Sunday, March 12, 2006

And Another Thing Before I Go.

The invaluable Tom of Disputations has concisely formulated something that I see too, something that strikes to the heart of theology for me.
I've been struck by the inchoate notion that to speak of "the problem of evil" is to miss the fact that the problem we are truly facing is the problem of good. The real question isn't, "How can an all-powerful, all-good God permit bad things?," but, "How do we face the fact of an all-powerful, all-good God?"

Or, to put it another way, I might think I know what I mean by a "good God" the way a six-year-old might think she knows what she means by a "good Mom": one who's always nice to her, who's only around when she's wanted, who makes no demands and gives all the candy and toys the girl wants. That her actual mother is being loving even while refusing her what she wants, even when punishing her, is too difficult for the six-year-old to grasp; she thinks of "Mom while nice" and "Mom while angry" almost as two different entities (just like "Old Testament God" and "New Testament God", you know?). The scale is vastly different to us, the very real miseries of the world seem so vast that it seems rather patronizing of me to compare them to the punishments and disappointments of a six-year old- and yet those disappointments seemed so real and important at the time, don't you recall? It's only because we grew up that we can see them as trivial.

The reason that I was so moved and inspired by Deus Caritas Est is that, as I've said, one of the questions that really drives me is "What does love really mean?"

It was years ago that I first came to the conclusion that love, after all, wasn't always nice: an intervention for an alcoholic was an example there. The concept that "Love is seeking what is best for the Other" did well for me, prevented a lot of foolishness, but it was only a concept. It makes it sound as if the highest love possible was that of the coolly detached philosopher weighing the scales of morality and coming away with the decision to surprise his wife with flowers. I suppose there are many titles one might praise Kant with, but "Apostle of Love" I daresay isn't one of them.

But the Saints- ah, that's another matter. If, as I've now come to think, "God is Love" is more a definition for us of Love than of God, if human loves are truly participations in God's love, then we can see Love best in looking at Christ, and in looking to the Saints.

Love is patient and kind, yes, but it is also harsh, as was Jesus' rebuke to Peter on the road to Jerusalem. Love does not take offense, but neither is it afraid of giving offense when proper, as Christ offended the Pharisees. Love allows itself to suffer at the hands of others, not with resignation but with joy, like Felicity and Perpetua. Love asks more of us than we can give, like Abraham binding Isaac to the altar. Love is absurd, for it is alien to our natures; it comes to us as a grace we do not ask for in the beginning, sometimes one we never ask for.

And yes, snappy conclusion goes here. Like Deus Caritas Est, this post should have a second section about how I'm going to put charity into practice. But the few meager good things I do I shouldn't indulge in boasting about, and the things I don't do I have no knowledge of. And my daily life is rife enough with self-centredness too. So I'll leave that discussion for another day, for I'm afraid that it's midnight.

Have a good week, everyone. Yes, I did read your blog today, just didn't give myself the time to comment. What can I say? Mea culpa.

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