Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Jealous God

Today is the feast day of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, and the morning prayer for today in Magnificat magazine began with a hymn that he wrote. It is an intense hymn of love and devotion to God, and I was especially struck by the contrast between these two lines:
In love no rival canst thou bear,
But thou art full of tenderest care;
The first line reflects the theme that is prominent in the Old Testament that God is a "jealous God". Probably the primary sin that Israel struggles with in the Old Testament is idolatry; they were often straying into worship of the gods of the nations that surrounded them. God considered idolatry to be spiritual adultery and would use a combination of enticements and punishments to lure Israel back to pure worship of Him.

This idea of the jealousy of God seems strange to us because we think of jealousy as a human weakness that sometimes leads to terrible acts of evil. Indeed, there are many people today who think the God of the Old Testament is an evil character because of this jealousy and the punishments that sometimes result. Our mistake, however, is that we are thinking about God in strictly human terms. The idea of God's jealousy is only an analogy to human jealousy. It gives us an idea of the intensity of God's love for us, and that he wants us to exclusively love him, but we must also realize that human loves and emotions are merely a pale reflection of the divine reality.

God's love for us is a desire for what is best for us, and because God made us, He knows exactly what we need and what is harmful for us. The fact is that God is the source of life and being in the universe. Our existence, our lives, and every other good thing we experience ultimately comes from God. Also, God didn't just give us these things in the beginning, but he constantly provides our existence and life. If God ever stopped loving us, we would cease to exist, and this is true for the whole universe in which we live.

If all of this is true, then the best way to live is to seek God with our whole hearts so that we live in harmony with our creator and the king of the universe. Setting our love and life direction on any other thing is foolish because it can never live up to God. A new job, a new house, or a new wife might appear to be what we need for happiness, but they can never live up to what we really need, which can only come from God. Therefore, God's jealousy is for our own good. He knows nothing else besides Himself will give us what we need, so God does everything possible to lure us to love Him, while still allowing us the freedom to reject Him because love without freedom is not really love.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

An Atheist's Take on the Sermon on the Mount

I read this article on the National Catholic Register site commenting on a post made by atheist philosopher Daniel Fincke called "The Evils of the Sermon on the Mount (Part 1)". Dave Armstrong does a good job in his article of showing the flaws in Dr. Fincke's post, but I wanted to add my overall impression of his attempt to critique Jesus. I will do it by analogy, but before I start, I want to stress that I am not attempting to insult Dr. Fincke's intelligence because I think he is clearly a very intelligent and learned philosopher. Instead, I want to show that as someone who has studied the Bible and theology in an attempt to follow Jesus now for over 37 years, I am as unimpressed by Dr. Fincke's analysis as a mathematician would be by what my fictional character Joe thinks about geometry.

Imagine a young man named Joe, who dropped out of high school after he failed several courses, including geometry. Joe is an intelligent young man with obvious artistic talent, but he considers school to be a waste of his time, so he blew off his school work, and that is why he failed.

Joe obtained a copy of his geometry textbook and proceeded to transform the various diagrams in the book into dirty pictures. He got together with his buddies who have a similar attitude towards education, and they all had a great laugh at Joe's creations, and they celebrated Joe's emancipation from the stupidity of school. Emboldened by the approval of his peers, Joe sought out his geometry teacher and showed him what he had done, saying, "this is what I think of your stupid, useless class, and all of my friends agree with me."

Of course, Joe's drawings did nothing to lessen his teacher's love for geometry. Instead, the teacher was saddened for several reasons. Joe completely missed the point of geometry and never saw it's beauty. He defaced a fine textbook for a noble subject and turned it into something vulgar. Although Joe feels liberated right now, he doesn't understand the future hardships he will face due to his lack of education. Finally, Joe is not only hurting himself, but he is dragging down his friends with him by using his talents to ridicule education.

Dr. Finke uses his intelligence and education to produce a finely crafted critique of the Sermon on the Mount, but he completely misunderstands Jesus. Although it is clear from the comments that his fellow atheists are impressed by his work, he has done nothing to change my view of Jesus. Instead, I am sad that he doesn't get it and that he is dragging others down with him. However, there is one positive thing about Dr. Finke's article. It shows that Jesus is not like the progressives of today who would like to think that Jesus is on their side. No, Jesus is calling his disciples to a supernatural life that goes way beyond progressive niceness. The love of Jesus warmly receives the sinner, but instead of affirming him in his sinfulness, Jesus calls him to holiness.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Sad State of Christianity

I read the following beginning of a prayer in the Magnificat magazine's meditation for today by Blessed Margaret Ebner, a 14th century German Dominican nun.
By the grace of your presence may we feel no lack of you because of the sad state of Christianity, and on that account may we never harm by evil the pure Truth, which is you yourself, O God, in whom all truth is seen.
Reading this made me think of those who are worried about various problems in the Church today, not to mention the denominational divisions that have only continued to increase over the centuries. Blessed Margaret lived long before our current situation, but she was well aware of the problems of her day. She wisely desired to not let these things distract her from seeking God's presence and holding onto the truth, despite what those around her were doing and saying.

