By Charlie Johnston
One of the Priests who comments here regularly, Victura, asked about the danger of failing to do the things we should because we expect it to be taken care of by the Rescue. The concern is a serious one about how to avoid presumption. It is related to another key question: when does ‘preparation’ become a matter of trying to outwit God by depending on your own prowess, thus a matter of hubris?
I am going to tackle the matter of hubris first, the sort of things survivalists and preppers engage in. As things visibly disintegrate, I run into more and more people who are frantically “prepping.” I have been saddened to learn that even a few people who did not believe me last year now do because of the striking things that have happened and have responded by going off the deep end on prepping. I would rather people did not believe a word I say then to believe the half about the troubles upon us while ignoring the half about our only proper response to it.
I have said many times before and I firmly reiterate it today: the reason we have reached this point is because we think we are sufficient to ourselves. God allows the Storm to proceed to shake us from that deadly notion. If, seeing the visible rise of the Storm, you start restlessly trying to prove you really are sufficient to yourself by relentlessly prepping and planning for all contingencies you can imagine, you are not preparing. Rather, your are notifying God that you are particularly stubborn in your conviction that you are sufficient to yourself and that He will need to give you special attention to show you that you are not.
I indulge people who want to take prudent steps. The reality, though, is the only preparations you can really make are the sort of preparations a four-year-old would make for a camping trip his parents are taking him on: a few comforting things, maybe a little stash of candy and a stuffed bear. But whatever he takes will NOT be sufficient for the trip without the protection, guidance, and beneficence of his Mom and Dad.
I have congratulated many I have met who have put aside some stores and supplies to help others in times of trial. Most are absolutely sincere, but I have detected occasionally that the “helping others” is actually a justification for self-absorbed prepping. Occasionally I give a gentle nudge, usually I leave it alone. God is not someone you can play sly with. He knows all our hearts, I don’t. If you truly can have as if having not and have not as if having; you can do just about anything. But it is dangerous to get absorbed in it, for soon you are tempted to rely on your own prowess. God will correct these errors. But I sometimes get depressed when I see how many people think they are protecting themselves when they are actually marking themselves targets for remedial work on what trust actually is. Mark Mallett had an elegant column a few days ago about what is called for now.
A more subtle form of this hubris can be found in some who, by all appearances, are strikingly faithful. They do all the right things, they care for those around them, they live their devotions well and truly. On the surface, they are identical in every way with those who are truly and fully faithful. But on the inside, a little spiritual tumor of pride grows. They think they know what the right path is (and they are not far wrong, which is why it is such a useful tool for the devil against the pious) but they also think that they have made a sort of deal with God: by living so well, they don’t believe anything fundamentally bad can happen to them. They actually are not wrong about that at all, but they are wrong in assuming they know what is best and that their obedience obliges God to do things their way in their lives. When something happens that is fundamentally bad (or, actually, different than how they think it should be), they think it is either an attack or that God has abandoned them. It rarely occurs to them, once this line of thinking metastasizes, that God may be making a course correction in their lives to protect them. We are a stubborn race, hard to convince that we often do not know best even when we say we trust in God. The grave danger is that some of these, though they have never shown symptoms of apostasy so long as things went basically as they thought they should, can suddenly and catastrophically lose their faith. Not because God has not kept His word, but because He did not act as they thought their behavior would force Him to (even though that is not how they consciously think of it).
At the other end of the spectrum are those who expect God to do everything for them. It can give rise to a presumption that makes of God a personal valet rather than our Father and Lord. The best people struggle with how to do our part well, to act in trust without veering into either hubris or presumption. It is why I named this site, “The Next Right Step.” It is in recognition of how little, objectively, we can do – and how vital it is that we faithfully do the little we can that is right in front of us.
