ - for the Lord is slow to anger.   Do not be so confident of forgiveness that you add sin to sin.    Do not say, ‘His mercy is great,  He will forgive the multitude of my sins’, for both mercy and wrath are with Him, and His anger will rest on sinners.  Do not delay to turn back to the Lord, and do not postpone it from day to day;  for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will come upon you,  and at the time of punishment you will perish.”  (Ecclesiasticus 5. 4-7).   In other words, it’s sheer madness to presume to call God’s bluff.

But isn’t  it a huge temptation to try to bargain with God, arguing that if I do this for God He’s obliged to do that for me? He owes me one. I have serious problems with those people who circulate emails that guarantee instant prosperity or certain salvation if we jump through a number of spiritual hoops.  Often these include a handsome donation to the pastor!  To this the Book of Ecclesiasticus replies in no uncertain terms, Do not try to bribe the Lord.  He will not accept it.”  (35. 14).

 What about God challenging us, even calling our bluff?  He does that all the time!   -as when Jesus says to each of us, “Follow me.”    Instead of promising us an easy ride He guarantees a rough journey.  He tells us to take up our crosses and follow Him.   We, His followers, must expect opposition, even persecution.   Jesus is challenging us to believe in Him, to trust He knows where He’s going, that the eternal life and happiness He promises are not empty words.   To each of us He says, “Launch out into the deep.”  He invites us to do the seemingly impossible, to walk on the water.  Jesus is calling our bluff, as He says, “Trust me.”   We are calling His bluff, as we expect Him to be faithful to His promises.   We meet God as our “yes” to Him echoes His “yes” to us.

Dare I conclude that Annie with her bucket of water has even prompted me to think of my being baptized with the waters of life? Then God most certainly expressed His “yes” to me as His son. How I rejoice in my lifelong commitment to Him as my heavenly Father!

All, the same I warn you  girls, “Don’t take liberties with me and buckets of water! I’ve aged a lot since the days of Annie and camp fires!”
Isidore O.P.
The next posting will be on 21st June

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