February 11, 2017
Saturday, Week Five, Year I
Genesis 3:9-24; Psalm 90; Mark 8:1-10.
In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Some might find the Responsorial verse a contradiction to their experience. People blame God precisely because he did not make himself their “refuge” when they needed him. Nations starve. An economic crisis or hurricane strips a family of everything they own. A child dies and the parents never go to church again. Do they proclaim, “In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge”?
Genesis 3:9-24 does provide an answer to this, but too often people hear it too late, when their emotions make it impossible for them to accept it. Who would blame a parent for being angry with God when a child dies? Certainly God doesn’t. It is a natural response, but unchosen. Emotions aren’t choices; they just happen.
If, however, one makes an intellectual judgment that God is unloving, this is a free choice. And a self-destructive one. It is also irrational. But people may not be ready to listen to reason when they are in acute distress. That is why it is important to read the word of God: to learn God’s explanations of life before we need to know them, so that when we do need them we won’t reject them.
The Genesis story is a “myth,” as we explained above. In it God is telling a deep truth, but with as much independence of scientific or historical truth as a fairy tale. To criticize its biology or physics is as unenlightened as reacting against the Santa Claus story because reindeer can’t fly. We have to look for the point of the story.
God is saying that if there were no sin this world would be a paradise. That is what he made and intended it to be. That is the point; not that God got angry and punished the human race with sickness, pain and death because our first parents sinned. The story is not about God’s emotions, or even God’s actions after Adam and Eve’s sin. It is about the kind of world God wanted this to be as opposed to the kind of world it is. This is not the world God made; it is the world we have disordered by our sins.
Would babies die if there were no sin? If that is a scientific question, the Bible gives no answer. But does God want babies to die? The Bible says no.
So why do they? Why is childbirth painful, both when a child is born into this world and born into the next? Why is work sometimes so difficult and unrewarding? Why do pain and suffering exist?
Scripture’s answer is, “Because the world is not in harmony with God.”
Humans, the “stewards of creation,” put in charge of this garden to “cultivate and care for it,” are not doing a good job. But — allowing for exceptional miracles — God doesn’t intervene. Having made people free, he leaves them free to sin. And to cause pain to others. Having made nature’s laws, he stands back when “natural disasters” occur. But if the natural order of things had not been broken by humans declaring themselves independent of God, all things would be under control. Without introducing religion, we can all name a dozen destructive, unhealthy things in the environment that are the demonstrated result of human greed. Scripture doesn’t explain the rest; it just says that when humans return to God, “No hurt, no harm will be done on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Read all of Isaiah, chapter eleven). The root problem is sin; the ultimate answer love.
Meditation: Am I ready to accept loss, pain and suffering without blaming God?