Put on your thinking cap for a moment. Quickly, choose any number between one and ten. Double it. Add six. Divide two. Subtract your original number. The remainder is three. If you want, try it with every number between one and ten. The remainder will always be three.
In this puzzling computation, as in life, the important thing is what you start with but the process. The answer to any "problem" of life is usually not difficult; the trick is to follow the "process" of living that will lead to the answer.
Much of this process of living is a matter of "processing" problems—knowing how to cope with trials, hardships, and difficulties. In heaven there are no trials or stress, so there we won't have to cope; we can "rest in peace." But here on earth we meet with adversities, tribulations, and hardships, which we tend to think of as periods of darkness. The darkest parts of these trials we regard as "midnight events” - they are often preceded by some threatening darkness and followed by periods of depressing darkness. Thus, the foreboding fear of losing a job becomes the midnight of being fired, followed by the dark depression of extended unemployment. The fear of cancer precedes the midnight of the shocking lab report, followed by the darkness of suffering or painful treatment. For those who are terminally ill, each day has its own midnight as they anticipate the touch of the cold hand of death; the survivors experience midnights of bereavement, possibly preceded by the dark task of nursing a sick loved one, and followed by dark loneliness in their loss. Most trials climax with a seemingly intense darkness.
God in his mercy keeps most of the fixture veiled from our eyes; yet we can't keep from wondering what inevitable midnights that future holds for us and how we will cope with those darkest moments. We know they will come, Jesus reminds us that “each day has troubles of its own" (Mt 6:34). So with this predetermined, like the final number on our math trick, we can realistically expect quite a number of midnights within any given time frame. But while the inevitable suffering, is known and recognized as unavoidable, what is not always considered is the process—that is, the coping process. The trick is to go through midnights seeing light with your heart while your eyes see only darkness. As one quipster put it, "Real faith is the ability to let your light shine after your fuse is blown." So how exactly can we best cope with life's inevitable midnights?
Perhaps as a symbolic preview of life's hardships, each new year begins precisely at midnight—with nighttime preceding and following it. But there is also a dawn on New Year's Day, counterpointing the darkness with joyous events like the world-famous Tournament Of Roses parade and football games. All of life is thus checkered—not all darkness nor all light; not all bitter nor all sweet, but bittersweet. Any adversity can be hyphenated with joy, and darkness with light. And to see that light at the end of the tunnel is simply to practice the Christian virtue of hope—optimism based on God's loving providence that "works in all things the good of those who love him" (Rom 8:28). Such an attitude leaves no room for the facetious advice of the pessimist who advocated eating dessert first, since life is so uncertain!
Scripture is replete with significant events that occurred literally at midnight—most of them illuminated with a heavenly intervention—to show that no dark event need be without divine light. We know that Jesus Was born at night (see Luke 2:8) - at the very hour of midnight, according to a pious tradition. He who called himself the Light of the world burst incandescently into that sin-darkened world to which heaven-sent angels announced a message of peace. He suggested that when he returns in bright glory, it may be at midnight (see Mark 13:35). He expressed this in a parable featuring a bridegroom's surprise return at midnight (see Matthew 25:6).
It was at the promised midnight hour that God sent the tenth plague on Egypt, slaying the firstborn of every Egyptian family and of their cattle (see Exodus 12:29). This was the momentous event that opened the way for the Exodus, the Israelites' escape from generations of slavery—an historic event that prototyped the climactic event of our redemption.
It was at midnight that God awoke to surprise the unprepared Philistines (see Judges 16:3). It was at midnight that Ruth was discovered and protected by Boaz, who was awakened at that hour (see Ruth 3:8). It was at midnight that the litigant woman's child was kidnapped but later restored to her by Solomon's judicial wisdom (see 1 Kings 3:20). Elihu reminded Job that death can come to anyone at midnight (see Job 34:20); yet death is not an end but a beginning of eternal life. The psalmist chose midnight for his deepest prayer: "At midnight I rise to give thanks to you, O Lord" (Ps 119:62). It was the midnight importuning of the breadless neighbor in Jesus' parable that produced a favorable response (see Luke 11:5). The midnight prison prayer of Paul and Silas produced an earthquake that burst open the prison doors and converted the jailer (see Acts 16:25). Later, in Troas, it was the midnight hour when Paul worked his greatest miracle in raising Eutychus from the dead (see Acts 20:7).
In all these biblical events, the dark midnight hour was counterposed against a glimmering if not dazzling brightness of God's intervention. In Our midnight trials we too can have a profound, faith-spawned insight about God's supportive presence amidst our darkest hardships. As some sage has said "Joy is not the absence of suffering but the presence Of God."
Just as the proverbial dark cloud has a silver lining, so every dark midnight has a background glow -but only for those who see the hand of God bringing good from all of life's hurtful events. "'I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jer 29:11). Without the ability to recognize God's involvement in our life and his concern for us in our trials, there is no divine brilliance to offset the tribulatory gloom. God's hurt is seeing that his loving presence is unrecognized by us.
In the Jerusalem of Jesus' day, this loving presence went unrecognized by most of the city's inhabitants. Jesus wept over the city, foreseeing its destruction forty years later "because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you.” (In fact, Jerusalem has been attacked twenty-four times and destroyed nineteen times and has seldom known the peace the psalmist urges us to pray for.) Through his tears Jesus lamented: "If you had only known what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes" (Lk 19:41-44).
But the Bible also presents some darksome situations that were transformed through to God's help. In the days of the high priest Azariah, for example, "it was safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress" (2 Chr 15:5-6). Then the Spirit inspired Azariah to convince King As to turn himself and his kingdom over to the Lord's care. Asa did so, and with his national religious revival God sent peace to the land for years.
We in today's world are in turmoil far worse than in biblical times. In our drug-dazed, violence-saturated, crime-ridden society, it can also be hard to see God's loving presence. A midnight
darkness blankets mankind like a morbid pall. As a token attempt at dealing with this, January first has been designated as World Peace Day. But that fact is hardly recognized or adverted to by most people. Nor is there any sign of a God-fearing, leader-inspired religious revival to parallel the one that was led by King Asa. Ironically, the very organization set up to secure world peace, the United Nations, has yet to recognize the Prince of Peace.
But whether we consider the darkness of worldwide turmoil or just the turmoil within our own personal or family life, we must harbor hope of God's shedding his blessed light of love on us in our of trial and adversity. Otherwise, an incurable malady may develop: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Prv 13:12). Without the light of hope we miss the revelation of God's love, and "where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint" (Prv 29:18). Isn't this what we see happening across the face of our society today? People are missing God's love-whispers and casting off all restraint—with catastrophic results.
This excerpt is from the book The Art of Loving God by John H. Hampsch, C.M.F., originally published by Servant Publications, 1995. This and other of Fr. Hampsch's books and audio/visual materials can be purchased from Claretian Teaching Ministry, 20610 Manhattan Pl, #120, Torrance, CA 90501-1863. Phone 1-310-782-6408.