Blog # 308 Practical Applications
This is the sixth in the series of blogs I have been writing in response to a desire I have to share what I consider a solution to the 'problem' of evil by denying that it is a problem! I thought it would take three blogs to do that but here we are in the sixth of the series! Terrible evils certainly do exist on all levels of our human experience, the physical, psychological, spiritual, personal, national, and 'creature wide', a term I have coined that we might use in reference to the mere fact all of us, every one of the seven billion of us here on earth today will eventually die and be gone.
What resource do we have available to us in formulating our response to that and to all the other pain suffering and evil that comes upon us in the course of our lifetime here on earth? My response to all that normally is identifid as evil is to deny that anything that exists is absolutely evil and a claim that anything that actually exists can and should be transformed into love. The next question is how to arrive at such a claim. The first step for me was to accept the claim of Genesis 1:31 "God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good." Next I accepted the Biblical revelation of a single Creator of all that exists with no exceptions. "In the beginning,God created the heavens and the earth...( the whole of Genesis, Chapter One). A logical consequence of this is my claim that God owns everything that exists; it all belongs to God. God sees all that exists as worthy of His love, worthy to share in some way His love at least minimally merely by existing.
A clarification of the meaning of EXIST taken as a transitive verb is most important at this point in our discussion. Normally in the dictionary and in English grammar, the verb exist is an intransitive verb, that is a verb that does and cannot take an object, such as to sleep,and to exist. In the unique case, however, of God's action in willing creation to exist, it is used in this unique application as a transitive verb meaning to will something from non-existence into existence. As such it cannot be conceived in any tense but the present, and whenever exist is used as meaning to exist something it has to refer to the present tense. In other words God as Creator in this coined sense of the word is always and everywhere ,currently, by God's wisdom power goodness and presence, 'existing' whatever exists. God existed the death of Jesus. God will exist the death of each and all of us.
To understand completely what I have just written would be to understand completely the identity of God as Creator, and creation as existing from nothing, which is beyond our limited human capacity. 'Nothing' is not a concept we can imagine, and this is what limits our ability to understand God's identity as the single Creator of all that exists from nothing. For us,'nothing' means not this, not that, not rubber, not stone, in an unlimited array of possibilities until we arrive at nothing which is beyond us. We can understand in a limited way what it means for us to have said what we have said above and be convinced God owns everything that exists and it all belongs to God.
We can wonder about pain suffering and death, all of which exist, and ask questions of God as to the meaning and purpose of it all and what our response should be. We cannot logically ask a stone such questions because a stone cannot experience pain suffering or death. Is it not the same with God?
Yes and no. God came to our assistance in the unfathomable mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God born of Mary in history, and called Jesus. In the life death and resurrection of Jesus we have an authentic witness and testimony about the meaning and purpose of all that exists, including pain suffering and death.
The Bible does not tell us much about Jesus ever suffering the ordinary colds sore muscles fatigue and injuries a carpenter might ordinarily be expected to experience in his work other than Jesus being given as like us in all but sin. When it comes to the death of Jesus, however, many significant details are given. First of all it is made clear His death was not something that was out of His control. Several times attempts to kill Him by stoning or casting Him over a cliff ended with Jesus walking away from an angry crowd unharmed. As for us and our death, the death of Jesus would be the climax, the most important experience of His whole life on earth.
Two very familiar brief Scripture texts throw light upon the meanng and purpose both of the crucifixion of Jesus and our death, united with Jesus in the gift of Baptism and Sanctifying Grace, no matter what the circumstances surrounding our death may be. First, when speaking of love Jesus tells us there is no greater love than this than to lay down one's life for a friend. Then toward the conclusion of the Last Supper the night before He died, before leading the Apostles to the garden of Gethsemane and the beginning of His Passion and death Jesus said of the identity of His death: "That the world may know that I love the Father, let us be on our way." Though it will seem to be shame and failure for those who do not know, His death tomorrow will be His greatest love, His eternal glory.
Then in His prayer in the garden Jesus expresses His preference that He would rather die in some other way than by the sinful actions of those who would condemn Him, torture Him, and rejoice at what they thought was the end of Him if that could be the Father's will for Him. He ended His prayer with a summary of His entire life on earth "Thy will be done!" This clarifies for us the important distinction between seeing Calvary as an act of loving obedience and what it was and our deaths should be, in Him, as an act of obedient love, our greatest love, our total love, a love that only God deserves.
There is more to come so hopefully we can have another blog tomorrow. The Lord be with you!
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Blog # 307 More on ‘evil’ and love
In times long past some philosophers and theologians ‘solved’ the ‘problem of evil’ very simply by proclaiming the existence of two gods, one the god of evil and the other the god of goodness and blessing. In contrast, our Catholic theology does not deny or fail to keep ourselves aware of a real challenge in coming up with a meaningful response to the reality of evil in the world around us and within us.
