“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” (Kahlil Gibran)
We ran across an old friend last night. Gaylon and I had often wondered what ever happened to him. People change so much over the years. I know I have, but I like to think it’s for the better. I’m sure there are some who might not agree!
This guy used to be a great Christian. He really did love God. He played his guitar and sang about God. He was a teacher, a great role model. He made an amazing difference in the lives of so many people. Now, he very clearly states that he no longer is a Christian. Not that he really needed to point that out.
And it made me really sad. I’m not the evangelical type. I don’t run around spouting off Bible verses and trying to convert everyone. I take to heart the advice of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times – if necessary, use words.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t care very deeply when someone commits apostasy and rejects God.
I care because I care a lot about people. But I also care because I can see myself making the same mistakes. I am so very human, and there have been so many times in my life when I really thought something was a great idea, or that it was at least a sin I was willing to commit. I have far too frequently stood on the steep brink of spiritual disaster and looked longingly over the edge to the jagged temptations far below. A couple of times I have even started to try and make my way down that steep cliff, only to find myself clinging to the proverbial branch and begging God for His mercy and assistance.
I stand in judgment of no one. I know I have it in me to reject God. I’ve done it before. Not completely, more like leaving Him an “away message”. But it is a dangerous, slippery slope. St. Thomas Aquinas noted that a sinner does not see the choice between good and evil, but the choice between two goods. I understand that! So, again, I do not stand in judgment of anyone.
In the catechism class I teach, we were discussing the First Commandment. And it seems pretty cut-and-dried. You know, no false gods. No idols. Seems basic enough, until you cross-reference it. When Jesus was questioned about which commandment was the greatest, he freaked everyone out and didn’t answer with one of the old tried-and-true Top Ten. Instead, he sort of summed them all up in one: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself.” So, there’s the cross-reference. Love. The First Commandment is all about love. Loving God, and because of loving God, loving others. NOT easy!
So in my class, we discussed the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. We talked about what these things meant, and how to get them. They are actually received at Baptism, but we must cultivate them. It’s basically a use-it-or-lose-it thing. If you want to grow in Faith, you must exercise Faith. You must protect your Faith, and not do things that will cause you to lose Faith. I think this is really so important.
Every time I have ever seen anyone turn away from God, it is because they first started dancing with ideas and behaviors that they knew were offensive to God. So, finally, they found a way to be angry with God, because let’s face it: it’s a whole lot easier to offend someone if we’re already angry at them! Then, finally, they determine that either God does not care (because if He did, they’d be in a whole lot of trouble, right?) or that God isn’t real at all. That’s the easiest theology, because if there is not God, then there are no boundaries, and anything goes.
I have been guilty of deciding that God didn’t care about me. Which brings us to the Theological Virtue of Hope. Despair is obviously a sin against Hope. Suicide is the obvious example of this in action. I’ve managed to despair many times without ever contemplating suicide. (Good Catholic upbringing in action there: suicide=mortal sin=one-way ticket straight to hell.) And I have been guilty of wanting God to look away for awhile. But I have never been able to just decide He doesn’t exist. That is incomprehensible to me. I guess that is because, deep down, I really do believe that God is forgiving and loving and merciful. In spite of all the things I’ve done and considered doing, He still loves me. Sort of like the way I still love my children when they’ve done something amazingly foolish, only God doesn’t indulge in the good old-fashioned Polish Guilt Trip.
Which brings me around to Charity, or Love. If God loves me, then I should love Him back. And if he loves everyone else, then I need to love them, too. Which is impossible. Except that love is not a feeling. It’s a decision. And I am eternally grateful that thus far, God has given me the grace necessary to continually love Him, and others. He makes the impossible possible.
And if I love God, then I will want to do things that make Him happy. I mean, I am always looking for ways to make my family and friends happy. I often go to great lengths to make sure I don’t upset any of them! If I know I’ve done something, or made some decision that will incur their disapproval, then I avoid them, until I can ‘fix’ the problem. It is tougher with God, of course, because I can’t avoid Him. But the precept is the same.
But the bottom line is this: God is real, whether we like the idea or not. Sorta like gravity. We don’t have to believe in gravity, but if we jump off a building, we will discover that it is very real, and we will pay the consequences. It’s easy to deceive myself into believing that I am being cheated out of some great pleasure or reward by obeying God, and that He’s not being fair. I love that line in the movie “The Labyrinth” where the girl keeps saying “That’s not fair!” and the Goblin King looks at her and says “You say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is.” What basis indeed!
So, I am sad, but I am also motivated. I really care about my friend who has turned away from God. He is a brilliant and delightful man. It is so easy to get ideas in our heads about the way we believe things are, and then nothing else seems to make sense. We begin to believe that sin is good, and that everything is relative, and therefore okay. I’m familiar with that thought process. And I know that if I don’t cultivate Faith, Hope and Love, I will lose them. They will atrophy and die, and I really don’t want to go there. It is far too slippery a slope.