This is a good example for us today. We must remember that God is not surprised or daunted by the problems in the Church. Jesus predicted there would be weeds among the wheat, and St. Paul warned about wolves among the sheep. Therefore, when we encounter problems and opposition we must not despair, but respond to the challenges with truth and love.

Friday, July 08, 2016

How to Conquer Hate: Infinite Love

As a resident of Dallas County, I'm very aware of the tragedy of last night's shooting. I join with those all over the world who mourn the loss of those who died, but I think that beyond the loss of human life, people are upset because they believe that this is something that should not be happening. Yes, the shooting was an evil act, and I agree that we don't want any evil in the world, but I think many are hurting and angry because they think we should be beyond this by now. In other words, hasn't the human race progressed to the point where this shouldn't happen anymore?

I think that it is true that in the United States there is less racism than there used to be. I believe I have observed changes for the better during the course of my life, not only in myself, but in those around me. It then becomes easy to think, "if I've learned to know better, why hasn't everyone else?" Well, it's much more complicated than that. We may not be as enlightened as we would like to think.

Race is just one way that we can divide the human family into groups such that one group feels superior to the other and can blame the other for their problems. While many of us have learned the absurdity of believing one skin color is superior to another, we may feel perfectly justified in believing that other divisions are valid. Here is a test: if you or I believe the world would be a better place if a particular group of people did not exist, or if we put the blame for a bunch of problems on a group, or if we think we are superior in some way to those in another group, we are guilty of group hatred.

Here is a list of groups or classes that I've heard people recently make the target of blame, exclusion, or elimination: black people, white males, illegal immigrants, Israeli's, Palestinians, Muslims, Sunni, Shia, Christians, atheists, religious people, fundamentalists, liberals, conservatives, iPhone users, Android users, old people, young people, Republicans, Democrats, people of privilege, people on welfare, the top one percent, and the homeless. What I'm not talking about is having disagreements over ideas, but rather when we move beyond debating an issue to vilifying a group.

A good example to look at are the two political parties in the United States. Although a number of people in the US are relatively independent, I am shocked by the number of people who will defend their party in all things while vilifying everything about the other party. What are the chances that one party will take the correct position on all issues while the other party is wrong about everything? Have these people actually analyzed the platforms of the parties and come to the conclusion that their party is right on everything? I don't think that is the case with most of them. Rather, they have found one group to identify with that they have decided is superior. The opposite group becomes a convenient target for blame, and putting the other group down makes one feel superior.

Much more could be said about the nature of group hatred, but I want to move on to the solution, which begins by looking at the source of the problem described in Genesis chapter 3. Here we see Eve in the Garden of Eden talking to the snake, while Adam apparently stands by, doing nothing. The snake says that God doesn't want them to eat the fruit of the tree because "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (5). Adam and Eve believed the snake, and so they ate the fruit, choosing the direction of the human race as a race of people trying to achieve godhood. If my goal is achieving godhood, then my goal is to be superior to all others. However, immediately Adam and Eve become aware of the nakedness. They feel exposed and ashamed of how un-godlike they are, so they attempt to cover up with fig leaves. Group identity is a kind of fig leaf we use today. When God asks them about what they've done, Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. Neither of them take responsibility for having done wrong because wrong doing would be a setback on the road to godhood. In chapter 4, when God accepts Abel's sacrifice, but rejects Cain's, the humiliation is so great that Cain decides the elimination of Abel is the only way Cain can obtain superiority, and thus we have the first murder. I believe these two chapters show patterns of human behavior that include the desire for superiority, the tendency to blame others, and the desire to eliminate those who threaten our standing.

This is the origin of hate, and because it is so deep within fallen man, it cannot be solved by education or government programs. Such solutions may address one kind of hatred and remove a particular injustice, but the seeds of hatred are still there, and they can manifest in other ways. I'm not saying that social programs do not help, but they will not provide an ultimate solution.

Jesus provides the answer when he tells us, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." This is the only answer because even if I am able to avoid the practice of hating another group, I will belong to a group that is hated by others, and thus it is impossible to avoid having enemies. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or non-voter, someone out there thinks you are part of the problem in our country. If you are an atheist, you will be hated by some religious people, and if you are religious, you will be hated by some atheists. If you are an agnostic, you will be hated by some atheists and religious people for not making up your mind. The only way to respond to these enemies that you did not ask for, without falling into hate, is to respond with love.