In our firm belief in God as the single creator of all that exists, we logically seek the answers to our questions about good as well as evil in God. In the Latin theology text books we used in theology courses preparing us for our priesthood ordination many years ago, I remember it being given as the ‘bottom line’ in what we could say with confidence in speaking of God: God is “totaliter aliter”. God is “totally other”, incomparable, beyond comparison with any created being. It was a proclamation of our faith in the unique supremacy of God the Creator that required us to realize every thought word or action when used in reference to God would have to be understood as analogous. This would be something like we do in our answer to the question “Who is this?” in reference to the picture of George Washington on a dollar bill.
God is not to be seen as bigger and better, more powerful and loving than we, but, in God’s absolute uniqueness as altogether different, in Himself 'untouchable by the limited equipment we have to work with as created human beings.
That does not mean we cannot truly know God, think of God, and speak of God analogously. It does mean no matter how much we progress in our knowledge of God, there will still remain more truth about God beyond the place to which we have come, or in other words we will encounter the mystery of God.
In that mystery God gave us His Son, the Word of God, incarnate, equal to us in our humanity but one with the Father and the Spirit in His divinity, capable of speaking and acting at times in a perfectly human way, experiencing our human experiences and human limitations, yet when this was the Father’s will speaking and acting as Emmanuel, God Among Us. It is fitting that we seek answers to all of our questions about creation and our Creator in Jesus.
As a result of this, a key element in our discussion of evil, primarily as pain suffering and death, is the identity we give to Jesus. The Eternal Word of God, incarnate, born of Mary, equal to us in all but sin, and given the name Jesus, is a single ‘person’.
God, Father Word and Spirit, cannot suffer, cannot die. IN Jesus, the incarnate Word, God did suffer and God did die. That fact will play a large role in helping us formulate answers to questions we have with regard to pain suffering and death. Why did Jesus die? Was God punishing Jesus in sending Him to the tragedy of
Calvary? clearly testifies that we through faith and Baptism are identified with the death of Jesus on the Cross. (Rom 6 -13). What does that mean for us, ten, twenty- five, eighty-five years after our reception of the Sacrament of Baptism? St. Paul
In the continuation of that same text from Romans, Paul gives an answer to that question: “Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we might live a new life…If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with him…His death was death to sin, once for all; his life is life for God…Offer yourselves to God as men who have come back from the dead to life.” The foundation of our gift of Sanctifying Grace as a share in the life of God through Jesus is given here by Paul in the death of Jesus in our name.
From a reference in Paul’s letter to the Philippians ( 3: 9,10), we get a better idea as to what he means when referring to the sufferings of Christ, normally applied by us to the Crucifixion and identified both by Paul and us as an act of total love for the Father: “I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in his sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope that I may arrive at resurrection from the dead”.
In expressing his desire to share in the sufferings of Christ by being formed into the pattern of his death, Paul was not asking to be crucified but to share in the love of Jesus even to the point of the total love of crucifixion if that were to be for him as it was for Jesus the will of the Father. We in our turn, through faith and Baptism are called and entitled, united with Jesus, to share the same total love of Jesus for the Father so that at the instant of our physical death in history, whether it be sudden or after a long illness, it will be what it is designed by God to be, a share in Jesus’ love leading into His resurrection , with the same faith we shared in His life and love all along.
We realize that at the instant of our physical death in history we may not be conscious and therefore capable of freely choosing at that time to make of our death an act of unconditional trust and total love in obedience to the Father’s will. But as I have pointed out in Blog # 306 we will have already done that theoretically every time we freely reaffirm our Baptismal commitment, every time we make ourselves aware of what we are about to do and then offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and when we really pray rather then merely recite the prayer traditionally given as The Act of Love.
In the Crucifixion and death of Jesus we have an evil infinitely beyond the greatest evil we could imagine, the rejection and killing of God’s beloved Son by the people He was sent to teach and for whom He was their only hope for attaining forgiveness of their sins and eternal peace and joy . That actually happened, one time only in the entire history of creation, two thousand years ago in
Jerusalem on Calvary. In God’s infinite wisdom goodness power and mercy that evil was transformed by Jesus into the greatest love that ever touched the earth.
That is the love we reach for whenever we seek the true meaning of our individual lives and of all creation. In that love is the answer to all of our questions about God and creation. That is the love we share in Baptism, in the Mass, and in the gift of Sanctifying Grace. That is the love we are invited to cherish and were told by Jesus to proclaim to all the world! (Mat 28: 18 - 20)