As a little child, I am sure many of us would have asked our parents or even teachers the question, ‘Where is God?’ It is quite likely that we were pointed to the clouds and the sky beyond or at a crucifix or even a Church and told that is where God is. Somehow, God is most often described to a child as being this person with supernatural powers and who resides in a place where He can see all things and His modus operandi is to reward the good and punish the wicked. Many of us probably grew up with this image of God. As we grow older, the question about ‘Where is God?’ doesn’t really go away because when we look at the world today which seems to be filled with news about terror, violence, hatred, threats, and intolerance, it is highly probable for us to ask again, ‘Where is God in all this?’ Perhaps we do not articulate it but the question resides somewhere in our thoughts, but perhaps now it is no longer a location that we try to place God but rather to try and understand Him in the context of different situations. It is quite common for every person to go through a phase of ‘looking for God’ especially in times of trouble.
The first reading is from the First Book of Kings and is about the Prophet Elijah—one of the greatest of prophets in the Old Testament. Elijah has fled to the holy mountain, Horeb (according to some Biblical scholars this could probably be the same as Mount Sinai). In the Old Testament, it is common to think that the mountain is the preferred place of God and the fact that Elijah goes up the mountain indicates he is looking for God. Elijah flees to the mountain because he is afraid for his life since Queen Jezebel had threatened to kill him just as she had done to the other prophets. Elijah was deeply troubled and anxious and that is why initially he could not feel the presence of God. It was neither in the gushing wind nor in the earthquake. It is when Elijah was able to put aside his anxiety and worry, that he now experienced God in the sheer silence.
We hear of something like the experience of Elijah in the Gospel today. Jesus had just come down from the mountain (the preferred place of God) after spending time in prayer and He goes across the lake to meet His disciples. The disciples thought it was a ghost and perhaps what went through their mind was ‘Where is Jesus when they needed Him the most? They were battling the sea and now something that looks like a ghost is approaching them… they were troubled and anxious (like Elijah). Even after Jesus spoke to them, the doubt persisted and Simon Peter wanted confirmation and says, ‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ In order to calm their fear, Jesus allows Simon Peter to have his wish of coming to Him across the water. He overcomes the initial fear and anxiety and now walks confidently towards Jesus but the moment he once again became aware of the strong winds, fear and anxiety crept back in and he began to sink.
Both the first reading and the gospel today is related to our earlier question ‘Where is God?’ However, it is not about where God resides (place) but rather the disposition that is needed to meet God. It would seem clear from the readings that it is difficult to discover God when we are overwhelmed with fear and anxiety – the obstacles that prevented Elijah and Peter from encountering God. The strong wind, the earthquake and the sinking in water in today’s readings could imply the problems, challenges and obstacles that we face in daily life. Amidst all of these, it is very difficult to feel God and possibly we could end up asking like Jesus who hung on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The point is that God does not forsake His people but it is we who seems to not feel His presence when filled with fear, anxiety and worry.
Both, Elijah and Peter cry out to God, ‘Lord save me!’ but when fear and anxiety dominate, they failed to feel the assuring presence of God. The next time when we are anxious about something and want to feel His comforting presence, we need to take a step back, surrender that fear and anxiety to the Lord and then we will surely feel the proximity of God’s presence since He is never far away from us. All that is needed is faith and confidence and God will surely carry us through the troubles of life… Do not be afraid, take hold of His hand and He will carry us through the storms of life.
– 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time