God Speaks in the Fire of Pain and Pride
Patheos will soon wrap up its What Do I Really Believe series with the question, “Does God Really Talk to Us?” As a precursor to that fascinating topic, Thomas L. McDonald shares a personal experience of communication that brought peace “beyond all understanding” and a healing that continues until today.
Of course God talks to us: a thousand times a day in a thousand little ways we take for granted. He speaks through every breath we take and every touch of another person’s hand. He speaks in the life we give and nurture through our children. He speaks in the kindness we show and the sacrifices we make.
He tried to speak to us through the outstretched hand of the beggar we passed by on the street. He even warned us that He would speak to us this way, when He said “As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:40).
As St. John told us, “God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn. 4:16). Love is the language of God, and love speaks in a thousand ways to us and through us.
But you’re probably asking, “No, really, does He speak to us,” in the burning bush, voice from the sky, “Francis, rebuild my house” kind of way. Indeed, some people are gifted with messages and visions from God, and not all of them are saints. This is a special charism, and one that is probably rarely reported because the recipient of the gift is afraid of mockery or doubt, or simply because the voice of God lies beyond the expressive capacity of mere words.
There are Christians who seem to believe that God only speaks through words. This is a rather puzzling and limiting idea for a creator who gave us five senses plus an imagination and intellect. God spoke through Mozart and Bach, through Caravaggio and Monet, through Shakespeare and John Donne, through St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope John Paul II. He speaks in many languages: mathematics, chemistry, biology, astronomy; paint, paper, film; stone, wood, and metal; the bloom of a rose and the fall of a leaf.
But has ever spoken to me?
Ah yes, but he had to use a language he only reserves for his hardest cases: the language of pain and suffering. Pain, as C.S. Lewis says, is God’s megaphone. Make no mistake, Our Lord does not cause our suffering, but he uses it to reach us.
I have heard the voice of God, but it was no voice at all. I do not speak of it often because the experience lies beyond words. But I will try to tell you the best I can, so that you can understand.
I was 34 when a lifetime of mysterious aches and pains suddenly blossomed into a full-blown case of psoriatic arthritis. It’s a nasty disease that affects the joints and the skin, as your very body begins to attack and devour itself through the immune system. It overtook me quickly, and soon I was hardly able to walk at all, and then only with a degree of pain that is almost impossible to describe.
I finally found God, where so many broken people probably find him: in the darkness of a still night, alone in a bathroom, unable to raise myself and return to bed. I was finally defeated, humiliated. My pride was gone, my arrogance was burned away, and I was completely reduced as a human being. God did not choose that moment to speak to me; he had been speaking to me all along. I was just finally humble enough to hear him.
I didn’t cry out to God, or pray, or curse him, or ask help. I was too shattered for that. But from nowhere, as though a light had been turned on in my soul, my entire being shifted. It was a sense of absolute peace, and it came upon me unbidden and perhaps even unwanted. I didn’t even know how lightless was my soul until that moment. It took a long time for my body to heal, but that day God healed my soul, and I felt his voice echoing in every cell of my body and every darkened corner of my mind, burning away my doubt and faithlessness.
Yes, I have heard the voice of God. It was not in the whirlwind, or the earthquake, or the fire: it was a still small voice whispering love into every fiber of my broken being. And in my brokenness, I was finally able to listen.
Thomas L. McDonald is a writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications; he also blogs at State of Play; the Gaming Blog.