Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Judgment of God IV - Suffering

Suffering is a universal human condition. We all suffer to some degree or another, we generally consider suffering to be unfair, unjust, and we all look for a way to prevent or reduce suffering. This also is a barrier to accepting God’s Judgment, since many people believe the Judgment is about apportioning eternal suffering to people, which appears to condone the worst actions of evil men. After all, a tyrant may have you tortured, but the worst that can happen is you die; compare that, horrible as it is, to the image of eternal suffering with no hope of relief or an end, and God becomes a monster beyond anything known to Mankind. The notion of a truly Just God is incompatible with the notion of a God Who would torment people forever. Also, the notion that God is all-knowing and all-powerful raises the question; why would a God who knows all things and can do anything, allow for Damnation?

As I am only human, and not wise enough to rise to the level of many great minds in History, these questions which have vexed many Philosophers and Theologians must be answered, at best, inadequately from my perspectiove, yet I have noticed a point upon which some resolution may be had. That is the Christ.

In most religious descriptions, we humans live on Earth, while God (or the gods) lives in Heaven, separate from us. The devil, demons, evil apparitions, and the leaders of the opposing political party live and work in some kind of underworld, or else here on Earth. Separation of powers on a celestial scale! And even when God (or His angels) comes to Earth, it’s usually on a short visit, and God is visibly distinct from any mere mortal. This shows up in the Bible, too, and we understand that it is not Pride or Arrogance which so drives God to appear in this way; consider how difficult it is for an adult to appear to a child as anything other than an adult, or how unlikely an athlete in his prime is to be mistaken for an involet. God, being the full accomplishment of power and might, is beyond our comprehension in His full glory, but what we may see is an image of power and glory beyond any man.

If we were talking only about image, this would be a trifle. It speaks, however, to a fundamental problem for Mankind - how can we have a proper relationship with God, when we cannot even approach Him on any level we might call equatable, even to ask for His help? Remember that for my purposes, I am presuming that the Bible is true, in speaking of God as Holy, Pure, Good, and Just. Fortunately, you can add Merciful to that list, as well. This question of how sinful Man may hope to hear Holy God, much less approach Him, demonstrates a flaw in so many religions. If there are many gods, you have to reach a resolution with all of them, each on their own terms, or you can never have peace. If there are no gods, then there is no help at all for you; once you sin, you fall off the cliff and cannot slow down or stop your plunge to destruction. Even if there is one God, but He must remain locked away in some place of required purity, you cannot meet Him. If He is the absolute essence of Holiness, then even though He may approach Man, Man cannot stand His Holiness, and would be destroyed by His sin in the very moment He was in God’s presence. Only the Triune nature of God explains the matter in a way which grants God His perfect Holiness, yet allows a chance for Man. The Father is pure, and Sin is destroyed in His presence. The Holy Spirit then, is that Person of God who is able to reach Man in his deepest heart, even in his deepest sin, and speak both Conviction and Consolation. Man is not compelled to obey the Spirit, but that is the choice.

Now, man understands something of Justice, but many are led to believe that it is only an ideal, and not a fact. The Father is perfect but is not a man. The Holy Spirit speaks to all of us, but is not a man. The Christ is the fulfillment of the Covenant of God with Man, because as the Christ God walks among us as one of us.

Now, to suffering. The Gospel accounts tell how Jesus was born, raised, and lived as a poor man, with no money or property of his own,how He did many great and good things, yet was blamed as a blasphemer and charlatan by the leading mean of His country, falsely accused of sedition, flogged and crucified by the Romans. Surely Jesus knew of suffering, on so many levels, which makes Him approachable by any of us. Have you been cheated, abused, tormented, ridiculed? So was Jesus. Now, consider what it says of God, that he would take such treatment from us.

At this moment, Karol Wojytla is lying on his deathbed, clearly suffering as he has been for a number of days now. Yet, many have noted that there is a dignity in his dying, a sort of lesson and example to us. One answer to suffering, is to learn from it, to make it mean something, to find good even in a thing which seems to have no good about it. And in ending suffering, even in one place or moment, to bring about good where there was not good before. It seems to me that is part of God’s will and Judgment about suffering - we need to learn from it, and in so doing learn our identity in His will.

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