If Jesus loves us so much, why does he tell us we have to take up our cross and follow him? Why doesn’t he just take all the pain away?
A few parishioners asked me if I would post my Easter homily on my website. Since we had recorded the Easter Vigil to give to our catechumen who was baptized, I have a video of it. If you wish to see my Easter homily you may click the link here: Easter Homily 2018
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!
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.
This week of course we celebrate Halloween. You may have encountered people who try to tell us that Christians should not celebrate Halloween because it glorifies evil and witchcraft and teaches children to embrace them. Well, my response to this is simple: “Hockey Feathers!” What better way to show that we do not fear Satan than mocking him? Remember, “Halloween” is short for “All Hallows Eve”, the night before All Saints Day. I like to think of it as saying to evil forces, “Go ahead! Have your last hurrah, for tomorrow as we honor all the saints you will be tormented by your own decision to reject God!”
Catholics, then, of all people should most definitely celebrate Halloween! There are a few warnings, however, that we must observe! One is to remember that All Saints Day is a Holyday of Obligation, so we must make sure we attend Mass on November 1st. Celebrating Halloween without celebrating All Saints Day misses the whole point! Secondly, – this is especially for the junior high crowd – damaging people and property is not an appropriate part of Halloween! Mock evil, don’t participate in it! Finally – and this is usually a caution we must remind adult revelers – make sure your costume is not insulting to any good people, is not of a filthy nature, and is appropriate for you to be wearing. Imagine down the line if your child should find a photo of you in your costume! How would you explain THAT?! So go out and trick or treat, have fun at a Halloween party, but keep it safe, keep it clean, keep it appropriate, and GO TO MASS FOR ALL SAINTS’ DAY!!!
In the aftermath of the horrible theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, one local pastor asked the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?” and his answer was, “I don’t know.” It’s a common knee-jerk question we ask whenever there is a tragedy. It happened after 9/11, after the Colombine murders, after Hurricaine Katrina, and will probably always be asked. My response to this question is simple: “Trash that question, and go back and start all over with a different question!”
The minute we ask the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?”, we have already lost. We are working from the faulty presupposition that God should shield us from all evil, and if He doesn’t He is not loving. That is not a valid argument. God is all goodness, all truth, all beauty; He cannot do evil. Directly or indirectly, all evil comes from Satan. He brings evil into the world hoping we will blame God, declare Him unloving, and separate from Him, whereupon he can simply reel us in as he snickers at how easily we were duped. How come no one responds to tragedies by saying, “Satan, why do you hate God so much that you’re leading people to do all kinds of evil and blame God for it?” No, everyone blames God. But when we respond to tragedies not by asking why God allowed it but by turning to Him for comfort and for wisdom in how to respond, we discover that instead of the evil turning us away from God, we let it turn us to God; in effect, we use the devil’s own weapons against him! We destroy evil by its own power. That’s what Jesus did by the cross. The devil seduced Judas and the High Priests to betray Him and hand Him over to the Romans, and Pilate was too weak to defend Him and sent Him to the cross. Satan must have been laughing the whole time, figuring he finally had his victory over God by getting Him killed. I can just hear him saying, “You call yourself a God?! You came and told them how important they are to you and how much you love them, and instead of loving you back, they confused you with me, declared you evil, and crucified you! You think you’re so loving? Well, look at how they responded to your love. You’re just pathetic!” He couldn’t have been more wrong! In the midst of his celebration, Jesus pulled the rug right out from under his victory by rising from the dead! Now the Lord can turn to Satan and say, “Look! You thought you defeated me, but I defeated you! I just freed every prisoner you had, and have now turned your greatest weapon – death – into their greatest triumph! Now when they die, they will enter my kingdom and not yours. The only ones you’ll have are those who reject me and refuse to follow me.” Of course, ever since that time, Satan knows his time is short and he’s on a mission to win back as many souls as he can. In addition to false promises and the quest for pleasure, one of his most effective tools is to get us to blame God when he works evil deeds.
Making sense out of tragedies is never easy, especially for families who lose a loved one because of them. But if we want healing, the only way to find it is not to blame God and ask why He allowed it but to turn to God and ask Him how he wishes us to respond so as to bring us through the tragedy and closer to His redeeming embrace.