Friday, December 31, 2010
Bible believers hold that their Holy Creator is indeed Holy and their creator; musing on these immutable tenets of faith begs the question, can evil originate from God? From tohu a bohu (nothing) God spawned the foundational building blocks of the cosmos into existence. All our eyes behold are the corporeal elements whereas the physical is subject to the invisible laws of the universe. St. Basil the Great once wisely scribed
“You will thus find ... that the creation of the heavens and of the earth were like the foundation and the groundwork, and afterwards that an intelligent reason ... presided in the order of visible things.”
Every element is constructed so as to compound perfectly with other elements and synergistically fashion all material in the universe. Even the indispensable emotional make-up and psychological activity flow from such natural governances. Man's ability to process cognitive thought, their desire to love and be loved, and even the most fundamental impulse for self-preservation all flow from the Laws of Nature implemented by God almighty. We must also be cognizant that the mission of creation was undertaken solely by God. The universe was created void of unsought or impure influences. Creation is the handiwork of Solo Deo (God alone). It would seem the material universe is like a violin, and the laws that govern it are the notes on the stave. God is the virtuoso serenading Himself with self-scribed composition from His own assembled instrument. We, with our fellow creatures, are the unwitting and unresponsive melody sung by the celestial orchestra. If God puppeteers the hearts of men and astronomical flow then every action is the sole result of His pleasure.As John Calvin once said
“creatures are so governed by the secret counsels of God, that nothing happens but that what He has knowingly and willingly decreed.”
This manipulating melody may cause one to imagine that action, decision, birth or death, sin or salvation occurs by the will of God. Is a view of God puppeteering all we see in keeping with logic and biblical soundness?
As pious and scared as these psalms are perceived, they trigger a theological conundrum. If God originates all maneuvers is He the engineer of evil along with good? For although God bestowed on His creation a habitat brimming with love and spectacular wonders it shan't be disregarded that evil prevails in abundance. Few spiritually attentive mortals fathom fallacy in praising God for their capacity to love their fellow man and for the means to furnish blessing on those less fortunate. Whereas blame for their shortcomings are pronounced upon the heads of the perpetrator or at least, the bloody Devil! The noble few who sojourn to know the almighty through mysticism or scared texts are struck by the awesome power of God's holiness. The Bible itself makes bold statements in relation to God's character
“For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy” Lev 11:44.
But if God authors sin and goodness in heavy measure then such Biblical truths require redrafting for Biblical holiness has been abrogated. Even so, a person who lavishes every waking hours in prayer, study of scriptures and altruistic enterprises would find themselves as prone to evil as those who neglect spiritual ventures entirely. For when good and evil are the yearning of the composer of the universe those who seek after His will produce good and evil in the measure they exist. For if God forms either sinful or righteousness impulses and deeds al from the most humbled saint to Satan himself would be a servant of the most High.
As contradictory and appalling as such a theology reveals itself, it is wholeheartedly embraced by myriads. Attempts to conciliate this clash against orthodoxy is purposed by those who conjecture that being surrounded by patterns of evil generates greater glory to God. This response is advocated by John Piper:
The conjecture that God manages the devil makes Satan a devout servant; since Satan cannot disobey God, as God forcibly forbids such choice. Each action is obedient to God. The Devil may not worship God because God won't allow it; in this case God forbids worship in order that He can receive more worship? This is confusing. Piper also states that “God has ordained that Satan have a long leash—with God holding onto it.” Satan is now the devoted lap dog of God, the servant through whom God wreaks evil and all manner of abomination through his depraved minion. What an unthinkable departure from Christian orthodox understanding. It purposes an individual will witness such desolation and tyranny and pledge to dissociate themselves from said evil in favor of worshipping the author of the initial desolation. It would hardly take Socrates to discern how moronic and two-dimensional this speculation is. But can such a deal be justified if God is always content?
The Bible speaks of only God's handiwork and tohu a bohu. If all actions emerge from God and no power manifests from the Tohu a bohu then naught lives to controvert God's will. If everything is at the will of God then He can never be unhappy or disappointed. There are no external influences to contradict God's every whim.
As with all theological propositions the primary foundation for theories must emanate from scripture. Hence if God manipulates the entirety of terrestrial motions, the Bible would leave record only of God's infinite pleasure. Alas for God, this is not the case:
“And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”(Gen 6:6)
“And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” (Mark 3:5a)
“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” (Eph 4:30), “Forty years long was I grieved with this generation,” (Psa 95:10a)
“Wherefore I was grieved with that generation,” (Heb. 3:10).
To be grieved one force must successfully contravene your desires, essentially something happens that you don't want to happen. If God is the be all and end all then no action can occur in conflict with Divine desire and no consequence can vary from that which God has chosen. How do we overcome this apparent contradiction?
