Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Suffering and the Problem of God – Desire

[T]hey heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the evening breeze, and the human and his woman hid from the LORD God in the midst of the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called to the human and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard your sound in the garden and I was afraid, for I was naked, and I hid." (Genesis 3:8-10) (1)

On retreat about one and one-half years ago I prayed about my health (actually, I was moaning and fussing at God about it). It had been getting worse and worse and I was not at all happy. After a bit, I saw the face of a young Chinese man and it struck me that nearly a quarter of the people in the world do not know that God loves them. The realization that they could live and die in such darkness was sadder than any sadness I had ever known and far more important than my disgruntlement over my health. Within me there arose the desire to do something so that that young man and all those in China might come to know God.

I heard the familiar voice in my heart, “The price is high.”

“Well of course it is,” I replied. “But that that young man should never know you – that’s intolerable. Absolutely intolerable. He must know you. All of China must know you. The price is well worth it. Lord, with just one like that young man or even a few, you could remake all of China.

“And I want a part, even a little part. I want to help. Maybe you could use this illness. That would be okay with me.”

We are involved in an overwhelming love. It is so great, all the love stories we humans have ever imagined, can possibly imagine are pale shadows, trite fairy tales in comparison. I am convinced that on the sixth day, God took some dust into his hands and said, ‘I will make you like me’ and then proceeded to fashion humans in his image and likeness. In the garden, God shares an intimate relationship with our first parents. Reality for our first parents is truly: “I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.” (2)

This love is also a great tragedy for when they eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, when they realize they are naked and try to hide themselves from each others eyes, from God himself, they rupture the relationship God has given them. They step outside the community of love in which God has created humans to live and move and have their being. So that Job’s demand: “How long wilt thou not look away from me …thou watcher of men?” (3) only echoes the actions of a man and a woman in scratchy fig leaf aprons trying to prevent God from seeing them.

The love might have ended in that garden except it doesn’t – this is truly the great love and can never end in tragedy. It continues through long, long years, through countless incidents of behaviour so ugly and hateful that long ago, any of us would have walked away. The love continues today and will continue through eternity because we are the objects of that love and our behaviour does not alter the one who has chosen to love us: we must either reject him or stand still and with his help let ourselves be loved.

He wants us. He longs for us. He desires us. To be God is to be relationship, to exist in the mutual desire between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. To be human is to be offered a place in that desire; it is intolerable to God that we should not know him. We can reject him if we choose, for he values our freedom above our lives, but we will know that we are rejecting his overwhelming, absolute love. God desires us so much, he is quirky.

After the humans eat of the forbidden fruit, God utters the curses that fall upon each of them and their posterity and evicts our first parents from the garden into a hostile world. The story should be predictable from that point but it’s not because God engages in one of his quirky acts, he makes soft, warm “skin coats” (1) to clothes these rebellious humans; fig leaves are terribly scratchy, not at all suitable as protection. Abba has clothed his children, prepared them to live in a hostile world. Betrayal is answered not by destroying the betrayers nor by unmaking their actions. Consequences are as real as the soft clothing and the promise of seed that shall “trample” (1) the beguiling serpent. That seed is God himself whose love for us burns so intensely he will take on our dust, clothe himself with the humanity he has created, abandon himself to the treacherous completion that is foreshadowed when Adam blames him, saying, “[t]he woman whom you gave by me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” (1) (emphasis added) For though God cannot take on the blame, he will in yet another quirky act, take on the punishment.

But he does so according to the reality of what it means to be God, in community with those who love him, with those who hate him, with those who are only doing their job, with those who hang about because they have nothing better to do than be incited against innocence. God enters into our broken communities and allows himself to be broken so as to bring us back into community with him.

Suffering and community go together. From the first breach, to the spectators at Calvary, to the Church’s martyrs who continue to suffer today – suffering takes place within community. Suffering continues to be the means through which God pulls us into the body of Christ, brings us back into community with himself and with each other.

It would be easy if he did it all for us and we reaped the rewards – that’s what we expect – then we could write lovely tales of the battle in the deeps of time, a battle that does not impinge on our lives. But that’s not what he offers because he really is making us creatures of dust like him. When God took on our humanity, he took on our suffering. When he remade our humanity, he remade our suffering. It is the path back into relationship, the means through which we learn to love as he loves, give as he gives, grow into his image and likeness.

I look forward to the day when I shall meet the young man God showed me; I believe he will come to know God’s love and will help bring God’s light into the darkness of his country. Though I do not know his name, he is part of me and I of him: we are in community with each other. I am very, very fortunate. I have no memory of a time when God’s love was not the central reality of my life. Though I have been through great darkness, God has always illumined my path. And now, I have an opportunity to participate in bringing God’s light to those who live in darkness without knowledge that light is even a possibility; it is intolerable that every person in China should not know of God’s overwhelming love, his boundless desire for them. And it is a gift far beyond my imagining that I should be granted even a tiny flickering of God’s desire for the people he has created, that I should have even an infinitesimal part in helping to restore the Chinese to the community God has created them to enjoy. “[T]he sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (4) The glory of being part of God’s community.

1Genesis – Translation and Commentary, Robert Alter (1996 W. W. Norton & Company) *

2 Song of Solomon 6:3

3 Job 7:19-20

4 Romans 8:18

* I highly recommend this translation as a resource for those interested in serious study of Genesis.

1 comment:

Pia said...

Your mission is an enthralling one, Drusilla. May God grant you the fortitude to carry on with it and do your part, no matter what the cost. You are a generous soul, and the Lord needs generous souls like yours.

To belong to a community is a very important aspect of our faith, while the temptation may be at times to want to shut the community out, because it always entails giving up a part of ourselves to benefit another, and sometimes in a local community (i.e. parish) one grows attached to the role one is called to fill. This can damage the community itself, as well as the individual. To be part of a community requires a sense of sacrifice and a certain level of spiritual maturity. A sense of passion (and compassion) are just as necessary, but often create some difficulties. This is where the spiritual maturity would come into play. If one does not acquire this, one will rapidly risk crashing into the proverbial brick wall, and may end up out of the community.
I speak, of course, based on experience. It is a very painful thing to be "exiled" from active participation in the community, while I ask myself "was I being prophetic, or was I just a fool?" I may never know until one day, when I find myself in the light of God's love. In the meantime, I have discovered that prayer is not passive participation, but rather the foundation that the active structure of the parish (and of course, the Church)is based on.