House of Doubt:Formula Detox

Empty Promises

A universal challenge to the existence of God is on the problem of evil or dysfunction in the world.  Either God does not exist or if he does exist then he is certainly powerful but not willing to exert power to show he exists and cares.

A micro version of this is in this encounter between the Cynic of Cynics, Satan, and Jesus who according to historical Christianity is God “made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test”(Matthew 4:5-7).

There is an objective truth for all persons that do not intrinsically have divinity: There is a God and we are not him.

But the challenge that brings out this response is that if Jesus represents God as his king on earth (I find it unlikely that Satan knew of Jesus’ divinity) then he should perform in such a way because God would have to perform thus by default.  Satan was operating in his temptation with a “should formula”.  In that “should” would be a premise on the rights of the human person who walks with God to be exalted in a way that is commanding and not surrender.

made him stand on the parapet of the temple— What happens here is a lifting up of Jesus that is other than the cross.  Jesus said that he would indeed be lifted up and draw all men to himself but this was in the cross.  This is not fun or tantalizing but in the sacrificial love of Jesus and how we are instructed by the gospel it is essential.  It should also be noted that the days of this same temple are numbered because The Temple, Jesus would die and rise as the ultimate center of holy awe.

He will command his angels concerning you— This is pointing to a kingdom that is centered on the self.  This reminds me of many errors out there on the fringes of Christendom like the Prosperity Gospel.  The premise is that the heavens center on what is good for our flesh.  Though Satan uses true scripture he was of course deceitful in how he uses this.  Satan is trying sell a guarantee off of a formula that supposedly makes God man’s servant.

You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test— The point here is that God and his holiness, while an objective truth, can be personally known in an internalized way.

Like I said, Satan did not have a full understanding that Jesus is Lord and could be known universally throughout the world but at some level must have known about the cross and was maybe afraid of its power.

But if you are reading this and are an inquirer of the Christian faith I can tell you that you do not have to be afraid.  If Jesus literally will help you out of your own concrete and bad circumstances I cannot say.  But what I can say is that if your turn to Jesus and embrace the message of the cross you will find life because you will find Him.  But along the way you too may be tempted to reduce God to a formula.  Say yes to Jesus instead.  If you, like me, have bought into fringe formulas then I urge you to take a lesson from my own Hard Knocks University: ask Jesus to detox you of them to instead know him “in the power of his resurrection and in the fellowship of his suffering” (Phillipians 3:10).


Problem of Evil, Order and Choice.


As a social worker I often encounter the problem of evil in sometimes heart-stopping ways.  In working with clients that have had substance abuse, mental health challenges or a mixture of both I hear stories all the time of inhumane things done to them especially because of being in a vulnerable state but of course also by them.  The phrase, “man’s inhumanity to man” comes to mind.  At the end of the day I rarely share anything dark with my wife because I want her to live in some kind of blissful ignorance of such things.  Yes, there is a problem of evil in the world and it seems like it takes supernatural grace to not be a cynic about it if there is no response.

But in this week’s homework I see there is an answer.

If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil (Catechism of The Catholic Church, 1994, para. 309).  

no quick answer will suffice— I remember hearing from a couple years ago who, when looking for a new church, were getting “quick answers” or formulas from pastoral staff about losing their son in Iraq.  They knew they found the right church when the pastors were wise enough to listen to their hurts and tell them they did not have an answer.  That church became their new home.

Christian faith as a whole—This is fitting since Catholic means “according to the whole”.

the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants— So true in that God proposes in his covenants in salvation history with Israel and then the Church.  God honors the dignity of humanity in his proposition rather than an imposition.

the redemptive Incarnation of his Son—- This is the summit of God’s grace for the world in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church—  As one would see in how the book of Acts lays out the narrative of the Church, the Holy Spirit and the holy people are enmeshed together beautifully to be a light of hope in the world so all can come to the holistic saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

the power of the sacraments—  In my former days as a Protestant I would have described the sacraments as man-made hurdles that get in the way of a direct relationship with Jesus.  Now after being fully informed of the deep scriptural foundation of these I would see them as the most default channels of God’s grace that brings us out to the deep like stepping onto the undertow at the beach.

