With lukewarm theism and even deism so commonplace today, no wonder there is so much atheism abroad. As theism was born of the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, so it might as well die by the tsunamis of our age. Theism is a rationalization whose cure is worse than the decease it meant to vanquish. The decease was the conception of a fuzzy and woolly God. That is the conception that was so mercilessly dispelled by Voltaire and the Enlightenment. The cure has been the relegation of God to a neverland outside of history and outside of nature. The Enlightenment has educated us to believe that we should be indifferent to whatever God does, is, or thinks—because God is indifferent to us.
A devastating tsunami comes and we are left once again naked in front of God. A tsunami comes and offers us the opportunity to re-evaluate our own understanding of God, and our own relationship with God. It was God, the God who is in nature and everywhere, who raised His hand and created the tsunami. No other explanation suffices. There is no other way to explain these phenomena.
The traditional questions come fast and furious: Why? Why does God inflict pain on the living? Who is this God?
The answers had better come slow and considerate. If I had the definitive answer to these and perhaps a thousand like questions, I would be God. I have no “objective" answers, answers that are expected to be true and valid for everyone and forever. I have only a set of personal answers that help me get through the night and the day.
I know why God inflicts pain on me. I have observed my attitudes and my reactions. God inflicts pain on me when I begin to assume that I have done my life's work and I can finally sit in my rocking chair and listen to music forever. It is then that God strikes me and disorients me; he makes my head spin. If I forget that it is His will that I am doing, then and then alone I suffer incredible pains—and no, there is no one who can inflict more pain on me than God.
Still, my God is not cruel. He never gives me more pain than I can tolerate (should I “snap”, I would forget it all—wouldn’t I?). My God is compassionate. Whatever pain He inflicts on me is for my own good; it is not for His good; it is not for anyone else’s good. If I am humble enough to listen to His commandments, he points me in a new direction.
Then I acquire peace. And I start to understand more and to love more. Everything is there to know and to love about life, about people, and about God Himself becomes alive. At the end of that portion of my journey, I realize that—not unlike Howard Carter at the first sight of Tutankhamen’s tomb—I have been made to see "wonderful things". All the pain vanishes, and I am there to enjoy the vista. For how long? God only knows.
From my observations, God is never cruel to other people either. I shiver at the thought that He can be considered cruel. What evidence do I have of the validity of my belief? Well, I have two proofs. First, when cruelty is inflicted by a human being upon another human being, God is always with the victim and in the victim—God suffers with the victim and the victim ends up being at peace.
It is the perpetrator of violence who is penalized, who is in pain in this life, and is expected to suffer forever afterwards; more cruelty is often deemed as an assuefaction of previous cruelty and violence; yet, the pain only increases.
And when the violence comes straight from God, as in a tsunami, we know that God gave us endorphins: at the decisive moment of death, we feel no pain. Those who die have reached bliss. (Even atheists will agree to this.) They are now in the presence of God. They are in God.
Oh, a minor form of conceiving the cruelty of God—a form that, though largely unspoken, takes on overwhelming weight today—is to assume that sex is dirty and mirth is forbidden. It took a venerable celibate, Pope John Paul II, to point out in his Theology of the Body that sex is a wondrous act; indeed, it is a sacred act.
And so it is with mirth. I never forget that it was a monk, Don Perignon, who created champagne; and when he saw what he had done, he was ecstatic. He thought he had locked the stars in a bottle.
No, God is not cruel. He wants that we fully appreciate and enjoy all wonders of life.
And where is God in between my highs and lows? The Lord opens my lips in the morning (the first time I read this Psalmist’s expression a shiver went through my body); and, as my favorite Hymn urges me to do, I try to “Praise every morning God’s re-creation of the new day!”
My Lord opens my lips in the morning and closes my eyelids in the evening. He sends a black bird to warn me of danger ahead and a seagull or two to greet me personally when I bask in the sun, or the low clouds, for a few moments in the morning in order to melt in the land, the sea, and the sky—and be made ready for the new day.
Jesus is my friend and the Madonna protects me all along. The angels, the archangels, and the dead—and the living who are most close to me—keep me company, while my thoughts and actions fill the day.
Which makes me raise the ante of Pascal’s wager. One: If you wage that God is not, you lose the richness of this life. Two: If He is not, you lose nothing.
By the way, Pascal’s wager is still valid, unless you eagerly confuse theology and even religion with God: God is everywhere; God cannot be confined to the world of religion—most certainly He cannot be confined to the world of any one religion. If God is, it is too silly to risk eternal punishment.
And by the way again, I have felt freer ever since I took my secular Carmelite wows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Oh, yes, free will! Once I said: “Enough of this! I retire!” I retired, and an instant afterward I uttered the necessary prodding “now what?” I more freely resumed my usual activities.
Indeed, my Carmelite charism allows me to see this reality clearly and forcefully. Our founding father, Elijah is the prophet of the living God; and St. John of the Cross, a reformer of our Order, suffered horribly at the hand of his brothers. He narrowly escaped with his life from a dungeon into which he was thrown by his brethren only because he physically escaped from his cell. But in his prison, he did not commune with the devil.
He saw the hand of God and was nourished by Him. That occasion was the germ of his life's work, his holy work. And once he escaped from prison, he did not return to his convent in a "postal" mood; he did not blow his brethren up to pieces; he did not seek revenge. He forgave them and became free to go on with his life.
And in this life he met the living flame of God, a flame that destroys your innermost loves in order to bring you a deeper and more lasting bliss, the love of God—and the realization that we have a temporary existence, that we are passing flickers in the night; and even in this condition we exist only because He is, because God is. We exist in relation to Him.
This form of spirituality, a robust spirituality, is to be recommended today especially to the United States. The power of our country is awesome. The country as a whole and most of its citizens are blessed with many gifts. They are hard-earned gifts.
And yet, if it is not realized that ultimately they are gifts given by God, the love for these gifts will be so strong as to engulf each one of us.
Lets us love ourselves. Let us love our consumer goods and even our consumerism, which in moderation is essential for employment and production. But let us not forget that, in the end, these gifts are not ours. They are God's gifts.
Then we will truly enjoy them. By the same token, let us love freedom. But let us not love freedom to the point of fanaticism. Let us remember the reason why the Carmelite nuns at Compiegne were put to death during the French Revolution. They were put to death because they did not want to leave the convent and join the revolutionaries in their “freedom”.
Doesn’t this horrible episode capture the arrogance of our age? In Vietnam we destroyed the village, because we needed to save the village. We bombed innumerable Iraqis to death, because we wanted to bring them freedom.
These dangers call for restraint and the search for appropriate means. Ready for a cadre of Mary’s Messengers of Mercy?
The journey away from the true slavery of material life is a journey toward the deeper freedom of the life of the spirit: a journey toward the understanding that matter is not only matter; rather that matter is also energy; and then that matter and energy are not only matter and energy, they are also spirit.
Once we have come to understand and to feel in our bones that life is an integration of matter, energy, and spirit, then we have no need to see God outside of history and outside of nature. God is indeed everywhere forever. It is only our being a third body/matter and a third mind/energy that prevents us from seeing God for what He is.
We had better have patience to wait for that day in which we become pure spirit. It will come. Then it will be entirely manifest to us that God is the master of life. And if we do get a flicker of this reality even in our present complex condition, then we have to recognize that God is the master of death as well. God is the master of life and death.
Then a tsunami is seen as it is, as the hand of God.
An Addition - January 3, 2014
Originally published at http://www.spectacle.org/1211/gorga.html