The Lord spoke to me in very profound ways this week as He led me ( for one reason or another I did not notice them in the first Barnes and Noble that I searched for something to nourish my soul) to read two books at the end of my vacation and returned home safely on a flight from Miami tonight.
The one I read first, a New Times bestseller, " The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Rev. Timothy Keller, I have already recommended strongly to many in this Internet Ministry who North America and Europe. It is a well researched and scholarly book which seeks to counter the prevailing secular arguments so prevalent in academia and the media in North America, that God either does not exist or should not be contemplated and is quite irrelevant in this age of enlightenment and science or has no power or desire to prevent evil. And in fact the very existence of religion has caused more problems for mankind than good, and the basis for the worshiping of Jesus as God by Christians, is groundless. This kind of debate is not only raging but is having significant effects on the minds of many young and older persons.
Rev. Keller's experience which led him to write this very useful book, is based on his work in Ministry in Manhattan, where he has a church with over 5000 members and has established several satellite churches elsewhere. And in so doing, he has spent lots of time listening and responding to people's fears and doubts and questions about the Christian faith: How can there be one true religion; How can God allow so much suffering; How can a loving God send people to hell; The church is responsible for so much injustice: Science has disproved Christianity: Christianity is a straitjacket: you can't take the Bible literally? In the first section of the book, with cogent reasoning, a call for intellectual honesty, support from scientists, philosophers, historians, theologians, and even a few honest atheists, he presents, in my view, serious challenges to the secularists and answers many of the questions of the doubters, perhaps both within and without the church. In the second section he deals with the fundamentals of the Christian faith, so that no reader is left in doubt about what constitutes Christianity. Having spent my vacation, and attended church in the USA regularly over the past two and half weeks, I can see where this book is a godsend for any Christian who is seeking to spread the gospel in this Skeptical and cynical about religion society, and even to hold on strongly to one's faith in the face of the attack of doubt by the devil. Excellent read.
The second book is a different story altogether. This one will trouble your soul deeply and challenge your understanding of faith, prayers, the Roman Catholic Church and God's mercy profoundly. At least that was the effect it had on me. Title is " Left to tell - Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust" by Immaculee Ilibagiza. In 1994 over 1 million Tutsis were slaughtered the Tutsis over a three month period. This rivetting story ( you can almost hear the killers searching for her ) is about how "Immaculee and seven other women survived the genocide, by hiding in a Hutu pastor's small bathroom for 91 cramped terrifying days". Time and time again the killers searched the very bedroom to which the bathroom was attached, but the hand of God protected them, even as the men were mere inches away from the women and shouting for their death. Through all this time Immaculeee, prayed and prayed and prayed, for hours on end, using her Rosary, verses of Scripture, appealing to Mary mother of God, appealing to Jesus, appealing to God Almighty. And God answered her very specific, not general, prayers in very dramatic ways. At the end two things happened. Well three. Firstly, miraculously, when the French soldiers, who had initially rescued her group, inexplicably abandoned her in the midst of the Hutu killers, towards the end of the war, it was only her faith in God, and God's mercy,which allowed her to walk right " through the valley of the shadow of death", without harm and then to find the Tutsi army, which was by then liberating the country from the Hutus. Secondly, in the power of the Holy Spirit, after much prayer and agonizing, she was able to confront the killer of her father ( her mother and two brothers were also killed, and only one brother was spared as he was abroad studying) and forgive him. Thirdly, thank God she found a partner, and is now happily married with two children -she asked God specifically, among many other things, for a Catholic husband and He answered her prayers.
Why was Immaculee spared, and why many other god fearing persons brutally slaughtered and left to rot? Only God knows. Is this praying of the Rosary, and praying to and through Mary acceptable to God? Can anyone having read her story remain skeptical anymore? Is there any place in the life of the church and in the life of an individual for " politely read or said, and perhaps " languid prayers" and " dim faith"? Should we seek God for His goodness and mercy, and leave everything else up to Him, or should we ask Him specifically to " blind the killers so they cannot see us", or send someone for me to marry and please make him a catholic as I wish not to have any tension in my marriage? Is is possible for us to maintain that kind of intense prayer life without a sense of all encompassing evil threatening our very existence? Is the knowledge that the devil is constantly seeking to disrupt our relationship with Christ sufficient evil? Or the knowledge that gunmen are killing people all over Jamaica, or that evil people are leading our young people astray or that our country is faced with economic ruin if some remedy is forth coming very soon. What else then will lead us to pray without ceasing lest we fall into temptation? And can we find the spiritual strength to begin to heal our land by forgiving those politicians, aided and abetted by some in the business class, the media, and even the church,who have led us into never ending spiral of violence and retribution?
Finally, and within the context of this message, most welcome and timely, on my way home tonight, as the devil began to place negative thoughts in my mind about the safety of the flight, the Lord reminded me of some word from the Holy Bible which cannot lie, " Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Flee from the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:7. In fact one of the reasons which led Immaculee to pray for so long and so intensely, that she experienced Mary and Jesus in her dreams, in very reassuring ways, is that the devil was constantly challenging her prayers and her faith in God, as she remained in hiding in that cramped bathroom. Telling her that the killers would find her, and that God did not care!
So tonight the Lord reminded and revealed to me two things. One, that a lot of our troubles start and continue and flourish when we allow the devil, wittingly or unwittingly, access to our minds. So we must be eternally vigilant about what we read, what we watch on television or in the movies, what and who we listen to, and what kind of language we use. And the devil was let loose in Rwanda, as he has been let loose in Jamaica, and in the halls of academia and in the media in North America and Europe for a long time. Secondly, the best way to fight against the devil's schemes is to draw near to God, in prayer, in Holy Communion, in singing hymns and songs of thanksgiving, in repentance and in doing good works.
May God help us all as we seek to serve Him in and through Christ in this troubled world. Amen