Question: What was really going on in the Garden of Eden? I can’t believe God would actually condemn Adam and Eve just for eating an apple from a forbidden tree!
Answer: Your instincts are correct. There was more going on in this story than meets the eye. First, let’s look at what God created: He created Paradise – a perfect world, and he basically told Adam and Eve that it would remain perfect as long as they followed what was true, in other words, to do what God told them: “Follow me, and you’ll be fine!” What was the name of the tree they could not eat from or even touch lest they die? It was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Whether or not it was an actual tree or simply a metaphor really doesn’t matter. What matters is what God was telling them. In effect, he was saying, “Don’t try to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong. You can be wrong; I cannot! I am all Goodness, all Beauty, all Truth. I am perfect; you are not. Listen to me and do what I tell you and everything will be perfect.” But Satan, in his war against God, decided to try to get back at God by harming us. He knew that it would hurt God tremendously to see his children suffer. Any parent will know that feeling. It is far worse for a parent to watch their child suffer pain than to suffer that pain themselves. So Satan starts with a lie: “Did God really tell you not to eat the fruit of any of the trees in the garden?” Eve answers correctly: “We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ’you shall not eat of it or even touch it, lest you die.’” God was not forbidding them pleasures. Some people like to think that if we are enjoying something it must be sinful. (Harold Camping used to say that.) There are many legitimate pleasures that God gives us to enjoy. He is not trying to make our lives miserable.
Satan then drops the big temptation: “You surely will not die! No, God knows fully well that the moment you eat of it you will be like God yourself, knowing right from wrong!” In effect he was telling Eve that God was the one being deceptive. The only way God could keep them under his control – so said Satan – was by telling them not to follow their own hearts and minds. If they did, they would no longer need God. He successfully convinced them that God was the liar, that he was merely trying to control them and keep them from breaking free from under his power. So they ate the fruit – they listened to their own minds and hearts and not to God. And with that “their eyes were opened” and did they discover that they knew right from wrong on their own? No! They saw that they were naked! They saw their shame. And Satan didn’t respond by saying, “Gee! I thought they’d know right from wrong! I guess I was wrong!” Of course not! He knew very well what the result would be. By disobeying God they gave Satan his entrance into the world – and that’s why we have all the evil we do in this world! Original Sin brought it in!
Now, how many times do we hear people say, “Why do you think you have to listen to everything the Church teaches or parrot every word the Pope says? You have a brain; think it out for yourself!” (I actually had someone ask me that very question once at a wedding!) What are they telling us to do? They are telling us to commit Original Sin all over again! Our hearts and minds are not infallible. You and I can be mistaken, and just because we feel it or think it doesn’t make it right. Only God’s word is truth. Therefore, those who tell us that God’s teaching through the Church is wrong because “they don’t feel there’s anything wrong with it” are committing Original Sin all over again! They are buying the devil’s lie; they sucked it in hook, line, and sinker!
What we see from this is that God’s law is not subjecting us to him; that was Satan’s lie. Rather, God’s law is freeing us from error. It is the truth that we can follow with confidence. God’s way is not always the easy way, but it is always the right way. So, by following God’s law, we are not so much subjecting ourselves to him as sharing in his power! Sin enslaves; God frees! When we follow God completely, we are free from the errors of sin – we are truly free!
Jesus, the New Adam, reversed Original Sin by His total obedience to God. He showed us that obedience to God brings salvation, just as Adam showed us that disobedience to God brings suffering and death.
So the lesson we learn is simple: don’t try to decide for yourself what is right and wrong. Don’t merely follow what you think or feel because you can be wrong. Follow what God tells you at all times and you will truly be free!
