“Ask a Priest: Does God Really Supply All Our Needs?”

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Q: In the New Testament God promises to provide for all our needs if we have faith. “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Yet, throughout human history there have been many dictators who have worked and starved people to death who had faith in God. How are we to understand this in light of the promise God gives us to supply all our earthly needs? – B.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The Church counsels us that when we read a biblical passage, we must read it within the whole context of Scripture. Otherwise, we risk reading things in an absolutist way.

Elsewhere in Scripture we read that people, even good people, suffer. Think of the prophets who were persecuted, or John the Baptist, who was beheaded.

St. Paul himself was no stranger to hardship and persecution: “Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).

So how do we interpret those other passages?

One way is to see that God is a loving Father who looks after our needs, all things considered. In the normal course of life, he provides the food and clothing we need, though he tends to do it through the assistance of other people. (An aside: We want to be careful not to confuse needs with desires.)

Yet, he doesn’t always immediately intervene in the face of evil, be it the people who abused St. Paul or the dictators of history who oppressed whole peoples.

The phenomenon of evil is one of the most perplexing for us. The Catechism in No. 272 states:

“Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.’ It is in Christ’s Resurrection and exaltation that the Father has shown forth ‘the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe.’”

What evil and suffering God does allow, he allows because he can bring something good out of it.

We might be robbed of something, for instance, which in turn helps us to become less attached to material goods. Or the illness of a loved one might end up uniting family members who rally to support the suffering relative.

For a deep dive into this topic, you might check out Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris on the Christian meaning of suffering.


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