A highly plausible theology purposes God devised a force that operates independent of His divine will. This force is capable of pleasing and grieving God yet independent of being manipulated by Him. It cannot be a force that compels holiness because that cannot grieve God and it cannot be a strength that coerces evil because that cannot please God. Rather something that can achieve both ends but tied to neither. God accomplished this incredible freedom through Free Will. God given free will enables us to choose our actions. It is the incredible mental procedure that sanctions us to bring to mind relevant information relating to a decision and to resolve upon said course of action based on the information. Incredible! Through this process one can choose to reject evil and follow God or vice-a-versa.
Hence it is our free will that enables us to follow Christ:
Rev 22:17b “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
John 7:17 “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”
Josh 24:15 “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
Matt 23:37 “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Deut 30:19b “that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life”
I desperately want to conclude this article with an independent inspiration. Conversely, if my studies have proven one thing it is thus; I have had no unique theories, and each I surmise has been recounted finer than I can manage. Hence, I will draw to close with a quote from St. Clement of Rome that beautifully paints the magnitude and ability of the sensational gift of free will.
“But, you say, God ought to have made us at first so that we should not have thought at all of such things. You who say this do not know what is free-will, and how it is possible to be really good; that he who is good by his own choice is really good; but he who is made good by another under necessity is not really good, because he is not what he is by his own choice. Since therefore every one's freedom constitutes the true good, and shows the true evil, God has contrived that friendship or hostility should be in each man by occasions. But no, it is said: everything that we think He makes us to think. Stop! Why do you blaspheme more and more, in saying this? For if we are under His influence in all that we think, you say that He is the cause of fornications, lusts, avarice, and all blasphemy. Cease your evil-speaking, ye who ought to speak well of Him, and to bestow all honour upon Him. And do not say that God does not claim any honour; for if He Himself claims nothing, you ought to look to what is right, and to answer with thankful voice Him who does you good in all things.”
God Love You -- Rev. Sheen
Saturday, December 18, 2010
A few months ago a came across an opinion piece entitled “Did St. Patrick do Ireland such a favour by bringing Christianity here?”. While this article considered minimal innovative consideration it reflected a popular persuasion among Irish people, riding the wave of New Atheism evangelizing the agnostics of the Western world. The premise of the piece catalogues the pains brought on the Irish by the Christian church and concludes the faction spawned by St. Patrick birthed greater suffering than contentment. Is such a conclusion justified?
Modern headlines cannot long avoid a clerical scandal. The scandal triggered from Bishop Casey's sexual and fruitful relationship with an American divorcee, that came to light in the early 90's, was unsettling but at least humorous. Later when the horror stories relating to the Magdalene Laundries began to surface no one was laughing. The thought of young ladies forced to labour for the profit of heartless Nuns caught the attention of the media elite. For a brief period songs, movies, books, articles and T.V. Dramas concerning these disregarded destitutes dominated the media bulletin. As horrific as these institutions were portrayed they were dwarfed by the revulsion brought on by the Ryan Report. The Ryan Report relayed heart wrenching accounts of the most heinous abuse of innocent children. Abuse being so epidemic it has been referred to by some as Ireland's Holocaust. The idea that the Catholic Church, who represent the God of love, mercy and justice could employ an army of clergy who raped and assaulted their necessitous children should rock the faith of the devoutest of congregants. While these abuses focus on Catholicism, Protestantism has faired little better. Ireland's most famous protestant, Ian Paisley, preached his personal theology of bigotry, heresy and hatred for decades to tumultuous applause. This repugnant calvinist brought the religious flavor to the Northern Irish conflict that devastated the province for decades. Or dear Iris Robinson who famously declared “just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual.... If anyone takes issue, they're taking issue with the word of God”. All the while, married Mrs. Robinson was illegally funding her 19 year old lover's business, as long as he gave a cut to the church. Infinitely more influential was cultural icon, Father Ted; as the Catholic Church lost it's moral high-ground the final authority on all matters, sit-coms presented the clergy as drunken, half-witted, immoral, non-chalant agnostics. Hey, it made us laugh, so it must be true! Maybe the Church was a bunch of power hungry, bacchanalian, fascist pedophiles, who fired out “that would be an ecumenical matter!” in between bouts of drunkenness. In a few short years Irish Christianity seem to evolve from St. Bridget to Father Jack Hackett.
