Tag Archives: Suffering

Choosing between “#%*!@&#!” or “Thank You Jesus, for loving me this much”. Or Maybe a Little of Both…

Standard

So, Saturday was wood-splitting say. I had successfully cut down a few dead trees and chopped them up to approximately 16″ lengths over the preceding couple weeks, and it was time to split the whole she-bang. The young boys begrudgingly put on their work clothes and assisted me with the task that was sure to be seen as encroaching on Lego and Star Wars time. Pity.

All was not lost in the family work. Splitting wood does have its appeal. After all, a year ago I invested in a very nice wood-spitter. The hydraulic kind that runs on gasoline, not the kind that gets swung over the head. While it may take decades to get the monetary payback out of it that would justify the purchase in pure dollar terms, it has nonetheless almost certainly saved a few trips to the chiropractor, and possible purchases of other wood that would have been necessary due to my own limited time and admitted laziness. The boys can appreciate a good hydraulic mauling of a log as well as anyone, and so I keep them engaged by allowing them a turn at the lever that controls the splitter.

The dangers of heavy equipment are never to be taken lightly, and so I overdo the message about keeping hands away from moving parts of things that could crush the fingers – or worse. They do quite well. But it only takes once, so vigilance is needed.

Anyway, we ahd a couple very large logs to split, and these were perfect candidates for vertical splitting. Under this scenario, one raises the splitter to vertical, secures it, and then moves the log to an upright position. You do this by rolling it in place so you don’t kill your back lifting it. And so we did all this with joy and success.

After the conclusion of this task, it was time to move the splitter back to the horizontal position. This is a quite heavy element, and moving it back to horizontal requires some strength and effort. When I first pulled on the handle, the entire base moved a bit. To secure it, I placed my hand on the steel beam under the hydraulic component and gave a good pull to move the top part down. Of course, as the balance shifted, it went from being difficult to move to difficult to stop. There are two metal brackets that stick out of the top unit that are used to secure it to the steel beam. Silly me, I managed to forget to move my hand, which just happened to be right where those brackets come down.

A moment of struggle wot push it back up followed, and I was finally able to remove my hand.

“#%*!@&#!” <== Due to being surrounded by young, impressionable boys, I thankfully internalized any foul language that I really felt like using.

Now, a couple thoughts here:
1) Thank God for heavy-duty work gloves. I do think I may have one or two less fingers at the moment without them, or at least one or two less usable one. Though, the greatest damage was to the top of my hand.
2) Thank God for Guardian Angels, who I will give credit for putting it in my mind to be smart and wear those gloves. Though, it can be noted that an inspiring thought of "um, move your hand, you idiot" would have been appreciated, I will still be thankful for what I did receive.
3) When really heavy things fall on your hand, it hurts. A lot.

So, I need to provide a bit of background on my immediately next thought after "#%*!@&#!"

An internet friend/acquaintance (he used to be an actuary who frequented a forum for actuaries I use) and I used to talk about religion and the Catholic faith quite a bit. He was a convert who loved the Church and eventually became a Priest. During that transition time he shared with me a little tidbit on our little sufferings in life that I never really forgot, and have tried to implent as an expression of gratitude for being able to join my little sufferings with Christ's redemptive work on the cross. He once mentioned that he had the habit of reciting a very simple and short prayer whenever one of life's stubbed toes or pinched fingers or anything else reared its ugly head. That prayer is simply "Thank you, Jesus, for loving me this much." This was not his idea, but was given to him by another friend. He loved the idea, and so did I. The idea, of course, is to try to take that painful moment and immediately think of what Jesus went through, and instead of being angry about the pain, be thankful for it. Sounds odd, but if you can get yourself in the mindset, it's a nice way to deal with those sufferings and offer it up for something or someone.

So, I admit that this particular time I had a little bit of a delayed response… this was no mere stubbed toe. This was something where I was afraid to take the glove off and see what I'd find. But, I did finally manage to compose myself and utter that prayer. One interesting way I was reminded to do so was that my entire left arm had a pain shoot up to the top and then felt very weak for a couple minutes. I was reminded of reading a study the crucifixion and about how the nails through the wrists would have been immeasurably painful due to the nerves that would drive the pain all the way up the arms. My pain was not nearly that bad, but it was a reminder for me of the pain that Christ must have suffered.