Once again we begin our Lenten journey. Every year, as we come on Ash Wednesday to receive our ashes and begin our journey, our hearts are always filled with the desire to grow closer to God and to make these forty days of Lent truly a time of conversion. And yet, many of us discover every year that we haven’t received everything we expected to get out of Lent. Sometimes perhaps it’s because our Lenten observances are not strong enough. Let me give you an example from my own life:
When I was in the seminary, I was once thinking about what to give up for Lent, and I realize I liked a good cup of coffee after dinner. So I decided to give up my coffee after dinner during Lent. But as I entered Lent I discovered I needed something to settle my stomach after dinner, so I decided, “Well, tea is not coffee; I can drink tea!” I never used to drink tea, but I thought this would be a good alternative. Lent came and Easter followed, and I found I enjoyed my tea very much, so I continued to have tea after supper every night instead of coffee. Then the next year when Lent rolled around I was looking for something to do and I said, “I can give up my tea and have coffee instead!” I could go my whole life going back and forth from giving up coffee and tea and never really doing anything penitential. That could almost be like a child who gives up vanilla ice cream and has only chocolate, and the next year gives up chocolate ice cream and only has vanilla. I think we can all see how pointless such an observance would be. But then sometimes maybe we tried to do too much. We get overambitious and we set unreasonable goals for ourselves. For example if we were to say “I’m giving up TV for all of Lent”, we might find that a little bit too much to handle. So maybe just giving up a certain amount of TV during Lent, maybe pick one day of the week – perhaps Friday – and give up TV on that day.
But sometimes we are perfect at what we decide to do, and yet Lent still doesn’t have the full effect that it could. Imagine, for example, you decide to give up candy during Lent and you’re good; you don’t touch a piece of candy for the entire Lenten journey. Then Easter Sunday comes and you get yourself an Easter basket and you go on a binge and you eat all the candy you would’ve had during Lent and then some, and quickly discover on Easter Monday you’re no different person from what you were on Ash Wednesday. Well, if that’s ever happened to you – and believe me it’s happened to me many times – then perhaps were only going about things as a battle of willpower or perhaps just doing penance for our sins but not maximizing what could really happen. Ideally Lenten penance should be aimed at helping us grow in the virtues we need to achieve, so if I know there’s a certain area that I need to improve in my life, I should look for a Lenten practice that will help me grow in that area. Let’s take one example: if I’m always the type that does binge spending, that I buy whatever I want whether or not I need it, an effective penance for that would be to agree that every time I buy something for myself that I don’t really need I give the equal amount of money to the poor. That would end binge spending rather quickly!
But whatever we choose to do, nothing will make any sense if were not joining it with prayer, and sometimes that can be the thing that is most lost in our Lenten journey – praying. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have a barometer – something to measure whether or not were improving in prayer. It’s easy for us to know if we’ve faithfully avoided eating candy all during Lent, but to say I’ve improved in prayer? How do we measure that? I think the best thing to do is to set ourselves a practical and physical goal, perhaps of spending a certain amount of time in prayer every day and remain faithful to it. Don’t try to make it too much; don’t say you’re going to spend three hours in prayer every day: you won’t do it! Some people could say they will spend an hour every day and keep to it, others maybe only a half-hour or even 15 minutes. But if we commit ourselves to a reasonable amount of time every day and make sure we do it then we will be praying every day and that prayer will be the piece necessary to make all of the rest of our Lenten observances more profitable for us spiritually. So set a small reasonable goal, may be just a few minutes every day, whatever is appropriate for you, and if it comes to a day where you’ve completed the time and you want to spend more time, great! Now we are really growing in our prayer because were looking for more time. So in addition to the traditional things we do of self-denial and almsgiving – reaching out to the needy – let us not forget to add prayer into the mixture. Here at St. Ann’s Parish we are giving everyone who comes for ashes on Ash Wednesday a little packet where there is a card on which they can tell us what they did in the course of the week – all anonymously – and then just put the card in the Sunday collection, and will tally it and show the parish how much we collectively prayed during the past week. Hopefully, we will see ourselves as a parish growing in prayer. We can also do that for ourselves. If we started with 15 minutes a day in the beginning of Lent and ended with a half-hour, we will have a concrete measuring rod to show how much we have increased our time in prayer, and if our time in prayer has grown, I guarantee our quality of prayer will have grown as well, and when Easter Sunday comes around we will discover we did not merely battle our willpower to see if we could give up chocolate or whatever it was for forty days, but we will truly have grown closer to the Lord in our prayer, and we will be different people on Easter Sunday than we were on Ash Wednesday. A blessed Lent to you all!
