Humility and the Mysterious Work of God

Photography by John Neff | Shutterstock
Photography by John Neff | Shutterstock

“Do we have the faith that the Father knows best?


The story of Tobit, Tobias, and Sarah is one of the best accounts of answered prayers in Sacred Scripture. We have heard it all this week in the daily Mass readings. Since there are several beautiful passages and details omitted for the sake of time, even if you heard the highlights this week at Mass, I would still encourage picking up the book of Tobit and reading it straight through.

The prayers of both Tobit and Sarah are heard by God and answered through his messenger Raphael (3:16). What is striking in the story is that the prayers are answered in ways neither asked for or would have imagined. Both asked for death. God had a different answer. The book of Tobit reminds us of the omniscience and goodness of God, compared to our own blindness.

We must have the faith to pray, but that faith must be coupled with a humility to accept that we do not know the best answer to those prayers. God will surprise us. God will answer our prayers in ways we would not have chosen. He will give us things we did not ask for, and he will work in ways we do not understand.

He will work in the lives of others in ways we cannot understand, too. We think we know our own story and what would be best for us; we do not. We think we know the stories of others; we do not. Many times, I do not know what the Lord is doing in my life, much less yours.

It takes humility to admit that we do not understand the ways of God. I go through much of my life acting as if I know what is best for me – and for others. So I make rash judgments, like Sarah’s maids insulting her about her husbands (Tobit 3:7). Like Raguel, I dig people’s graves before they are even dead (Tobit 8:9-10). Like Anna, I impatiently give into despair that God is even listening (Tobit 10:7). Perhaps I would not claim to know more than God, but I certainly act like it with hasty judgments, gossip, and condemnations.

We cannot understand the ways of God. And yet we go throughout our lives acting as if we know best. We judge others and grow stubborn in our view of the world. We pontificate and assert opinions as fact. I know the best answers to my prayers – and perhaps yours, too!

Yet compared to the omniscience of God, we sit in blindness. Last week, we had Catholics declaring they knew better than the Church when it came to Boris Johnson’s marriage. I heard a Catholic “influencer” proclaiming when someone can practice NFP and when they can’t (despite the fact the Church Herself doesn’t make those generalizations). I have heard people assert a wide variety of things, as varied as: Catholics can never seek a divorce, vigil Masses are invalid, or communion in the hand is an abuse. 

All of these things are examples of ways we think we know better than God or the Church. We judge people’s situations not knowing their hearts. We take the judgments proper to God and the Church upon ourselves. 

You don’t know why someone seeks a divorce, why a couple is childless, why a priest seeks laicization, or why someone makes a certain decision. You do not know their story. Nor do you know what is best in terms of eternal salvation.

God does. 

I am limited in my understanding of the world. God is not. Thankfully, God has things under control, and I simply have to allow Him to work.  God did not make me the judge of Boris Johnson or any other public figure. He did not ask me to decide how he should answer the prayers of a neighbor, family member, or a stranger.

The book of Tobit reminds us that God can answer prayers in incredible ways. But don’t forget that those answers were not the ones asked for by either Sarah or Tobit!

We must have humility in the face of the mysterious workings of God.

Perhaps God is willing to pay the 5pm workers the same amount as you (Matthew 20:1-16). Maybe he has prodigal mercy on a son that you feel doesn’t deserve it (Luke 15:11-32). Maybe he wants to cure you of a great infirmity rather than simply give you silver or gold (Acts 3:6). Perhaps he wants to ignore your prayer for death and give you sight instead (Tobit 3:6)

Do I have the humility to accept the answers of God, even when they are not what I expected? Do I have the faith that the Father knows best?


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By Joannie Watson

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College, and the Diocese of Nashville. She is currently a full-time Catholic speaker and writer. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her nine nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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