The hand looked pretty bad. It swelled up to twice its size and I needed to take a break, but I determined that I could continue my work, and so I did until I was finished. I was further comforted by our neighbor – an ER doc. Her son was at our house for the morning and when she stopped to pick him up she checked the hand out. Thanks be to God it seemed like I missed all the worst things that could happen. Probably nothing broken by the pain tests she gave me, and the tendons on the fingers seemed to be strong, suggesting no issues there. Basically, ice it and it will hurt for a while, but I'll be OK with no lasting damage.

Thank you, Jesus, for loving me this much.

Advertisements

The Movie “Next,” Predesination, Intervention of God, and the Salvation of Souls – Musings from the Diatribe Guy

Standard

A while back I had rented the movie “Next.” For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is a movie starring Nicolas Cage about a man (Cris Johnson) who can see the next two minutes of his life. The conceptual part of this was pretty cool and allows for a lot of contemplation about what such a skill might do for a person.

I’m pretty much entertained by anything, so I thought it was a good – but not great – movie. It was entertaining in some respects, flawed in others, and overall a bit of a feeling like they could have done a bit more with the idea. But worth a rental if you like action/adventure with a little twist.
The purpose here is not to critique the movie, but to focus on a particular scene that left a thought-provoking question lingering in my mind. First, I’ll recap the scene, and then move on to what I think is thought-provoking about it in a Theological sense.

Key to this is that he can adjust his own actions to affect the outcome of the next two minutes. So, if he doesn’t like what he sees, he can choose to act differently than he intended to try and change the outcome. He has the ability on a moment by moment basis of always knowing the outcome of the next two minutes based on his current course of behavior. He can only see the next two minutes of his own circumstances – not anyone else’s.

The scene takes place in a café. Cris Johnson is infatuated with a female customer. We see him walk up to her and say something and get a negative response, and then we see a rewind back to the current moment. He had just seen the next two minutes based on his approach to her, and it didn’t work out. So now we see the next two minutes play out in a different way. As it turns out, she has an estranged boyfriend show up and give her a hard time. Johnson plays out a scenario where he comes to the rescue and beats the guy up. She doesn’t like this. Rewind again. Finally, after a number of scenarios, he finds the one scenario that engages her interest in him – he allows himself to take a punch from the boyfriend. Since this works towards his desired outcome, he allows it to happen and the story goes from there.

So, what could I possibly consider worthy of Theological musing with respect to this scene?
A lot! The more I thought about this, the more I developed it in my mind, and the more I was excited about how it helped me to reconcile some interesting questions we have about how God works in our world and in all our lives. Not just as individuals, but as an entire community.

Consider the scene above. The woman had perfect free will in every single scenario that played out. She rejected him, and rejected him again. Over and over and over. And yet, he was able to determine a way that he could act that would elicit a free response from her that was different from all the other scenarios. He did everything he could to get her to see him, love him (OK, maybe not immediately, but at least be interested in him), and respond to him in a positive way. But ultimately, it was her choice. There may have ultimately been no scenarios he could dream up, no words to be said, no actions to be done, that would ever achieve a positive end. At least on that day. On a different day, at a different time, under different circumstances, he may have come up with something.

Now, consider his own limitations: He has a limited ability to imagine different things to try. He has limited ability in his ability to try them. He can only see out for the next 2 minutes. He can only see the things that happen as it relates to him. He can only impact what is physically associated with him in immediate space and time. And yet, even with all those limitations, two minutes of foreknowledge allows him to assess how he deals with every situation in order to greatly increase the possibility of positive outcomes. But he doesn’t actually control anything in the way of behavior of others. Assuming he doesn’t use his ability for illicit means, this foreknowledge is used to avoid certain circumstances, most certainly, but also to evoke the best possible response of the people around you.

By now, I’m guessing you can see where I’m going with this.

Let’s remove the limitations. Let’s talk about God.

Imagine the ability to consider an infinite number of scenarios at every moment of all time. Consider the fact that there is no limitation on how far in advance one can see the outcome of every scenario. Consider no limitation of space and the number of people that can be impacted at every given moment. However, consider all this in the context of free will and freedom of response to any and all scenarios for each individual at all moments of all times.

It does not take long to see the complexity of this. But before getting into the complexity of what this all means, we can quickly form some conclusions.

We can conclude that, from the very first moment of time, God knows exactly how everything in all of human history will play out. He knows because He already knows every moment’s reaching out to every person and how they responded, and He has done so in the way that maximizes the salvation of souls in a way that protects the dignity of free will.

