The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and they served Baalim. And they left the Lord the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt: and they followed strange gods, and the gods of the people that dwelt round about them, and they adored them: and they provoked the Lord to anger. Forsaking him, and serving Baal and Astaroth. And the Lord being angry against Israel, delivered them into the hands of plunderers: who took them and sold them to their enemies, that dwelt round about: neither could they stand against their enemies: But whithersoever they meant to go, the hand of the Lord was upon them, as he had said, and as he had sworn to them: and they were greatly distressed. And the Lord raised up judges, to deliver them from the hands of those that oppressed them: but they would not hearken to them, committing fornication with strange gods, and adoring them. They quickly forsook the way, in which their fathers had walked: and hearing the commandments of the Lord, they did all things contrary. And when the Lord raised them up judges, in their days he was moved to mercy, and heard the groanings of the afflicted, and delivered them from the slaughter of the oppressors. But after the judge was dead, they returned, and did much worse things than their fathers had done, following strange gods, serving them and adoring them. They left not their own inventions, and the stubborn way, by which they were accustomed to walk.
What was the seductive power of the Baalim? How were they able to erase so quickly in the memory of Israel the remembrance of God and His wondrous works? Why did the Israelites not learn from the misfortunes that befell them when the Lord allowed the consequences of their unfaithfulness to fall upon them? How could they so easily forget the help they had received from the judges, who had saved them from the hands of the plunderers? How could they so quickly relapse into their evil conduct and their obstinacy?
These are questions that we should seriously ask ourselves, for we know that the Holy Scriptures have been given to us also for our instruction, and that we who try to follow the Lord, God forbid that we should fall as the Israelites fell! Indeed, elsewhere Scripture warns us: “Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12).
Certainly we can be sure that God is faithful and will always look for a way out to rescue us from even the most difficult situations. However, we cannot rely as surely on our own faithfulness, living in false self-confidence. Vigilance is key to the way of following Christ!
So, going back to the initial questions, how can someone abandon the faith or partially lose it, despite having known the Lord and having seen His works? Let us try to answer this question based on the situation presented to us in today’s reading.
False gods seem to promise a happiness that one supposedly lacks in “normal faith”. They allow what faith forbids or limits. They claim to give freedom, when in reality they lead to slavery. Take for example the false promises offered by drugs, providing strong – but only temporary – experiences at the level of the senses and offering supposed relief, while leaving man in deep dependence.
Or let us look at what happens with disordered sexuality, which promises enjoyment and pleasure, but renders man incapable of true love and can even lead to addiction to pornography.
What a deception it is to follow the Baals of “personal independence” and false freedom, believing that you can do whatever you want! The consequence is isolation in an inner prison, where one is given over to the dictates of the senses, which, when not commanded and restrained, constantly demand their so-called rights.
Once a person has opened up to the seduction emanating from these Baals, the remembrance of God will diminish and His image will more and more dissipate. The time that was once devoted to God is now taken up by worldly things. Once sin sets in, the life of grace diminishes and may even be extinguished altogether.
There is no doubt that the Lord will continue to seek us and knock at the door of our heart; but we have closed this door to Him. If mortal sin succeeds in our life, leading us to serve those demonic forces that incite such sins, then our soul becomes increasingly darkened and trapped in that which separates us from the Lord. Unfortunately this process can happen in a short time, for the attractive force of sin and pleasure anaesthetises us, so that we stagger through life instead of serving the Lord with our members, offering them to righteousness for holiness (cf. Rom 6:19).
If the Lord, in His wisdom, allows us to feel the consequences of our wrongdoing; if we fall into the hands of plunderers and have to go through material or spiritual needs, then it may happen that we close ourselves off even more and even blame God for our evils (cf. Rev 16:11).
Today’s text shows us that, in the meantime, God did not fail to help the people of Israel in their needs, yet they continued to indulge the inclinations of their evil heart. In that sense, the reading is a warning to us to build our spiritual life on a solid foundation. It is necessary to meditate frequently on the Word of God, to receive the sacraments, to lead a regular life of prayer, to fight against our own faults, to remain faithful to the right doctrine of the Church and to do good works.
This counts at all times, but it becomes especially necessary in times of tribulation. From this we will gain the strength of the Lord to reject temptations and we will learn to deal with the world in the right way. In addition, an intimate relationship with the Virgin Mary will give us strength, which is why we should not neglect the recitation of the Holy Rosary.
Let us take care in all these aspects, especially in cultivating an intimate and trusting relationship with the Lord, which always needs to be deepened further. If we do this, we can hope to find a way out of all temptations. And, where we have failed, we can soon return to reconciliation.