Saturday, March 14, 2015

The third possibility

Back when I was posting about the one verse of the bible that causes me the most trouble, I made a whole list of possibilities that this verse might mean.  But there was one possibility that I didn't list, not because it didn't occur to me, but because I believe so strongly that it is wrong.

That is, the possibility that Jesus just lied about when his second coming would be -- that perhaps he wanted us to think it was coming soon so we'd shape up, even though he knew it wouldn't actually do so.

I didn't bother with that, because the Church teaches that, on the one hand, Jesus is God, and on the other, that God can neither deceive nor be deceived.  So sooner than believe that Jesus lied, I'd ditch the whole religion, bible and all, and then of course I don't have to worry about that verse in the first place.

In the same way, I have treated my whole spiritual journey as a dilemma rather than a trilemma, even though there are actually three (or more) choices.

1.  Either God is good, loving, and merciful, and the parts of the bible and facts of the visible world which make this seem like it isn't true can be explained away somehow,

2.  Or, Christianity does not work and I should abandon it.

But you see I skipped option 3:  God is not good, loving, or merciful, as I understand those words, and the confusing, inconsistent, or evil things he seems to have done are just part of who he is.

Not that I didn't think of it.  I think of it a lot.  I guess I felt, for a long time, as though I ought to hedge my bets against this possibility.  After all, there is no requirement that the truth will be pleasant or comforting.  No reason why the being that created us would share our standards of what good and bad look like.  Why shouldn't he do absurd things that make no sense, do things that contradict the moral standards his creations live by, make a certain religion the only way to be saved and then make it impossible for many of us to discover it?

Well, starting from absolute scratch, sure, there is no way to know this isn't true.  But starting within the Catholic faith, you absolutely can.  My bias against an evil or inconsistent God isn't "trying to put God into a box," but following what the Church tells me about what God is like.

And what does the Church say?  Well, it teaches that God is infinite goodness, that he loves each individual person, that he is unchanging, that he is never inconsistent or deceptive.

So, though I might have trouble measuring God up to my standards -- since of course my standards might be wrong -- I am always allowed to measure him up to his standards.  God does not change; if he says he is a certain way, or that he will do a certain thing, if we believe in him at all, we have to believe that.

The Bible and the Magisterium are two sides to the same coin; both can be relied upon if you're Catholic.  The Magisterium has accepted just war theory, for instance, so when God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, I can safely say that must be myth of some kind -- because if it's objectively wrong to kill noncombatants today, God knew it was wrong then too.  Perhaps he guided the Israelites to make that sort of myth to emphasize the point that they should not let themselves be corrupted by paganism.  Who knows.  But I know he would not command genocide, because he has elsewhere told us that genocide is wrong.

That is my answer, such as it is, for why I don't bother giving the time of day to the idea that God is not good, not loving, or not merciful.  The Church has been very clear that he is -- and that he is consistent.  The medieval philosophers worked out that if God is infinite being, he is also infinite truth, goodness, and so forth.  St. Thomas Aquinas said that we can never understand what God is, but we can easily say what he is not.  He is not limited.  He is not ignorant of anything.  He is not bounded by time or subject to change.

And what that tells me is that God cannot possibly be inconsistent with himself.  He will not tell us one day that killing is bad, and then appear some other day and say that killing is actually good.

This makes things, in many ways, harder and not easier.  Because then all the many inconsistencies among the Old Testament, New Testament, Magisterium, and of course the evidence of our own senses are problems, not just to be put down to "God changing his mind" or "God lying."  The question becomes then, can we make peace between the conflicting stories and figure out something, anything, about what God is like?

Well, if I could, I wouldn't be here so often complaining about my lack of faith.  But one thing I do know, is that putting it all down to God not being as good as I imagined, or God being not only ineffable but irrational, is an absurdity which I don't see the point in entertaining.

Today is Pi Day, which is generally considered a joke holiday.  But I think maybe it should be a more serious one, because it brings to mind a very important reality, revealed in "the book of the universe": the universe, and whatever creator it has, is consistent and rational.  Measure all the circles you like.  You will never have the circumference equal four times the diameter, or three times, or three and a half, but always the same number -- π.  That gives me a wonderful sense of peace and security: the world may not always make sense to me, but it does make sense.  It's consistent.  It's not ruled by an angry being who changes his mind a dozen times a day; there are rules and some of them are possible for us to know.

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