We can see how God can know how all of human history unfolds, and how He could intervene (or not) and how He can call out to us or assist us and do all of these things, while at the same time knowing that every response we made along the way was ours and ours alone. The very fact that God tries everything possible to get us to respond in the best way for our soul and salvation does not compromise our free will. Just like a terrific marketing campaign may compel a person to make the decision to buy a product, nobody is forcing the purchase of that product. It would cheapen God’s work to say He is “marketing” salvation, but we can at least see the analogy. God is trying to compel us to Him, and there is no shame in saying that He is doing so.

This also, in my mind, helps to clear up misunderstandings about any references by St. Paul to being “predestined.” In this sense, predestination is not something we are bound to from the beginning. It means two things: (1) that we are all created for salvation, and thus predestined to be called to it; and (2) God already knows the choices we will make, but our choices are a response to His very best efforts to get us to make the right choice. Just as in the example of the movie, there simply may be no scenario in which God can bring some people into the fold without compromising the dignity of free will.

Where things get complex is when one starts to consider the question about why we go through a lot of the things we go through if God is really trying to save souls.

First of all, we must keep in mind the sheer enormity of what we are talking about. Infinity times infinity does not begin to encompass the complexity of it all. Every impetus at every moment that God provides is a seedling to every subsequent moment of the response of those impacted. And it does not take long to realize we all impact each other on a continuous basis, so much that whatever happens in my life at any given moment will ultimately potentially impact every person in the world to some extent or another. Second of all, we need to set aside our individualism for a moment. By this, I do not mean that God does not consider us uniquely and individually. Certainly, He does, and He desires that we all be saved. But that’s the key: He desires that ALL of us be saved. To think we are any more worthy of being saved than anyone else is folly.

So, let’s follow this to a logical conclusion, which may be a bit unsettling to some: if we are all created in God’s image, and if God loves us all equally, and if we are all created equal, then a logical line of thought is that God will do whatever He needs to do at every moment in time to maximize the number of souls to be saved. While He desires that all be saved, we know that not all respond to Him and many people will not –through their own choices and actions and non-response – be saved. But if God has played out every scenario and sees X souls accepting Him in the first scenario and Y souls in the second, and Y > X, then it seems only logical that He chooses scenario 2. It would be hoped that every person who responded in the first scenario is included in the second, but that is not guaranteed. And while this seems disturbing, it is important to remember that in all cases, we chose freely.

This also perhaps helps us explain a few of the difficult things to comprehend in the world about suffering. As Christians, I think we can all agree that the number one priority of life is the attainment of salvation, and incorporated in this are all the things that bring it about: love of God above all else, loving neighbor as yourself, etc. So to say this is not to diminish any aspect of Christian ministry, love, or action. But it does put certain things into perspective. We can look to the rise and fall of peoples and nations, and we can look to different areas of prosperity versus destitution and suffering and wonder why these things must be. But if it is to be believed that God has played all this out, then it must be believed that there is a reason for everything.

Given that nothing is more important than salvation, consider the scenario in which God foresaw a very prosperous African continent, with little suffering. Suppose that the entire continent lost its faith in that prosperity. Now consider the scenario where there is much unfortunate pain and suffering, and yet this draws people around the world to compassion and assistance, and touches peoples’ lives, and at the same time drawing many of the people suffering to God as their only hope. While it may be unfortunate that this must be the way salvation is attained, which do you think God would choose? It may seem difficult to an emotional created being who doesn’t like physical suffering, but it is not even a question to be debated to the God that considers this world a tiny passage on the way to eternal bliss. And after this life is passed, every one of those people will happily accept their salvific state and would say that it was worth much more suffering than the worst of their time on earth.
Consider the blessings we in the United States have realized, and look at the history of this country as it invoked God and spread His Word, and sent missionaries around the globe. Now consider the future that is in store for us as these blessings are perverted into self-aggrandizement and we fear acknowledgment of Christ as our Savior and involved in the design of all things. God will do what is necessary to maximize the salvation of souls – He always does.

One wonders, given the state of the world today, just how horrible the world would be in countless other scenarios in the way the world unfolded. Or maybe “horrible” isn’t the right word. Perhaps there are numerous scenarios where we would be awash in prosperity and wealth, with enough to eat and drink without worry. And maybe we’d all be fat and happy and on our way directly to hell.

Every action we take, every prayer we say, every last thing we do is the beginning of the rest of all moments in time. Do we let God inspire us to work towards an increase in the salvation of souls? Or do we, in every way He tries say “no”?

If you rent the movie, don’t expect delving into these concepts. The movie isn’t about that and you’d be sorely disappointed. But Since my mind rant with things, I thought I’d share.