Over the past years there has been a lot of discussion about Pope Pius XII, saying he did nothing to help Jews during the Holocaust. Later, the accusations even became that Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope”, in league with Hitler to help kill of all the Jews in Europe. Most popular among these was John Cornwall’s book “Hitler’s Pope.” A few years ago the Pope gave permission for scholars to explore the secret Vatican archives to answer the question once and for all. Rather than finding any evidence that Pope Pius XII was in league with Hitler, they in fact found quite the opposite: information that Hitler had planned to kidnap Pius XII because he was such a danger to Nazism. In the aftermath of this information (which of course the modern media lightly glanced over), John Cornwall who wrote the book “Hitler’s Pope” admitted he was wrong. Of course, that still didn’t settle the question. Many people continue to believe that Pius XII did nothing or even helped Jews be put to death during the Holocaust, even though all evidence proves quite the opposite. The reasons why people continue to believe a proven lie are legion, usually because of an animus for the Catholic Church that makes them loathe to give up a good angle to use against us, even when it is proven to have no value. So the old canard continues still. It has often been rumored that the whole plot was a KGB initiative deliberately started by the Communists in order to break down any concord between Catholics and Jews, both strong enemies of Communism. I recently read an essay from a firsthand Communist who has admitted having had a role to play in starting this KGB campaign against the Pope Pius XII. I have reproduced the article here below because it is solid information about what truly happened to turn Pius XII, who was praised by Golda Mier and so many others as a righteous Gentile turn into “Hitler’s Pope.” This article definitively proves – as has the other evidence – that Pope Pius XII did everything in his power to help Jews and was not in league with Hitler. There will, however, still be people who will always believe what they choose to believe and will repeat this canard even though it is been completely discredited. The following article by a communist who had a firsthand role in this manipulation again to turn Pius XII from a holy hero into a Nazi collaborator is well worth reading:
Recently one of my blog followers posted this question: “If God created everything, then isn’t it true that he also created Satan and all the other evils in the world? If he loves us, why would he do this?”
It is an excellent question; in fact, it is probably the biggest obstacle to belief in God for many people. It is the old philosophical dilemma of the problem of evil: if God is so good, why is there evil in the world?
To answer the question properly, we have to discuss what evil is. Let’s begin by saying what it is not: it is not a positive or real identity; it is not a thing. Evil is a privation, a lacking of good where good should be. It’s kind of like darkness: it is not a thing in itself but a lacking of light. Nothing is evil in itself. There is no such thing as a person, place, or thing that is intrinsically evil. Everyone and everything that God created is good. Evil occurs when something is not used for its good purpose but is instead misused. In effect, it is the abuse of an object. For example: fire can do great good. It can heat our homes and cook our food. This is the good use God intended of it. But when someone uses fire to burn not wood in a fireplace but his neighbor’s house down, it is the decision of the person to misuse the fire that constitutes evil, not the fire itself. In the same way, no person is evil. God created all of us in his image and likeness, to show his face to the world in a unique way. But some people choose not to live the calling God gave us, but instead accept the temptation of Satan to use our lives for a purpose contrary to what God intended. That is what sin is, or evil, depending on the context. So sin/evil is failing to do what God has intended for us. This covers every range of the spectrum, from a child saying no to his mother to murderers. We create the evil by not following God, so the existence of evil is our fault and not God’s. We therefore can say that God did not create evil – we do!
