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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Why Didn’t God Create A Perfect World Instead Of Leaving Us To Take Out The Trash?

“But  He did create a perfect world”, Sister Marie Joseph replied when pestered by Barkley Van.  “He created the Garden of Eden”.  She stopped there as she always did, as clipped and summarily as the Catechism, letting God’s goodness and grace do the rest.

Barkley hesitated.  He knew when Sister got that look on her face, fingered her rosary beads, and rustled over to his desk, that it would be much, much better to leave the question hanging.  Yet…and there was always a yet in this inquisitive, persistent  boy…if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and om-everything, then why did he have to mess with a good thing.  Look what a mess he left us with.

Image result for images medieval paintings adam and eve

Of course Jewish and Christian theologians had been over this ground until it was worn flat; but the conclusion always was that God must have known what he was doing because he was God.  The first tautology; and based on that circular rhyme, Jewish mythmakers went on to create a fabulous story to justify what everyone should know – that God made a very bad mistake leaving us to flounder and flap around for millennia.  God, the Jews said, felt that free will was important to instill in Man, because only then, with the threat of perdition and suffering, would his praise and worship mean anything.  It wasn’t His fault that things turned out wrong.  It was Eve’s fault, a woman who couldn’t resist temptation and hungry to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and to know what God knew, and who then seduced her innocent, obedient husband. 

God of course should have known better.  The woman he created was human, and part of that creation is jealousy, ambition, defiance, independence, and arrogance.  Not only did he know exactly what he created, but he, omniscient, knew very well that Eve would act exactly as she did.  God was angry that Adam and Eve had denied his injunction, Devil or no Devil; but he took exception even more to the fact that what he had intended to be a perfect, idyllic, happy and good place forever, turned out to be a disaster.  Spiteful, vengeful, and incensed, he not only threw them out of the Garden, but marked them and their offspring damned forever.

Image result for images garden of eden expulsion medieval paintings

God never realized how this condemnation in perpetuity  could further infect, pollute, and destroy his world – which, he hoped, would somehow survive and vindicate his initial design.  Generations later, when he saw that the human race, populated by the offspring of Adam and Even, turned out even worse that he expected – thievery, sodomy, murder, jealousy, continual strife, and irreligious sentimentality – he destroyed it in the Flood.  That also didn’t work, and after some time he had to send his Son down to Earth to give humanity one last chance.  That of course didn’t work either.

Religious apologists justify these divine interventions as necessary corrections.  Post-Lapsarian Man will always be corruptible and incorrigible, so the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah were necessary, the Flood was necessary, the descent and suffering of Jesus was necessary, and other remedial events may still be necessary before the final call, the last roundup, the last judgment after millennia of accusation, judgment, and punition.   The Big One where God finally says, “I have had enough”. 

Image result for medieval images the biblical flood

This conundrum – how could an all-powerful, all-knowing God create such a miserable place – led many formerly-faithful away from their pews.  As much as Father Brophy banged on about God’s goodness, his ‘chalice of grace’, and Jesus’ redemptive suffering on the cross, Barkley never was convinced.  Suffering, said the prelate, was at the heart of Christianity.  Jesus had to suffer miserably and die a horrible death from crucifixion because the sins of the world were simply too great to be forgiven individually.  We, then, Father Brophy hammered on, must also suffer for our sins.  Such a confabulation was yet another justification for the unanswered question.  Theologians overlooked the fact that God, once he realized how idealistic he had been in creating the Garden of Eden and exiled Adam and Eve, could have fixed things so that the miserable suffering of the world could be avoided.

Ivan Karamazov in Dostoevsky’s epic cannot understand how Jesus could have so betrayed mankind.  His defiance of the Devil’s temptation in the desert and insistence that man cannot live by bread alone, set the stage for a corrupt, venal, manipulative Church whose Popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests were all in the business of promoting unrealistic aspirations and establishing themselves as the only legitimate intermediaries between God and Man.   Worse, said Ivan, was God’s turning a blind eye to the suffering of children.  While he understood that that suffering, penance, and punition were thought of as necessary purifying, redemptive mechanisms for adults with intelligence and volition, how could God permit the savage beatings, mutilations, and abandonment of little children by their own parents?

Image result for images jesus temptation in the desert

To Barkley, this second conundrum – how could an all-powerful God not only create a cruel, savage, and unremittingly brutal world and do nothing about it – was even more troubling than the first.  After having had his fill of Father Brophy, Sister Marie Joseph, Catechism, and Sunday School; and after years of self-important end-runs of Christian theologians and Vatican apologists, he left the Church.  For a time he was tempted by Hinduism – a religion with just as many myths and fabulist tales as Judaism and Christianity but without their incongruities, contradictions, and intellectual conundrums.  God simply is, said Hindu scholars, and the perpetual cycle of Creation and Destruction have nothing to do with divine justice, anger and retribution; but as necessary as the cyclical contracting and expanding of the universe.  Hindus can believe in a universal divine presence without having to worry about offending it.  The only purpose for being is to become part this divinity.  From a theological perspective, there was not a lot to criticize in Hinduism.  There was no capricious, vengeful, and punitive God as there is in Judaism, or idealistic prophet like Jesus.  Such humbug could never be part of this divine universality.

The old Yiddish expression, “Too soon old, too late schmart” seemed never more so true.  Here Barkley was in his final decades not even close to figuring out what’s what.  He felt like Tolstoy who spent decades of his adult life trying to understand the meaning of life, studying history, philosophy, religion, art, and science in a futile attempt to do so, backed into a sort-of faith.  If billions of people have believed in God before me, and if hundreds of millions now still do, he said, then perhaps there is something to it.  Forget the conundrums, intellectual dilemmas, inconsistencies…..There must be something bigger than paltry Man….or not; and Barkley found himself creating his own dilemmas, and laughed at the irony of it all.

Ivan Ilyich, the main character in Tolstoy’s short story, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, is afraid of death, denies it, fights it, and eventually becomes resigned to it; but up until his final breath he is consumed by fear, doubt, and regret; but when death finally comes, he is surprised.

Image result for imges the death of ivan ilyich

"And death...where is it?"

He sought his former accustomed fear of death and did not find it. "Where is it? What death?" There was no fear because there was no death.

In place of death there was light.

"So that's what it is!" he suddenly exclaimed aloud. "What joy!"

To him all this happened in a single instant, and the meaning of that instant did not change. For those present his agony continued for another two hours. Something rattled in his throat, his emaciated body twitched, then the gasping and rattle became less and less frequent.

"It is finished!" said someone near him. He heard these words and repeated them in his soul.

"Death is finished," he said to himself. "It is no more!"

And so it was that Barkley hoped to face death – not with understanding, not even with resignation, but with peace.  Fear had no place now, nor did figuring anything out.   It was death that was finished, Ivan says, not life.

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