The efficiency of God

Published on 10 Jul 2020
A man praying in church.

The word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do [1]. 

Are we struck by the efficiency of God?  His word is effective.  The divine will is expressed and it is put into practice.  God commands: his creatures obey.  Guiltily we acknowledge that we, part of his creation, have not been consistently cooperative. We have heard the word and not done it.  Their ears are dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, for fear they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and be converted and be healed by me [2].  To what God says, we do not always listen. God efficient?  He would have been, we might think, had we been more responsive.  He is all-powerful but his impact is limited by his constraining involvement with us.  

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God.  The Son is the Logos.  Is the efficiency of God better studied in the life of the Holy Trinity than in the chequered history of our obedience to divine commands?  Divine life in itself is not always easy to distinguish from the involvement of God with what he has created.  The incarnation is efficient, is it not?  The Word comes into the world with a mission of salvation.  The Lord succeeds in what he was sent to do.  The last judgement is awaited, but, in the meantime. it seems that the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus are doing their work effectively.  God’s plan of salvation, both in its simplicity and in its complexity, proceeds as he intends.   We, the beneficiaries have our choices to make.  We choose from an abundance lovingly offered.

The Son does not return to the Father empty.  Christ Jesus…emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave [3].  The paschal mystery fills the body of Christ with glory.  Mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of hosts, he ascended not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before [4].  The saviour returns whence he came filled with divinity.  He also brings into loving closeness to God those he has saved.  We are part, not of his emptiness, but of his glory. We are humbled by his goodness and by the self-knowledge he confers on us.  However our discoveries are of a richness not of a void.  The efficiency of salvation shows itself first in the way that the passion of Christ, the sacrifice of Calvary, off-sets sin, and then in glory of Christ’s body which, lifted up, brings those who are saved home to God.  I shall be filled with the vision of your glory[5].

The Word made flesh came into the world to carry forward a divine work, which had always been intended. It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God [6].  Lovingly, purposefully and efficiently God is bringing his creation to perfection.  From the beginning until now, the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth [7].  The upheavals and troubles, which so perplex us, sometimes, are part of this process.  Nor are we merely onlookers, giving praise and thanksgiving or expressing anger, disappointment or bafflement.  All of us, who possess the first fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly, as we wait for our bodies to be set free [8].  Our personal history, insignificant as we may judge it to be, takes its place in the vast canvas of divine purpose and efficiency.

Do we detect the same efficiency in the workings of divine grace in our hearts? The word has been addressed to us.  That word, we know, never returns to God empty.  Yet we seem at least sometimes to have thwarted him. For the heart of this nation has grown coarse [9].  Our motive was not to convict God of inefficiency.  At our best, we want him to succeed.  Divine power is surely much greater than our capacity, unwitting or witless, to thwart God’s holy will?  Creation still retains the hope of being freed like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God [10].   It turns out that the efficiency of divine salvation and redemption is exhibited not in some grandiose demonstration of the limitless powers of God but simply in our freedom, and, indeed, in the freedom of everything that God has made. And thus you provide for the earth [11]. The Lord helps us but does not force us.  The Word is addressed to us all of the time.  The voice of God is compelling but it coerces us only towards the occasions of our free acceptance of the gift, which we we are constantly being offered.  Abundance flows in your steps [12]. 

The parable of the sower illustrates the efficiency with which God sends his word to us.  The one who receives the word in rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it; the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty [13].  The word always has the power to produce the abundant harvest.  Even the rich soil has varying success.  There is now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.  The various sorts of unsatisfactory ground, with their different kinds of failure, also exemplify the effectiveness of the divine word as it addresses itself to free human beings.  There is an abundant sowing and there will be a rich harvest. The word is not wasted on the edge of the path [14], the patches of rock [15], and the thorns[16].  The lavish sowing is part of the divine plan.  Our vulnerability to the predatory, our attraction to superficiality and our tendency to be suffocated by the worries of this world and the lure of riches [17] and our other weaknesses and rebellions are not planned by God, but they are accommodated within his providence.  Efficiently, God adapts to our sins and mistakes.  He saves. His word is addressed to us and is always fruitful in some way.  It does not return empty [18].  We are pained when what the Lord sends out seems not to bear fruit in us.  We long for the mystery of how he intends to draw us to himself to be fully unveiled.  What we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us [19].  We squirm at having wandered from the path, at being seduced by what lacks depth and at our thorny history of infidelity.  We rejoice that the divine efficiency can make up for these shortcomings of ours and take us immeasurably further on our journey.  God sows lavishly but wastes nothing.  He has created us as rich soil and patiently awaits our acknowledgement that we are what we are.  You crown the year with your goodness.  Abundance flows in your steps, in the pastures of the wilderness grace flows [20].

[1]              Isaiah 55.11

[2]              Isaiah 6.10, quoted by Jesus at Matthew 13.15

[3]              Philippians 2.7

[4]              Roman Missal, Preface I of the Ascension

[5]              Psalm (17) 16.15, introit for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

[6]              Romans 8.20

[7]              Roman 8.22

[8]              Romans 8.23

[9]              Isaiah 6.10, quoted by Jesus at Matthew 13.12

[10]            Romans 8.21

[11]            Psalm (65) 64.11

[12]            Psalm (65) 66.12

[13]            Matthew 13.23

[14]            Matthew 13. 4 & 19

[15]            Matthew 13. 5 & 20

[16]            Matthew 13.7 & 22

[17]            Matthew 13.22

[18]            Isaiah 55.11

[19]            Romans 8.18

[20]            Psalm (65) 66.11-12