Acts 25: Cooperating With God
There is an old joke about a religious man trapped in his house during a flood who prayed for God to deliver him. A neighbor came to his door offering to drive him away in his truck. “No thank you,” the man said, “I trust God will save me.” Sometime later the water had reached the second floor of the house. A police boat came to the man’s window to rescue him. “No thanks,” he said. “I believe God will save me.” Eventually, the man was standing on his roof when a Coast Guard helicopter appeared overhead. The man denied their help too and finally drowned in the flood.
In heaven, the man confronted the Lord. “Why didn’t you save me?” he asked.
“I tried three times,” God replied. “I sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter. What more did you expect?”
The silly story illustrates an error we make too often: we separate God’s actions from our own. We assume God’s intervention requires our passivity, or taking action ourselves is somehow to lack faith in God’s providence. In Acts 25, Paul doesn’t make these artificial distinctions.
Earlier in Acts, Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision assuring him that he would proclaim his gospel in Rome. It was a word of encouragement given to Paul while in dire circumstances, but after receiving this promise from the Lord nothing seemed to happen. Two years passed as Paul languished away in jail in Caesarea—nowhere near Rome. Finally, when a new Roman governor was appointed, Paul’s case came up for review. While standing before his accusers and the governor, Paul saw his opportunity. “I appeal to Caesar,” he said. The governor replied, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”
Was Paul displaying a lack of faith by maneuvering to get himself to Rome in this way? Should he have remained silent and waited until God had somehow gotten him there instead? Of course not. Paul fully believed the Lord’s promise that he would preach in Rome, but that didn’t stop Paul from recognizing—and exploiting—opportunities to get there as the Lord presented them. Rather than passively waiting for God, Paul was actively looking for how God might fulfill his promise and then worked with him toward that goal. Likewise, our call is not to a passive faith that simply waits for God alone to act. Instead, we are called to an active faith that communes deeply with Christ and cooperates with him to accomplish his purposes in the world.
St. Apollonius (d. 185)
O Lord Jesus Christ, give us a measure of your spirit that we may be enabled to obey your teaching to pacify anger, to take part in pity, to moderate desire, to increase love, to put away sorrow, to cast away vainglory, not to be vindictive, not to fear death, ever entrusting our spirit to immortal God, who with you and the Holy Ghost live and reign world without end.