Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Death and the Justice of God

A friend and coworker recently lost his 19 year old daughter.  She was a very happy, energetic young woman with her whole life in front of her.  She had only three months before graduated from college, played for  a championship softball team at her college, was engaged to be married, procured a job right out of college with the potential for advancement, was about to buy a house where she and her future husband would live, etc.  Despite such a great future ahead of her, she was taken from this life.

At the visitation, the sheer number of people there was overwhelming.  This young woman had clearly made an impact on those around her.  There were friends from her high school and college, friends of friends, coworkers and friends of her parents and siblings.  It was inspiring though under tragic circumstances.  While waiting to see the deceased''s father, I overheard some people talking about how this young woman's death was tragic and unfair and how could God do this.  As a parent myself, I probably would ask those same questions should I find myself (God forbid!) in the same situation.

In the movie, Rudy, a disheartened Rudy Ruttiger, upon learning yet again that he was denied entrance to the University of Notre Dame, tries to get some comfort and counsel from the priest.  The priest says that in his life he is only certain of two things:  there is a God and he is not Him.  I know from the Scriptures that the Lord says "My thoughts are not your thoughts; My ways are not your ways." (Isaiah 55:8).  I don't know that would be much of a comfort to me if I were to find myself in this situation, but if I were to understand the reasons why certain things, especially bad things like the death of your own child happen, I know that then I would be God.  But I'm not.

When studying the mythology of the Ancient Greeks and Romans and examining just how petty and emotionally insecure the gods and goddesses appear to be, I ask my students if it is possible for the gods or God to be moral in our sight.  They most often respond with a unanimous "no."  When I ask why, they reply something along the lines about how we humans operate or try to operate on a system of fair play.  And we do.  Then I ask the question, do you want life to be fair?  At this point, the class is pretty silent not knowing how to answer, though after a few seconds of awkward silence a few chirp up and say, "Absolutely!"  I then challenge them to consider about how many things they have gotten away with in their life:   How many times they screwed up and no one noticed, how many times they broke a rule and didn't get caught, how many times they got away unscathed without any punishment.  If life were truly fair, you would get what you deserve for everything you do.  And I know what I would be punished far more than rewarded.  When I bring this up, most students then grudgingly approve of the system we currently have in place.  There is a God and I'm not Him.

God will never get a fair shake from us mortal men.  He will never play fair.  If God were fair, this sweet young woman would not have died.  Truth be told, God shouldn't give us a fair shake either. And he doesn't; he goes way, way, way beyond that.  While we deal and try to rationalize the world in terms of fair play, God does differently.  His ways are not our ways.   If the justice of God were paramount, then there would have been no incarnation, no Crucifixion, no death and surely no Resurrection. But those things did happen, not because it satisfied some notion of justice, but because it was done for God's love of His creation.

God will never be just in our sight.  God's ways our different than ours.  Nevertheless, as  humans we continue to want God to be human rather than us to be more like God.  A Christian life is not a guarantee to be free from suffering in this life.  That's one of the reasons that the "Prosperity Gospel" is a false gospel.  There will be suffering.  But that does not mean we should be morose.  If anything we should be joyful because God's justice, at least for the time being, has not come.  It will eventually, at the Last Judgment, but for the here and now, the Compassion and Mercy of God reign supreme.

Is this fair?  No and I would really be afraid if everything I see and do every day of my life is the result of fairness.

Monday, August 10, 2015

It's a political issue

For those of us who are Christians in the orthodox sense, we know full well that the culture around us is fast becoming post-Christian and even anti-Christian.  To be honest, I don't know what the end result will be.  The late Cardinal George had a famous remark (which I paraphrase) that he would die in his sleep, his predecessor will die in jail and his predecessor will be martyred.  I don't know if such things will come about or even that quickly, but we Christians must recognize that the culture around us is becoming more and more hostile to those of us who hold on to a traditional morality, often, but not exclusively, girded in the Church.  So, what are we to do? Ignore it and just keep on going as if nothing is happening?  A Benedict Option? 

I say absolutely not.  At the same time, I am hesitant and unconvinced that Christians should use the mechanism of the state to enforce our mores, just as our cultural opponents are doing right now.  I believe in liberty first and foremost and believe that freedom exists for the purpose of choosing the good, not having the good rammed down your throat or used as a means of coercion like what you have with "morality" police in Saudi Arabia or Iran or even the "vice" squads of numerous police departments here in the USA. 

Liberty does not mean surrender.  The Church should and does (even though it can do more) to speak out about the evils we see around us.  And I'm not  just talking about things like abortion, gay marriage or anything like that, but about promiscuity, gambling, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, broken families, etc.  The problem is that the Church, again from within and without, is told to stay out of those issues, because they are "political" issues.  And since they have been politicized, the Church must watch from the sidelines and wait for the government OK before they speak.

I remember once my priest (the only time I remember him talking about a "social" issue) talked about abortion in his homily and one person got up and left (and let everyone know he was getting up and leaving, too) because the Church shouldn't be involved in political issues.  Now my priest only restated Church teaching that abortion was a grave sin and that a life was sacred, but at the same time reaffirming that the Church is a place for healing.  He wasn't telling people to go out and support a candidate or vote a certain way on a referendum.  But, for the person who got up and left, I suspect he did so not because he thought that the priest was out of line for bringing up a "political" issue, but because he does not support church teaching.  And these people are the really dangerous ones.

A brother of a friend of mine remarked the same thing once about how the Church should not  talk about these issues.  I then asked why?  He said that the Church was wrong.  I asked him if he would stay during a homily if the priest were to talk about the damaging effects of gambling or drinking. He said that would be fine.  But even gambling and drinking have been politicized, I replied.  Gambling is heavily regulated by the states as is drinking.  So, what's the difference?  I surmised he was completely honest when he said that because the Church was right about drinking and gambling but wrong about abortion.  In his mind, abortion was approved of by the government so the Church should, too.  I replied that gambling is also sanctioned by the government, so why doesn't the Church get on board and say it's no longer dangerous or immoral?  He didn't have an answer.  I suspect for issues like gay marriage and abortion, in particular, the ones who say the Church should refrain from preaching on "political" issues are the same who demand the Church's teachings should change.  However, they will never admit that up front.

There are some who say that a persecution of the Church would actually be a good thing because it will strengthen its core members and weed out those who were only lukewarm.  Maybe.  The Church is not going to win popularity contests with its stance on the "issues" of the day, but it's not supposed to.  Churches becoming "relevant" or bending with the times are the same ones that are dying.  Right now, I would settle for the Church actually doing what it was founded to do--bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone, without conditions, emendations or changes.