Our lives are a mystical journey accompanied by theBeloved, who loves us totally and passionately. This is an unearned love, gratuitous and unconditional—the gracious gratis of our Divine Parent. In our being and our becoming, God seeks, guides, appreciates, and affirms us throughout life. As God reveals in Genesis, both in the first Creation story (Gen 1:28–31) and in God’s covenant with Noah (Gen 8:8–17) and confirms with the sign of the rainbow, a pledge of God’s many-splendored gifts: human beings are the peak of God’s work in Creation, called to be the glory of God in the world, but also to be responsible for its well-being.
Indeed, today’s thinkers articulate for us a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of all created things, showing the interdependence of ecology, psychology, theology, and spirituality. Thomas Berry, cultural historian, calls this “the New Story.” Like all things new, however, we find his insights a rediscovery and reiteration of more ancient awarenesses: as found in the religious sensitivity and response to nature present in Native American and Celtic cultures. For us, Berry gives word to something that is being sensed by the generation now moving into the twenty-first century: the God-given role of human beings to respect and care for the earth and all her creatures. Whether I savor Berry’s insights, or thrill to the earthy music of Celtic pipe, or vibrate to the rhythm of the drumbeat of a rain dance, this awareness arrives at the same point. We know that we are a significant part of a created whole and, therefore, integral to—not separate nor apart from—all that surrounds us, from one another, from those Jesus calls “the least of these”—nor are we even separate from the Architect of it all. Whether we use massive telescopes which can scan our galaxy and even detect other galaxies or search the skies with our limited human vision, we are bound to stand in awe in the glow of the brilliant night sky. We can’t help but ponder, just as others have done before us, the immensity and complexity of the created universe, and the awesomeness of our charge to be its caretakers.
The reality is that God may succeed in luring us to be responsible as the ones to whom Creation is entrusted, and in drawing us, through the awesomeness of nature, to God’s very self with varying success. Some will respond sooner to the challenge; some, later. Our response will depend upon the goodwill and affirmative choice to love which is our freely given answer to God, who says: “Come!”—to God who waits for each person to say: “Yes!”
While we live out our lives attempting to live up to God’s invitation, let us not be so scandalized by the failures to love that we see in and around us, nor so immobilized by the accumulated evil that amasses into the grossest of social sin, that we lose sight of the Love of God still beaming out amidst the darkness of human error like a lighthouse beacon. The Spirit of God is inventive to the utmost, and the “word that goes out [from God] shall not return to me empty.” (That is God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11—NRSV) “It shall accomplish that which I purpose,” says God, “and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Judaism’s awareness is that Yahweh is faithful and Yahweh will triumph! Ultimately! The resurrection message of Jesus is the same: God will triumph! But in both traditions, the meantime will have its thorniness.
The thorniness of life keeps us ever mindful that, in this interim, until God’s purpose is fully achieved, evil abounds because of choices made not to love. The choice to not love infects and impinges negatively upon our lives. To be blind to this damaging consequence would be the utmost of naivete. The Judaeo-Christian answer to the philosophers’ quest to understand the coexistence of good and evil in the world is not to propose, as some philosophies and religions have, a dualism in the Creator nor dual Creators. It is, rather, to proclaim with Saint John in his epistle, and with the psalmist, and with the insightful rabbis who first scribed in writing their Judaic understanding of God, this conviction: “Yahweh, both transcendent and immanent, is All-Good, and the source only of good!”
Evil, the rabbis suggest in Genesis, cannot be explained as the Babylonians did, as the negative side of fickle and humanesque gods. Genesis suggests that evil can only be seen in the failure of human beings to choose to live attuned to the Love that creates them as free agents. Contradicting Babylonian mythology, then, the rabbis of the Old Testament present evil as the result of humankind’s fragmented efforts to be, not the created people of a loving God, but the creators! Evil comes when humans try to dominate, control, and abuse, imagining that in doing so they are godlike! But the power of God is creative, freeing, and wholesome. Saint Paul defines the Love that is in and of God in First Corinthians 13:4–8:
Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, and it is not snobbish; it is never rude or self-seeking; it is not prone to anger, nor does it brood over injuries. Love…rejoices in the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. Love never fails.
To be independent of the caring, loving, parenting God, to try to be totally self-contained, self-sufficient, and dominating, is then, ironically, to be totally ungodlike! And so the Genesis writers relate the snowballing effect of evil in the world through story: Cain murders Abel; wars proliferate; and human beings mistakenly seek the height of heights in Babel. Finally, in the story of Jesus, the New Testament proclaims that the human venture involves the perfect balance of Providence with human freedom and responsibility.
Although Christian theologians have struggled with the mystery of evil, theologizing can only go so far in explaining what is, in fact, a mystery! One has only to look at a crucifix to come face to face with the grotesqueness of evil. One has only to visit Dachau or Auschwitz to be reminded of the almost inconceivable depth of depravity in the souls of human beings. No! One has only to read the morning paper, on most days at least, to encounter the ultimately inexplicable reality of evil in its many manifestations.
No mental gymnastics by theologian or philosopher has been able to explain to our total satisfaction the presence of evil in a world fashioned by the All-Good God. But, through and with Jesus, Christianity proclaims that God is total Goodness and Love. Jesus proclaims in his very living and dying, the goodness of Abba, and the abomination of evil. He confronts evil; and is victorious over it, because He faces it, absorbs its fury, and overcomes it—giving back only love. God’s great “Amen” to Jesus’ testimony that “God is Love,” reaches its climax in the Resurrection event! Jesus makes visible to us in himself, the Goodness that is Abba who transforms the worst evil every human person fears—death as extinction—into the graphically depicted promise of a transformed, eternal life. And, God lets us see the Promise in the Resurrected Jesus! What we can’t verbalize, we see with eyes of faith. More than that, we experience the Living, Risen Jesus as present to us, now, guiding us, safeguarding us, and communicating intimately with us! The Resurrection isn’t an event of the past that Christians read about with curiosity; it is a Real Person—a real person whom we experience in the depths of our being and in our loving relationships with others.
Ultimately, beyond all this explication of our Judaeo-Christian grappling with the mystery of why bad things sometimes (often) happen to good people, we get down to the pastoral nitty-gritty. A particular couple turns to the presider as they stand beside the casket of their dead two-year-old with the grief-stricken query: “Why did God let this happen?” or “How can God be a good God, and allow this tremendous loss?” And here we are, back to the inexplicable that can only be accepted by a faith that stubbornly clings to the conviction: “Our God is a good God. Our God will bring good out of every event, no matter how negative. And, our God will overcome!” There will be “joy in the morning.” God will “turn our sorrow into joy.” (But right now, the pastoral heart says to the grieving couple: “In this present moment, I understand that you hurt terribly. I hurt with you. I cry with you. God cries with you. I don’t understand why bad things happen; but I know and believe that God is Love and God is here, with us, in this sadness, telling us: ‘Come; cry on my shoulder.’”
One consolation Christians have is the awareness that, in Jesus’ present moment on Good Friday, Jesus hurt terribly—but continued to proclaim the Goodness of the God he called by a tender name of love and affection, Abba.
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Bridget Mary Meehan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Book is available online: www.amazon.com
Bridget Mary Meehan, email@example.com