The enumeration of ecclesiastical atrocities adds credence to the ideal that Ireland would have been better off if St. Patrick left the Celts alone. But this ideal fails to acknowledge that St. Patrick didn't land on Ireland; Ireland landed on St. Patrick. Patrick came from comfortable surroundings in Britain, with a loving family to raise him. In his youth Patrick was an agnostic who regarded Christian Priests as “silly”. As a young man Patrick would have fitted in with the New Atheism his critics espouse. He could have happily grown, matured and died in his homeland foregoing his providential consequence. But a catastrophe befell adolescent Patrick; as he slumbered in his family home, thieves of children snuck in through his window and abducted the teenager. One can barely conceive the horror endured by young Patrick's parents when they awoke to discover their precious child shanghaied. Or the waking nightmare Patrick underwent as he was spirited away to a foreign land. At the time Ireland's predominant enterprise was the slave trade; Patrick was a victim of human trafficking. He feel prey to the most vicious slave traders of the time, who amassed their fortunes in the destruction of innocence and rupture of the family. But such is the obvious by-product of a culture build around cruel tribal warfare and hierarchy fashioned to oppress the masses. Before reckoning how Ireland may have evolved without the Christian message we must appreciate Patrick brought Christ to Ireland because Ireland brought Satan to Patrick.
By the time of St. Patrick's death Ireland transformed from a haven of violence, tyranny and slavery to a place of peace, civilization, equality and altruism. Within one generation, in the spirit of Christianity, slavery was abolished. While other European nations would take nearly one and a half millennia to abandon this brutal trade, the God who Patrick worshipped inspired the most vicious slave traders to spear head one of the earliest movements to recognize divinely appointed human dignity. The transformation was void of legislative imperatives but epitomized a metamorphosis of the very soul. The populous of Ireland deprived themselves of their established economy and embraced poverty because the deplorable trade was an offense to God. What never before convicted the Irish was now intolerable; they loved Christ, Christ loves everyone, how can we abuse those whom Christ loves? And in that simplicity Ireland repented. The spiritual fervor led to terrestrial woes but the Celts were firm in their resolve “no earthly pleasure can compare with the jubilation of being Christ's servant”. This truth grasped by the Celts of old was as true to them as it is to their descendents presently. Alas another truth is as timeless; renewals of man's natural goodness inspires negligible communal observation whereas expressions of depravity entertain us indefinitely. An abusive priest or financial mismanagement will dominate headlines but clergy who steers couples from the brink of divorce to marital bliss rarely captures media attention. Yet all personify a spiritual selection: do we embrace Christ or reject His plan? It seems modern times have produced an explosion in those who embrace worldly fruits and forfeit the ways of Heaven. Nevertheless, the ways of Christ are as jubilantly beyond comprehension presently as millennia before and many still walk in the light. For every abusive priest there are legions of unsung clergy who would readily decapitate limbs before raising them to assault. There are those who institutionalized for nefarious reasons but the preponderance of the cloths sought to serve the 35,000 impecunious who had none to care for them. For every deep-throated heretic touting God's hatred as a given for their political enemies a hundred more sang the sublime truth God Loves All. For the individuals scarred by the crimes of these notorious minority there exists battalions, inspired by the unconditional love of Christ, who have become fixated with eradicating pain in all of creation.
For those who place primacy on their relationship with God, abuse of any form is repugnant; for those who place primacy on terrestrial pursuits ecclesiastical sins serve as excuses to persevere along their preferred path. The latter, sees sinners as reflections of Christ and hence reject the word they offer. Yet everyday millions of congregants pray in unison “look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church”. The Christian message is not an invitation for good folk to be part of the groovy holy gang but for sinners to look to Christ's perfection and sacrifice for fulfillment. The building blocks of the Church is sinners, the Devil's rejects. Should we be shocked to find elements of this menagerie struggling to achieve perfection? And as these combatants, of which I am a member, find solace in the sinless life of Christ and the Holy Spirit's persistent assuaging of selfish inclinations; spiritual dilemmas of fellow strugglers fail to quake our faith. St. Patrick's message was of Christ, not the greatness of the Church. St. Patrick desired for the Irish an unnewsworthy revolution of the heart; for individuals to conform to Christ's perfect image. A social revolution began in St. Patrick's day, but an individual revolution begins for every soul that turns from their current path and starts toward heaven. For every human that occupies their ephemeral moment of this earth looking at their own body and how best to serve it will come imminently close to unraveling why Priests abuse children and Preachers spout self-serving hatred. For every one whose face turns its eyes to the Celestial Throne and who spend their lives traversing towards the source of all love are those who are thankful that St. Patrick returned to his captors and oppressors to share the love he learned, not in aloof Seminary, but on sloping, green hills of Antrim (the county of my birth) tending the cattle of those who robbed him of the opportunity to be a comfortable, indifferent, agnostic.
God Love You -- Rev. Sheen