The males in my household are really into the Slo-Mo guys. These two guys have a YouTube channel in which they come up with new ideas of things to video in slow motion: spinning cds, bursting water balloons, etc. My personal favorite is their fire tornado, where they put a bunch of fans in a circle around an open flame. The air from the fans stokes the flame and spins it around in a huge, long column. The fire looks wild and out of control, until you see it up close and in slow motion.
There’s a beauty and an order to it that you couldn’t see in real time. Only when you slow down and see it close up does it seem methodical, stable, even purposeful.
It reminds me of the pillar of fire in the Old Testament passage where God leads the Israelites out of Egypt: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud. . . and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by and by night.” Exodus 13:21
In the few verses before God leads them out of Egypt as a pillar of cloud and fire, the Bible says that God did not lead them by way of the Philistines, because if they entered into war with their enemy, the Israelites might want to return to Egypt. Instead, God led them the long way around to the Red Sea, where Moses famously parts the waters and the Egyptians drown.
Sometimes, I don’t get God and why he chooses the order and the timing he does. Sometimes he does lead us the long way around, and sometimes we go the shorter way but it’s really hard. Like I imagine trailing a giant pillar of fire would be, following the Lord can seem downright frightening. We can’t see in the darkness ahead of the flame, and we just have to trust that God is leading us the right way.
I thought about this a lot at Christmas time as I was ready to give birth to our 4th child. I was incredibly worked up over when she was going to arrive, wanting to plan it sometime between Christmas and my parents being here and revolving around my agenda. I badly wanted to schedule an induction just so I could be in control of the timing. I realized through this incident how much I lacked trust in God.
As I was meditating on the story of the birth of Jesus, it just seemed crazy to me. Mary was betrothed, but not married, causing heartache and scandal. She had to ride that donkey at 9 months pregnant to Bethlehem for that darn census, only to find no room in the inn. It seemed like chaos, and how could God be in control of that? If I were God, the least I would do is have had a cozy hotel room ready for Mary! And as I continued to reflect, it occurred to me that although it seemed out-of-control, God was in control in the precise timing of Jesus’s birth. Mary had to be betrothed , but not yet married, to preserve her virginity. The census had to be precisely at the time of birth so Jesus would fulfill the prophecy of being born in Bethlehem. All these factors had to intersect at a certain moment in time. Like the slow-mo video of the fire, when I slowed down and came close, I could see that God IS in control, even when it might look like chaos on the outside.
And so for the past 6 months, this lack of trust has been a recurring theme in my life. O ye, of little faith. That’s me. I struggle to follow the pillar of fire because I think I know a better way, and it puts me straight into the trap of my enemy. Satan and all the fallen angels wanted to reject the authority of God to be their own god. The Catechism says:
“Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heartand, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.
In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God“. CCC 277, 278
Sin is a lack of trust in God’s goodness. How often we lack this trust! We want to get pregnant and we reject God’s terms. Or we don’t want to get pregnant and we reject God’s terms. We want to make x-amount of dollars, or attain a certain status, or make our own life schedule of when we will get married or travel the world and that’s that. We don’t ask God what he wants of us, where we should go, what job to do, how many kids to have. We’ve got this under control and we want to be our own god. This is at the root of each and every sin.
There’s good news, though! Jesus gives us the Sacraments to help us when we have failed to trust God as we should. We are given a second chance each day to ask God what He wants of us. We can say like the man in the bible, “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24) When we stop the crazy cycle of fear and mistrust, sit down with God, and get up close, we can see that he does in fact have our best interest in mind. That he is in control in the midst of what looks like chaos, and he has a plan. While it may look wild from a distance, we can trust God to guide us just as in the pillar of fire.
Ask yourself: what is one area in my life that I am afraid to trust God in? Ask the Lord to take control and say, “Jesus, I trust in You.”
For the Catechism on the fall of man and original sin: