Category Archives: God

God’s Will? Really?

In a recent scriptural reading from First Peter, I was struck by this: “It is better to suffer for doing good, if this should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:17) I wondered, as I often have: is it God’s will that some must suffer from the evil deeds of others?

I have always taken comfort from the inherent realism of Catholic doctrine. Evil exists because we have free will (or free choice), and we sometimes choose to do evil. It is really as simple as that. We cannot blame God for the evil that men choose to do, no matter how they hurt us in the process. This is the fundamentally difficult truth underlying the Holocaust.   Even though God could choose to intervene to prevent evil acts or their consequences, he does not do so because that would rob our freedom of all meaning. If we were free only to do good, then we would not be free, or human. Evil would not exist, and so neither would good.  I know that Christian theology declares that evil is only a negative, the absence of good; but without the possibility of evil, good also has no meaning in strictly human terms.  So for us, evil does indeed exist.

But does God will evil? Does he want person A to do evil deeds that hurt person B? I realize this is a central problem in the Bible. When Jesus prays in the Garden, he sets up an inherent dichotomy: “If it is possible, may this cup of suffering be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” This dual prayer reflects his dual nature, but its ambiguity it raises the same question: Lord, do you really want me to suffer?

This could also be called the Judas problem. Does God really want Judas to betray His son?

In the Lord’s prayer, we ask (in a somewhat confusing subjunctive phrase) that “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are asking that God help us to conform our will to his, so that we may want (and do) what he wants us to do. But what if He wants me to hurt another?

This also drags me unwillingly into a confusion I have over the expression “God’s permissive will.” It was offered as a quick walk-back explanation for Pope Francis’ incomprehensible announcement that the existence of many religions in addition to the true Catholic Church must be God’s will. Early in 2019, in a joint statement with an Islamic leader, he stated “Plurality and diversity of religions…are an expression of the wise and divine will by which he created human beings.” Heresy must be God’s will, I ask? Religions espousing hate and encouraging murder are God’s will?

Relax, we are told, it only means God’s permissive will: not what He wants, but what He allows. Which presumably includes the Holocaust, communism, Rwandan genocide, and every other waking nightmare in human history? Thanks for the explanation, but…

It doesn’t help.  I’m still confused.

Can someone help me out with this?

God is not Serendipitous

I have re-discovered yet another glaringly-obvious truism: There is no serendipity with God. If you do not seek him, you will not find him.

Serendipity is defined as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for”.

And it seems to me that we cannot find God, nor even seek him, without a sense of sin. (More specifically, a sense of our own sinfulness. Everyone believes in the sinfulness of others, or at least certain others.)

If we cannot or choose not to see ourselves as sinners, then we will not find God because we will not see any reason to look for him.

This truth, I believe, is the real reason for the collapse of Christianity in the modern western world. Our sense of sinfulness has been washed away by our sense of victimhood and our belief in therapy as a substitute for morality.*

The victimhood cult became a thing when we re-codified the concept of justice. The Greek philosophical and Judeo-Christian sense of justice was doing justly to others.

The modern cults of identity politics and self esteem have redefined justice (actually reoriented it 180 degrees) from “treating others fairly” into “treating me fairly: ensuring that I and my group get what we deserve.” This melds the comfortable enjoyment of moral indignation and freedom from personal responsibility for, well, anything. Continue reading

The Little Girl Hope

Christians have hope because they have faith – the very substance of things hoped for. Christians have hope even in the darkest prison cell (as demonstrated repeatedly from St. Paul to Solzhenitsyn.)

The rest of us? Some substitute optimism for hope, based on a faith in humanity and its inherent goodness.  Others simply avoid thinking about it, relying by osmosis from the ambient cloud of hope generated by a Christian civilization. But can that last? Can we forever be parasites of Christians’ hope?

In Mystery of the Portal of Hope, French poet Charles Peguy describes hope in familial terms.  Two older sisters (Faith and Charity) lead their little sister Hope by the hand.  But in fact, Peguy explains, the little girl Hope is actually leading them, the big sisters.

The little hope moves forward in between her two older sisters and one scarcely notices her.

On the path to salvation, on the earthly path, on the rocky path of salvation, on the interminable road, on the road in between her two older sisters the little hope

Pushes on…

It’s she, the little one, who carries them all.

Because Faith sees only what is.

But she, she sees what will be.

Charity loves only what is.

But she, she loves what will be.

 

But I know this family; they are my neighbors and friends, and Peguy has miscast them. In reality, Faith is the father. Charity, love, is the mother.  But he got the most important part right: Hope is indeed the little child, the daughter whose faith and love are so strong that she cannot help but trust.  And it is she who leads the family along through this valley of the shadow.

Another Beauty

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.”  Psalm 19

This is NGC136, a galaxy so “ordinary” that it doesn’t even have a name.

[Reminder: When considering the heavens and their magnitude (100 billion galaxies of 100 billion stars each), remember that all of it was, in the beginning, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Well, not your hand, but God’s.]

Hope Without Faith?

There can be no greater blessing than faith in a loving God.  This much I have learned.  But this blessing is not easily achieved; at least it has not been for me.

“Now abideth these three, Faith, Hope, and Love,” writes St. Paul.  Hope seems to me the future tense of faith and love.  Hope  for the future, without faith in something that can save us from ourselves, seems impossible; without faith we live hopeless lives. But how do we do that?

Surprisingly well, for the most part. The  hopeless life can apparently be lived in a condition of general self-satisfaction.  The Swerve, a recent book about Lucretius and his Epicurian writings, sings the praises of just such a life.  It has become the default setting of modern life: “happiness” as a goal in itself, looking away from ugly things, ignoring the things others must do for me so that I may achieve my happiness.

