There are moments when we just can’t reconcile the fact that God is so good (I sincerely believe so) with the fact that most people are not. I mean, most of us (or at least those I'm surrounded with) commit sins again and again, some of them terribly so.
Consider, for example, the fact that a great majority don’t even go to church on Sundays just because they are too lazy for it. If Catholic catechism holds that people dying in mortal sin are condemned to hell, what would that mean? Boy, I just can’t help but be scared of not going to church, let alone dying unprepared, can you?
The question now is, How could a God of love allow such a thing, if at all, to His creatures? It’s simply unbelievable that in the face of a good God, a terrible kind of evil, whether self-inflicted or not, also goes on unabated. If you were God, would you enjoy the sight of constant insult?
No wonder there are people who choose to believe that there is no hell or that, at least, everybody is going to be saved in the end, if only for the fact that Jesus Christ the Redeemer has already defeated on the Cross the curse of eternal damnation.
They say, “If God is really good like He claims to be, how come He punishes at all?” My own question is, “How come there still is the possibility of hell even for those who choose to be good but find it too hard to be?”
These thoughts congealed after I stumbled into a portion of Argentinean poet J. L. Borges’ sentiment (Fervor de Buenos Aires, 1923) which seems to be relevant to this matter, as quoted in a scientific journal, of all sources:
“This is the best that can happen -
what heaven perhaps will grant us:
not to be wondered at or required
but simply to be let in
as part of an undeniable Reality,
like stones of the road, like trees.”
Isn’t it kind of exhilarating and liberating for all of us to be taken just the way we are - imperfect, prone to sin if not awfully sinful, yet wonderful and beautiful just the same, a creature like no other, significant even in the unbelievable vastness of the universe?
Isn’t it wonderful that at the hour of our death, we need not fear a stern judge or the Chief of Police exacting horrifying judgment upon us, but expect a merciful Savior, understanding and forgiving of our various faults which are expected of us anyway at the moment of conception?
Isn’t it a great relief not to look at this life as a spiritual warfare which necessitates an appalling level of vigilance on our part? The struggle to be good is at times awfully hard, beset by travails and ordeals, which are of course overcome every now and then by little and big successes.
My qualm is that the feeling of spiritual high is terribly high-maintenance at the least. You can’t really be always sunny and holy with a world gone haywire. If you decide to “live in the world but not of the world,” you’re automatically in for a great opposition.
Wouldn’t it be soothing and non-aggravating to find life as a breeze and not - according to the ultimate pessimist - “a series of pain mitigated only by death”?
It’s no secret that God afflicts His people for one reason or another (refer to the psalms), and even reserves this affliction especially for His apostles (refer to Job or St. Teresa of Avila, or any priest for that matter). And His people keep on wondering whether that sort of suffering is a punishment even as, in their heart of hearts, they know it is not. St. Teresa of Avila, a doctor of the Church, would go down in history with that famous plaint, “Lord, that is why You have very few friends.”
Many of us believers, Catholic or otherwise, are survivors of a very harsh life, a life of punishment, frustrations, and crushing defeat. Blessed are those who can use the adjective ‘charmed’ to describe life and not be joking. Isn’t it the height of black comedy if someone undergoes “a series of pain” in life only to expect the greater pains of hell in the hereafter? I can’t believe that beggars, oppressed workers, child laborers, the handicapped, squatters, AIDS victims have, on the hour of their death, nothing but the prospect of getting further thrashed in hell for all eternity!
Suffering has got to have an awfully profound meaning, not the least of which is to heighten the joy of the life to come? Shouldn’t climbing mountains and surmounting the hurdles of life end in conquering peaks and savoring the marvelous view at the top?
What kind of God would be so unfair and cruel and perverse in humor if this were not true? This is one singular question that reduces me to a picture of anguish on its knees because I don’t know the answer for certain. All I know is I just have to continue fighting, believing that God is good and loving even if the rest of the world is not, even if my circumstances seem to fool me otherwise. Maybe this is the whole point of having faith?
I hate it that, having started with Borges, I would have to take a line from the New Wave (1980s) band Depeche Mode who seem to be bewailing about the same thing in a more dangerous, if forthright, manner in their single Blasphemous Rumours: “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humour and when I die I expect to find Him laughing.” This piece definitely won’t be counted among churchmen’s favorites, but the words couldn’t be more articulate for anyone having gone through life’s tragedies.
What is faith? The answer probably lies in what it is not. For one, it is not distrust. It is not cynicism or skepticism. It is the opposite of a lingering fear, despondency or depression. It’s not even worrying, which someone has described to be “a mild form of atheism.”
But neither is having faith mean an absence of sadness, anger, pain, grief, or even fear. Faith won’t safeguard against these, nor will it prevent anyone from going through life’s emotional roller coaster. Isn’t this crazy ride - or ‘mortal coil’ in Goethe’s Faust - the stuff life itself is made of? But faith is the protective veil, intangible, unseen, frail. It is the only one tool enabling us to transcend everything that is good and bad. Especially bad.
I’ve read someone say we should “savor both joy and grief because they are coming from the same source.” I don’t know. I’m not so sure if God ever enjoys seeing us in tears. But the thing is, He allows sadness to happen at all.
Trite as it may sound, I believe faith is the belief or conviction that God has a purpose in everything. Faith is about hoping joyfully, enduring patiently, in contrast to an impatient supplication bordering on impetuous commandeering, which Bo Sanchez, a well-known lay Catholic charismatic leader, frowns upon as “hyperfaith” but is favored by pentecostals and evangelicals.
Faith must be about looking at the big picture and staying focused on it, no matter the ups and downs, the troughs and summits of the wild roller coaster ride. Faith must be about holding on, child-like, to God’s promises. As the psalmist goes (Ps. 73: 25-26), “Whom have I in heaven but You, O Lord? And when I’m with You, the earth delights me not. Though my heart and my flesh should slip away, God is my rock, my portion forever!”
Neither is faith stoicism, centered purely on human will and strength. Neither is faith sadomasochism, which revels in torture. To quote St. Paul (2Cor.4), “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed but not given to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed;... ...knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Him.” (New American Bible version)
Faith can only be a matter of pure grace. For what else in this world would enable us to hope against hope, to “hope even if there’s no reason for hope”? In times that try men’s souls, in moments such as these, it’s the only thing that matters.
Friday, May 16, 2003
Posted by R.O. at 4:07 PM