Okay, so how about Satan, the great tempter, who started it all? Well, even Satan is one of God’s creatures. Technically, God did not create Satan; he created an archangel he called “Lucifer”, meaning “light-bearer”. God created Lucifer to be an instrument for showing his light to the world. But Lucifer, using his free will, rebelled against God and did things his way. He in effect decided, “I don’t need to listen to God! I can choose for myself what is right and wrong; I’m just like God!” So he rebelled, but quickly discovered that he was not the equal of God and was not all-knowing. He could not in fact choose for himself and be certain to always get it right. He was fallible, God is not. By rebelling, he turns against God and made himself God’s adversary – Satan – that’s what the name means: God’s adversary. It’s an interesting point to notice what the name of the angel who fought against Lucifer is Michael , which means “Who is like God?’ It was a strong reminder to Lucifer that no one is God’s equal and that he cannot survive without God.
After Lucifer fell and became Satan, or the Devil (the slanderer), he could have apologized to God and been forgiven. But he didn’t. Instead, he saw his agony by being separated from God, but rather than apologize, he blamed God for his pain and vowed revenge. Since his own rebellion against God failed, he figured that the best way to get back at God was to get God’s most beloved creature to turn away from him as well – mankind.
Satan found it very easy to trick Adam and Eve. He tempted them to eat of the forbidden tree, the tree which God said that if they ate of its fruit or even touched it, they would die. It’s important to notice the name of the tree is not merely the Tree of Knowledge but the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Forbidding them to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a beautiful metaphor for God telling Adam and Eve, “I am God and you are not! Don’t try to decide for yourself what’s right and wrong. You don’t have the knowledge to make those decisions on your own. If you try to follow your own heart and your own mind you can be mistaken; I cannot! Listen to me and do as I tell you and everything will be fine.” Satan starts by lying to them, saying, “No you will not die! God knows the minute you eat of the fruit you will be like God yourself knowing right from wrong.” In effect what he was saying is that God was lying to them. “He is tricking you into thinking that you can’t decide for yourself what’s right and wrong because this is the way he keeps you under his power. He has been lying to you to make you think that you can’t decide on your own, when in fact you can! You can decide right from wrong by what you think and believe; you don’t need to listen to God!” Eve believed him and ate the fruit of the tree. With that her eyes were opened, and did she know right from wrong? No. She saw that she was naked. It was a lie by the devil from the beginning. He played on their gullibility, and with that they brought evil into the world, and of course, death. We often make the same mistake. How often do people say “you don’t have to listen to God or the Church! Think for yourself what’s right and wrong and follow your heart and your mind?” Anytime we do this, we are repeating Original Sin; we are making the same mistake as Adam and Eve and are falling into the devil’s trick once again. Therefore, every time we decide to listen to our own feelings and not what God teaches us, we perpetuate the evil into the world. It is our disobedience to God that creates evil and not God himself.
Of course, we must ask the question, “Why did God allow us to be tempted in the first place? Why couldn’t he just create us so that we could not sin?” The answer is that, if God created us without free will, that is, without the ability to choose right from wrong, we’d be just like the animals. Animals can’t choose right from wrong; human beings can. That’s what it means when we say we are created in God’s image and likeness. In order to be created in the image and likeness of God, we must have the ability to love. But to be able to love requires that we have the ability to make a choice. We cannot truly love God if we cannot freely choose to love him. Of course, freedom to choose is a two-edged sword. The ability to love must bring with it the ability to hate; the ability to follow God must also include with it the ability not to follow God. And sure enough, we frequently choose to reject God. Now God knew from the beginning that we would use that free will to turn against him and that he’d have to save us, and yet he created us with free will anyway! It’s amazing to think that God knew from the moment he created us with free will that he’d have to die on the cross to save us, and he did it anyway! It’s as if he were saying that dying on the cross was less painful than not having us to love in the first place! And so God worked our salvation for us by dying on the cross, freeing us from our sins, and now he calls us through the Church’s teachings and the sacraments back to that original unity with him, which is accomplished by trusting him and following what he teaches us and not what our minds and our hearts think is right, which is the source of all evil in the world in the first place! Our salvation will come when we learn not to follow our own hearts and minds but his commands. That is the struggle we face every day, and that is precisely the problem we see over and over again with moral and social issues, where people keep trying to tell the Church to change her teachings to give people what they want. They are in effect telling God he is wrong and we are right! God is not wrong because people don’t like what he’s teaching, and common consensus cannot turn something sinful into something good just because people voted for it. That is Original Sin all over again! Evil, therefore, is not something God created but something we create by continuously following our own hearts and not listening to God. When we finally learn to listen to God and not the voice of mankind and our own hearts, that’s when we will find true justice and the true peace that only God can give.