Everything in this post is a philosophical exercise on my part. To the extent that anything uncomfortably might bump up against Church teaching, I defer in all ways to the magisterial teachings of the Church. I don’t think anything does, but it’s good to acknowledge that I’m simply human and imperfect. And yes, it’s all opinion. If you think I couldn’t be more deluded and wrong, then you may well be correct.

Prophecy From a Catholic Perspective – Part 5

Standard

Continuing the path throught the Catechism as it relates to prophecy, I thought I’d pull out this passage:

269 The Holy Scriptures repeatedly confess the universal power of God. He is called the “Mighty One of Jacob”, the “LORD of hosts”, the “strong and mighty” one. If God is almighty “in heaven and on earth”, it is because he made them. Nothing is impossible with God, who disposes his works according to his will. He is the Lord of the universe, whose order he established and which remains wholly subject to him and at his disposal. He is master of history, governing hearts and events in keeping with his will: “It is always in your power to show great strength, and who can withstand the strength of your arm?

274 “Nothing is more apt to confirm our faith and hope than holding it fixed in our minds that nothing is impossible with God. Once our reason has grasped the idea of God’s almighty power, it will easily and without any hesitation admit everything that [the Creed] will afterwards propose for us to believe – even if they be great and marvelous things, far above the ordinary laws of nature.”

If you are a person of faith, this isn’t anything new. But how often do we really subject our own thinking to this reality? In the face of miracles, we tend to be very skeptical. This isn’t in itself a bad thing – the Church herself is skeptical. But the nature of skepticism needs to be grounded in a question of discernment rather than doubt in God’s ability to work such a miracle. We should be open to things to the extent that we have an acceptance of God’s ultimate Power over everything. If He wants to intervene, even to the point of suspending physical realities as we know them, He can do it. Believing this doesn’t mean we automatically believe every word we read in private revelation. It does, however, mean that we don’t dismiss this things because they are too fantastic in one way or another to believe – as if it could never possibly happen.

This is an important thing to remember even as we read public revelation. Do we accept that God sent the plagues to Egypt? Do we accept that He can just as well send chastisements our way? And do we believe that He can and will transmit messages to people of His choosing in one way or another? We are not bound to believe private revelation. But we need to be careful of our reasons for dismissing it, as well.

272 Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus “the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Many of the prophecies we see and hear about have something to do with chastisements. These involve suffering. There is no guarantee that good and holy people will not suffer, as well. Often times we see such prophecies put in terms of “God’s wrath” or “vengeance.” These are human terms to try and put meaning to God’s actions. But God is a Spirit. He does not react to things with an emotional response. There is a reason – and a perfect one at that – as to why He does what He does. This suffering purifies the individual as well as the community. It is an administration of perfect Justice. It is also, often, His Mercy in action because the suffering will bring multitudes back to Him, who otherwise would have been lost.

The fact that such hardship is unpleasant, and seemingly unfair for certain individuals, should not shake our faith. We should, in our mind, understand that this suffering can be a testament of our faith and lead others to Christ. We can prayerfully join our sufferings to Christ. We can offer it up for other good. Even if our hearts want to wail out, first and foremost we simply cannot let our sufferings weaken our faith.

293 Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: “The world was made for the glory of God.”

294 The ultimate purpose of creation is that God “who is the creator of all things may at last become “all in all”, thus simultaneously assuring his own glory and our beatitude.”

When the human race universally turns away from its Creator and gives glory to self, it usurps the entire purpose of the reason for Creation. Therefore, God has a couple choices: (1) let things go and allow His Creation to be a mockery of Him, (2) intervene to shake things up so that once again Creation glorifies Him, while being patient and allowing more people to turn to Him, or (3) end things.

301 With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end.

So, God simply wouldn’t let the first choice occur. Which means He chooses to chastise us for our own good. It has happened throughout history. And at some point, He will end it.

We do know from Scripture that the end will come some day. We don’t know when, but it will. From private revelation, there seems to be an indication that we will yet go through at least one more major chastisement before the final end times period. We’ll get to that someday. But all these items from the Catechism just help to clarify the reasons why these things must occur.

302 Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created “in a state of journeying” (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call “divine providence” the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection

310 But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world “in a state of journeying” towards its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.

311 Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it

Believe it or not, we are being guided towards an ultimate perfection. And this is why, when things seem to be godless and out of control, something is coming. Again, I am not to know when or how, except that God has blessed us with some mystics and seers that the Church has recognized. But in the end, we’ll all get a clue:

314 We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God “face to face”, will we fully know the ways by which – even through the dramas of evil and sin – God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth.

I’m looking forward to that…