Evil needs to be laid at the feet of the choices of man when it is of the immoral choice origin.

The beauty of the universe: The order and harmony of the created world results from the diversity of beings and from the relationships which exist among them. Man discovers them progressively as the laws of nature. They call forth the admiration of scholars. The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s intellect and will.

Even atheists can discover the order in natural law and be a humanitarian.  Now how far they apply such submission that they connect it to being in relationship to their creator is another thing.

Also this week in the readings I am reflecting on the fine line in the faith experience between coercion and desertion of God’s evident presence.  Peter Kreeft stated that if there was not beauty or order in the world to give us hints toward God then we would be abandoned.  I would compare it to being on a treasure hunt without a map.  But Kreeft does well to point out that if God blew our socks off with evidence then there would be only coercion and not act of faith.  Free will would be at least in jeopardy.

Where my hope is as a Catholic in my discussions with others that I can point people that are not on a faith journey to open up to God with what revelation they have and see where God would engage them in their faith and reason.  I have much to learn intellectually and much to internalize in my spiritual formation so that I will not be another person with a “quick answer”.

Homework For The World

discovering-god01I am sharing my homework here.  I have started taking classes through the Kino Catechetical Institute with the Phoenix Catholic Archdiocese.  Some who read my blog have no faith in God, believe in Jesus but not the Catholic Church and some are fully involved Catholics.  Whatever your background I hope that seeing my response to the homework causes some to think and seek God.

I am glad to be in this class.  My 14-year old self would call the Catechism the third testament of the Bible.  I would be wrong but in the neighborhood of being right.

Coming out of Protestantism where there was a constant duel with either/or paradigms one God’s election and man’s free will in soteriology, I find the approach in these paragraphs of the CCC to be altogether holistic to the mystery.  But that is not to say that it is entirely a mystery.

I am becoming more reinforced in my belief that God has a footprint of his presence over the whole world where individual cultures will point back to him by the nuances of their cultural schemas.

In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being:

From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “in him we live and move and have our being.”  (Catechism of The Catholic Church, paragraph 28, 1994)

The search for the “Unknown God” is powerful in that there are signposts in our cultures that makes us thirst for purpose in the God who created us.

In several paragraphs in this assignment of 26-to 140 there are comments about natural law.  Where I have a pre-existing question that I hope to have answered is: where the natural law’s ability to instruct end and divine grace through the Holy Spirit begin? And what is the heart of the Catholic Church in addressing the needs of those who have reaped the repercussions of disobeying natural law and instructing them on how to start again?  Though the paragraphs of this assignment point to the philosophy of conversion being possible, they point to only the beginning.

But I see much humility in the Catholic Church about the chasm between truths that can be comprehended and appropriated seamlessly and those truths that are to be aprehended in mystery and prayed about continually.

God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, image-bound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God–“the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable”–with our human representations. Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God (para.42, CCC).

Now as to the revelation of God’s will in Church that was also addressed; this is near and dear to my heart.  In my young adulthood I was consumed as a zealous Protestant to be a part of my cult that supposedly got back to the restoring of what the early church really was and could be again based on our supposed insights given by God.

Years later I am even more deeply blown away by the “punk-hood” of my youth when I read the following.

The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei),45 contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. “By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful” (CCC, para. 84)

Reading this is a humbling blow to the restorationist man I used to be.  The part on “the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” is a verse (Acts 2:42) that I used to think I had figured out.  Now I read this and remember that my instructor points to the four sections of the Catechism of The Catholic Church and shows how they nail each of those line items of scripture.  And the Church has nailed those essentials continually for two thousand years.

From my degree in the social sciences I would say there is no logical explanation that this institution would last for two thousand years against so much opposition and much less be able to guard the “Sacred deposit”  so well.  But it has.  The oak tree looks different from the seed but the DNA is the same.

As I write this in my beginning of a two year journey in the Kino Catechetical Institute, and possibly seven if I go towards the diaconate ministry, I can do no less than cover my mouth and ask for God to teach me that I can proclaim his love.