The link below is from a discussion in the State of Indiana House Judiciary Committee on defense of marriage. It is an excellent scientific, psychological, and legal defense of traditional marriage. It is professional, it does not insult those of different opinions, and gives a clear explanation of what those in favor of keeping the traditional marriage definition see as the dangers of altering the definition. I encourage everyone to view this carefully, even if – perhaps especially if – you are not in agreement with the traditional definition of marriage or are not sure. The link is to the blog of the Catholic Apologist Matt Fradd.
I was requested by one person who posted a comment on my blog to please comment upon the relationship between faith and science. I’m happy to oblige!
Faith and Science: what does the juxtaposition of these terms signify to you? Are they an oxymoron (words that contradict each other, like a “married bachelor”)? Sadly many people view them this way, as if we either must believe the Bible or believe science, but not both. For example, it is in fact very true that there were and still are many fights in the Southern Bible Belt and elsewhere regarding the teaching of Creation vs. Evolution. The creationists believe that the world came to be precisely as the Book of Genesis tells us, while evolutionists will tell you that God had nothing to do with it, that it all started with the Big Bang. (Sounds like a TV show theme song!) We Catholics are often stuck right in the middle of this never-ending conflict. The biggest problem for Catholics about the whole debate is that this fight is not ours!
Faith and science do not preclude each other; in fact, they complement each other perfectly. The only people who have problems seeing this are the fundamentalists on both sides, Christians, for example, who believe the world was created in seven 24-hour periods, and that if the Bible doesn’t say it is true, it isn’t, and atheistically-based scientists who believe their job is to prove believers wrong about God and to use their scientific discoveries to prove that God doesn’t exist. Both sides are wrong. First, the Bible never claims and never did claim to be the absolute word on every bit of knowledge ever to be had. If that were the case, we could never cook our food, for we don’t find any recipes in the Bible to tell us what the proper temperature and time for cooking a 21 pound turkey is! By the same token, figuring out how things work in the world and how they came about by no means disproves the existence of God. If you imagine a very smart person who takes a piece of chocolate cake, analyzes it, figures out that all the ingredients (sugar, chocolate, eggs, etc.) got mixed together and heated at a certain temperature for a certain time and then got covered with icing, if he told you his (correct) conclusion thereby proves there’s no such thing as a baker, what would you say? That’s foolishness! Figuring out how something was made by no means proves that no one made it.
Pure creationism to the exclusion of any scientific knowledge is not a Catholic belief but one held by Fundamentalists. For us, science and theology go hand in hand. They are not bitter enemies but twin sisters. Catholics have always been at the forefront of learning and scientific knowledge. Observe just a few facts: the modern university system was in fact created by the Catholic Church. The oldest university in Western Civilization is the University of Bologna, founded in 1088. Some of the greatest teachers of higher learning throughout the Middle Ages, including the modern sciences, were priests and bishops: St. Bonaventure, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, just to mention a few. Pope Sylvester II (pope from 999-1003) was a prolific scholar and teacher. He endorsed and promoted study of Arab/Greco-Roman arithmetic, mathematics, and astronomy, reintroducing to Europe the abacus and armillary sphere, which had been lost to Europe since the end of the Greco-Roman era. He is said to be the first to introduce in Europe the decimal numeral system using the Arabic numerals. It was Pope Gregory XIII who introduced the modern calendar that corrected errors in the Julian calendar, and to this day the Pope’s summer residence at Castelgandolfo boasts the magnificent Vatican Observatory, with two state of the art telescopes that are run by the Vatican Observatory Research Group. These are hardly indicators of a Church that despises science, are they? No, theology and science go hand-in-hand, and the only people who have problems with it are those fundamentalists on either side who automatically think one precludes the other.