Anyone who is honest will know that we don't have it in us to love our enemies. It's hard enough to love those who are good to us, so I don't have anything left for the person who hates me. Besides, if I love my enemy, he will take advantage of my "weakness" and press his advantage against me. I have to protect myself!

It is Jesus who gives us what we need in order to obey his command. He is the source of infinite love because Jesus is God joined to our human nature, and through that union of God and man, Jesus makes the infinite love of God available to his followers. When we draw on the infinite love of God, we never have to worry about running out. There is plenty of love to meet our own needs, the needs of our loved ones, and the needs of our enemies. Is it possible that our enemies might take advantage of our love and do us harm? Yes, that is certainly what happened to Jesus on the cross, and he loved and prayed for those who tortured and killed him. However, three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, and he promises life from death to those who follow him in love.

Therefore, I urge people to cease trying to become godlike by putting others down. Instead, let us put our trust in Jesus and let him lift us to eternal life. Receive his love and let it overflow to others. Do not fear what others might do to you because nothing can separate you from the love of God.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Peter Kreeft Quote #4

"And if we do not see ourselves this way, as desperate cases, we are simply not part of the audience Christ came to save. He did not come to give us an aspirin but an operation."

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 185

Monday, March 28, 2016

Peter Kreeft Quote #3

The modern mind was born when [Francis] Bacon trumpeted "man's conquest of nature" as the new summum bonum [highest good]. Nearly everyone hopped on his bandwagon, but not Pascal. Today nearly everyone can plainly see that Pascal was right and Bacon wrong; that man's conquest of nature by science and technology, despite its spectacular success, has not made us happier, has not made us wiser and has not made us holier. It has not even made us more powerful; the individual feels a far greater sense of impotence today than ever before.

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 126
I deal with technology and technology professionals in my work, and my observation is that many people are so enamored with the "spectacular success" of technology that they would not see the problems Kreeft is describing in this quote. To such people, I will just point out that our current problems with the environment spring from this idea of the "conquest of nature".

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter!

Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Why is that important to us? It is because it shows us that Jesus Christ has conquered death. He has shown us that human life is more than a few decades on this planet followed by death. God intends for us to live with him eternally, so he became man in Jesus Christ, conquered death on the cross, and rose again as the first of a new humanity that lives forever with God.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Prince Caspian

 Prince Caspian book cover

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!

My favorite part of Prince Caspian is Lucy's encounter with Aslan when no one else is able to see him. The four Pevensie children, along with Trumpkin the Dwarf, are journeying through the woods to get to where Prince Caspian and the Old Narnians are besieged by the army of Caspian's uncle Miraz. They come to a river and decide to go downstream when Lucy catches site of Aslan in the opposite direction and knows that he wants them to go that way. No one else sees Aslan, and Lucy can't explain how she knows what he wants them to do. They take a vote on which way to go, and the vote goes against Lucy. However, when they get to the place where that river joins the Great River, they found enemy sentries there and have to turn back and retrace their steps.

They camp that night in the woods. Lucy wakes in the middle of the night and sees Aslan again. He speaks to her and says that there is work for her to do and much time has been lost that day. Lucy tries to blame the others for not believing her, but Aslan won't let her get away with that. "I couldn't have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I?" she says. "Don't look at me like that... oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn't have been alone, I know, not if I was with you." Lucy then asks Aslan what would have happened if she had followed him.

"To know what would have happened, child?" said Aslan. "No. Nobody is ever told that... But anyone can find out what will happen. If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me--what will happen? There is only one way of finding out."

Lucy goes through the difficult task of waking the others and telling them they must leave at once to follow Aslan, but they are still unable to see him so they resist her. She tells them she is going whether anyone else goes with her or not and proceeds to follow Aslan. With lots of grumbling, the rest of them follow her. As they proceed, one by one the rest of the party begin to see Aslan also as he leads them to their destination. They arrive by a path they would have never found by themselves, and they get there just in time to provide critical help.

Although few of us will have a vision from God like Lucy had, anyone who tries to follow Christ will find themselves in a similar situation where obedience to Christ means doing something no one else understands. Being the only one to follow a certain course can provoke negative reactions, including accusations of being difficult and self-righteous. It is very tempting to give up at that point, and we often do. If we do give up, we never know what we missed, but if we follow, we get to see what God will do. If Peter had never stepped out of the boat, he would have never known he could walk on water.

As you seek God, do not judge what you learn by the standards of the world. It may be that God is asking you to take a path that others will not understand.