The first thing to get out of your mind is any comparison between what you do and what others do. Some are called to things that are more publicly influential while others have only the day-to-day that they can reasonably do. All should do what they can, realizing that how important things appear to be here and how important they actually are spiritually are usually two very different things. On the first Christmas Day two millennia ago, the most important thing that happened was hidden to all except His parents, some shepherds and a few magi. I can guarantee that on that day kings issued proclamations, warriors fought battles, and schemers schemed schemes, all thinking that what they were doing was earth-shaking; completely ignorant of the truly earth-shaking event happening in their midst. Had they known of it, they would have laughed with scorn that anyone could think this impoverished child born in a cave was important to anyone, much less to all ages.
A fellow like David Daleiden is doing big public work on behalf of the resurrection of a culture of life and exposing the culture of death for what it is. That is to what he is called – and can do right now…so it is what he should do. I have a dear family in Colorado I treat as a sort of surrogate family. The Mom sometimes comments here as ‘Lil Wild Rose.’ They have seven children. I walked with them in the great Jericho Procession around Planned Parenthood in Denver. They are called to make their house a joyful one, to take care of those kids…and they do a great job of it. When I got back from my Southeastern swing, I decided to try cutting my own hair to see how it would come out (barbers never cut it short enough at the beginning of summer). Well, it looked like I was undergoing a chemotherapy regimen. So Lil Wild Rose stopped over one night with her husband before they went out for a rare date night, brought some clippers, and cleaned up my mess. Now I just look like an old Marine. But I thought of the enormous grace of that…on the rare occasion when they had a date night, they both thought of coming out and taking a few minutes to clean up their buddy, Charlie’s, mess.
I want to emphasize to you that nothing is lost in God’s economy. I thought when I first publicly revealed my visitations, at least I would no longer be burdened with politicians seeking counsel. Once again, God’s sense of humor kicked in – and I have as much of it to deal with as I ever did. Some of the officials who call me ask, poignantly, if they are just spinning their wheels on what will be a moot point, given what I have to say. I almost always tell them the same thing – that nothing is lost in God’s economy and the genuine good they try to do will bear fruit, even if it is not anything like the fruit they were expecting. So keep on doing what you can until you can’t any more, then trust God to guide you to the…next right step. So to plumbers I say, keep plumbing; to sculptors, keep sculpting; to builders, keep building; to honorable officials, keep rowing against the tide. Nothing is lost in God’s economy.
I also encourage people not to resent that other honorable people make different choices in these terrible times. I have friends in politics who are working to help Donald Trump. I have friends who would never support him. One of the noblest men I know was an early supporter of his. I love them all. Do your best to be true and take responsibility for the choices you make, then trust God to guide you…to keep you on the right path if you are there or to put you on the right path if you are not. Know that whatever you think, at least some of it will be proven wrong. That goes for me, too. It is why I work much harder to be true than I worry about being right. (For any wondering what I mean by that, it is the subject of an entire column coming up – but being true includes working hard to get it right without the vanity of getting vested in proving whatever you say to be right).
In the Gospel of Matthew we are told of the man with the withered hand who asked Jesus for healing. “Stretch out your hand,” Jesus instructed the man (Matthew 12:13). I often think of that verse. Jesus could have healed him with a mere thought. The way the man was described, there is a good chance it was painful for him to stretch out his hand. Jesus intends for us to reach out to Him, even in the most wretched circumstances…even when literally all we can do is stretch out our hand.
I love the story of the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21). Jesus commanded His apostles to feed the crowd. All they could come up with was a pathetic five loaves and two little fish. So they gave them to Jesus – and the entire crowd ate its fill. This, I think, encapsulates the whole thing. All any of us is ever likely to have to offer is a piece of bread and maybe a fish. It is not enough, not nearly enough. But when we give it to Jesus, all are fed. We must not neglect coming up with what little we have to offer because of our knowledge of Jesus’ great power and charity. He intends us to give Him what little we have. If we neglect it and offer nothing, what does He have to multiply with such extravagant abundance? Do not worry about how little you have to offer – nor neglect to offer what little you have. This is how the Lord has set things up.
So if the Lord puts something grand in earthly terms right in front of you, do it. If He sets only little things in front of you, do them faithfully. When you are weary, rest. And know that, no matter how things look, you do not know whose offering is the grandest from the perspective of eternity.