Okay, so how about Creation vs. Evolution? Let’s take a look: First, we have never claimed that the stories of creation in the Book of Genesis represent an eyewitness account of how God created. Those who believe every word is scientifically or historically accurate will have a hard time explaining why there are two stories of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis that contradict each other on the order of creation. In Chapter 1 we see the familiar seven-day creation account where God creates simply by willing something into existence: “Then God said, ‘let there be light’, and there was light”(Genesis 1:3). He starts small and builds up to man. “’Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’…and so it happened…male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27). Once he has created man, he has created his masterpiece. It is finished, and he rests. We also see that everything is orderly, good, and all leads up to the creation of man. In other words, man is the ultimate end of all creation; all exists for him. Then, immediately after God has finished creating, he seems to be starting all over again with a barren land from which “the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Wait a minute! Didn’t we just see that in Genesis 1? What did God do, destroy what he had just done and start all over? No, of course not! Both of these stories are from ancient oral traditions that predate the writing of the biblical texts. When the biblical writers got around to writing down the Book of Genesis in an organized text, they had both of these ancient stories before them. The first one tells of God’s transcendent power, his sovereignty, his ability to create merely by his will, and that all led up to man, who had dominion over it all, and it was orderly and good. The second story shows God molding clay into man and breathing into him, working very immanently. He creates the man and cares for him. He creates the garden for him, and then declares it is not good for him to be alone, so he makes a suitable partner for him. First he creates the animals, but none of them is a suitable partner, so he forms the woman out of Adam’s rib (something near his heart) and brings her to him. The man accepts her at last as “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones”, and the text then explains that “this is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Genesis 2:24). So they have these two stories which contradict each other in historical ‘fact” but which both tell important things about God and his love for us. Which one is right? Well, they both are! Both relate important points about our relationship with God. No one for a moment believed that either one was written by a stenographer taking notes as God created. Only the Fundamentalists believe that! We are not Fundamentalists.
Now let’s look at the scientific end. Some people try to disprove the existence of God by quoting the Big Bang Theory. First of all, we must remember that this is still a theory and not an established fact. I do think there’s a lot of merit to it, but even if someone someday proves the Big Bang so that it is no longer a theory but a scientific fact, does that prove God doesn’t exist? Of course not! All they did was discover how God created! You haven’t gotten rid of God! How does figuring out how something came about prove that no one created it? There is nothing in the Big Bang Theory that requires it to be a product of chance that was not guided by anyone.
I find religiously-minded people who are afraid that science is going to one day disprove the existence of God to be terribly naïve and weak in faith. How can exploring God’s creation possibly prove he doesn’t exist? Does that make any sense? At the same time, scientists who believe that science will one day prove God does not exist are being equally naïve and in fact unscientific. Just logically speaking, if you ask me to believe that the world in all its magnificent array was merely the perchance result of actions over time that were not guided by anyone but just happened that way or that a conscious mind guided it, which is easier? I am perplexed by scientists who reject the idea of intelligent design, that God guided the scientific actions that bring things about. What are they so afraid of?
Scientific people tell us constantly that the existence God cannot be proved, therefore, we have to trust only the solid proof of scientific experimentation. But the fact of the matter is, scientists place their faith in others’ writings all the time. Someone recently wrote on my blog that he knows science to be true because he can do the experiment himself and prove it. Fair enough. But until he does, he’s putting faith in another’s words. It’s not feasible as a scientist to say you’d only believe something once you’ve proven it for yourself. So scientists trust the evidence of others just as we trust the evidence of faith. Scientists have been wrong before, and people feel rather foolish who put their trust in their findings, only to discover they were in error. So there’s always going to be faith involved, and neither religion nor science will ever preclude the other.
We have no problem reconciling belief in God’s creation with scientific facts. Truth can’t contradict truth. If a religious truth and a scientific truth seem at first to contradict each other, all that means is that there is something about one or the other, or perhaps both, that we don’t fully understand. Once we understand them both completely, they fit hand and glove!