The other alternative to hopelessness is faith in something – anything – that we can persuade ourselves is greater than ourselves.  If one cannot believe in a loving God, one has other choices.  One can believe in saving the world through political action; countless lives have been sacrificed to the belief that a political party holds the key to the salvation of the world.  Hegel first gave scientific pretensions to the faith in historical progress, freeing envy and the will to power to masquerade as world salvation, thereby making a better world by putting me and people just like me in total authority.

Faith in a warrior god, such as some strains of Islam, is an ancient alternative that is reasserting itself.  But faith in a god of bloody conquest tends to be a close kin of the Marxism that gives supernatural authority to our natural desire to destroy our enemies and elevate ourselves.

Or, at a less intense level, one may believe that People Are Basically Good (the PABGoo assumption) and that therefore things will somehow work out.  This variety of the unexamined life, which goes by the name of optimism, is generally coupled with The Swerve’s Epicurianism in the modern default mode.  The only sacrifice most PABGoos are called upon to make for their faith is their contact with reality; most seem only too glad to make it.

I have gone through these alternatives throughout my long life.  They no longer work on me.  I am no longer willing to deny reality, and I am no longer comfortable dressing my will to power in Marxist or Hegelian costume.

And so I have come to the Church, the reality of God’s existence and purpose on earth.  Nothing will be saved without God. God is in fact the only hope which remains when false faiths have fallen away.

 

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees

[Warning:  no birds or trees appear in this essay. This is poetic license. The poet in question is songwriter Herbert Newman.]

A friend gave us a beautiful bouquet of flowers on Christmas day; white and purple daisies and lilies, in a purple vase.  Because the weather has been so pleasant, we put it on our patio table.

Today I saw a bee hovering over the flowers, now a week old but still beautiful and fresh-looking. The bee then landed on one of the lilies and climbed down into its center.  She* then repeated the action with several other flowers, and finally flew away.

A bee visiting a flower is a beautiful thing to see.

But this seemed odd to me.  The flowers are technically dead, having been cut from their plants many days ago.  But they looked alive to the bee (and me) so she stopped by to fill up with nectar and pollen.  It must have been satisfactory, because she repeated it with several flowers.

Continue reading

More Stars in the Palm of God’s Hand

This is the Robin’s Egg Nebula. Actually a dying pair of stars surrounded by stardust.  While not a galaxy, still worth a look.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Here we see one galaxy devouring another.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

This is the Red Rectangular Nebula.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Here are a couple more. The one on the left is twice as big as our Milky Way.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

This handful  is only a few of the estimated 100 BILLION galaxies that exist, each with an average 100 BILLION stars.  But keep it in perspective:  This entire, unimaginably vast universe, this galaxy of galaxies, was in the beginning compact and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. We learn this not from theologians, but from astrophysicists,  scientists.  Though the Psalmist told us long ago, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmaments display his handiwork.”  And Genesis foretold the Big Bang.

“In the beginning…” it was all in God’s hand.

The Sacred Second

We measure things.  It is one of the things humans do. Mostly because we plan to use them.  

Measurements are of two kinds: natural/intuitive and artificial/synthetic.  Natural ones came first.  Feet based on an average foot (mine, I say without bragging, are exactly one foot long – including the shoe. This makes for a useful way to walk off distances.)  Cubits based on an average forearm of about a foot and a half.  An inch is about the length of a thumb knuckle.

The metric system, on the other hand, is artificial/synthetic, based on…something. (I don’t know what.)  Built on our numbering system, it is more easily used in science and math.

The only area where a natural/intuitive system still prevails in its traditional un-metricized form is our measurement of time.  Natural constants still govern here. A year is one revolution in earth’s orbit around the sun: one cycle of seasons.  A day is one rotation on the earth’s axis: one cycle of light and darkness.  In between a year and a day we have more artificial measures: months and weeks.  And below the day, we have sub-divisions of hour, minute, and second.

Our awareness of the passage of time is a difficulty for us. In late afternoon we ask “where has the day gone?”  Our clocks tell us, but we are still surprised. 

Years are even more so.  On our birthdays and New Year’s Day, we celebrate or mourn the elusive passing of another year; we ponder, for a day, the mysterious year ahead, before moving on into uncharted daily existence.

Even at the much smaller scale, it is hard to track time without mechanical assistance.  Try to concentrate on a single subject or thought for a full minute, without looking at a clock. For me, distractions invariably arise, especially the distraction of wondering how much of the minute has elapsed.  To some extent, this is the problem of reverse concentration: try not to think of an elephant. 

But the crux of the problem is the difficulty of measuring time with our mind alone.  The only way I can make myself aware of the passage of a minute is to count to 60. In other words, to count seconds.

Why are seconds so much easier for us to embrace than any larger measure of time?  Check your pulse. If you are healthy and resting, your heartbeat should be right around 60 beats per minute: a natural standard.

Tiny, fragile, elusive, the second is nonetheless the most tangible form in which we can consciously confront time. It cannot be an accident that it is also the measure of our life blood nourishing our very existence.  The last second-long heartbeat is the end of our earthly life. And long before our birth, the second-long beats of our hearts mark what we are and will become.

The passage of time is thus the passage of life.  Prisoners are said to count the days of their sentences by chalk marks on the cell wall.  If they didn’t do so, they might lose track of the passage of time and their sentences would become infinite.  

Every second is a gift from God.  This can be said of day, week, month and year, of course.  But they slip past us.   Such gifts deserve thanks.  It is appropriate to try to insert a prayer of thanksgiving into every second.  But is it possible?

I am trying.  I find that simply thinking “Thank you, Lord” can be done in about a second.  I can’t do it every second, of course.  But I can do it often.

And I can try to live my life in such a way that I feel grateful for every second.  Some days this is easier than others.  But I can try.

I can try.