The Insanity of God

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Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Why does God do such outrageous and crazy things sometimes, behaving so completely irrational, then expecting us to do as he does? It’s totally insane! God creates human beings, and gives us the gift of reason, expecting we use it. So it makes absolute sense that we consider our options; figure out how to live in the world; create order out of the chaos that is often our default; establish laws, systems, and processes so we know what to expect in most circumstances; so we know how to relate to one another; so we can go to bed at night knowing everything will be exactly where we left it. Does any of this make sense? I am confident you have entertained some of these thoughts yourself before. If you haven’t yet, you will. Maybe your brain isn’t working right. Better get that checked out. But more insane still is that I am crazy enough to say it out loud! But I know you were thinking it!

So before we go all Lewis Black on God, we might benefit from examining some of the things we sometimes accuse God of, things that would make even less sense if God did things differently. Take natural disasters. Forest fires and floods are raging out west. We shudder at the destruction earthquakes and tsunamis bring. Fires and floods and earthquakes do untold damage, leaving behind ash and silt and devastation and tears. We suffer loss of life and property. And we ask God what good comes of this?

Now in God’s defense, not that God would need my help, it is God’s wisdom alone that governs the laws of nature that have been established and set in motion from the beginning. Gravity will always work. So don’t step out of a tenth floor window and expect to survive. The same with inertia—bodies at rest tend to stay at rest; bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. So when a bullet is fired out of a gun, it will not stop until it meets resistance. Don’t get in its way. Intense fire will burn marshmallows, but also old growth forests and homes built close by. Water can quench thirst, but too much of it can also wipe out whole towns and villages. The laws of nature will work most of the time. Only God can suspend them. They wouldn’t be laws if God did that a lot. But we can keep asking for exceptions.

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Then with complete disregard for the welfare of others, some people for no good reason make really bad decisions that devastate the rest of us who have to pick up the pieces and keep living. They drink and drive and kill. They break into people’s homes and steal. They attack random strangers because they’re bored and have nothing else to do. They fire high-powered automatic weapons on innocent children. They make explosive devices to bring down planes and buildings, and leave chaos where peaceful people go about their lives. They even call on God’s protection as they do things that make no sense! And we turn to God, and ask what good comes of such things?

To human beings God has given the gift of free will. Some will use this gift for good, while others not so much. Some decisions, good or bad, will have unfavorable consequences. I say even good decisions because parents’ good decisions are not always welcomed by their teenagers. If God suspends the gift of free will each time we make bad decisions, then we don’t really have free will. And it seems God can live with that. So we still have to teach our children to make good decisions. In the end, they will have to make their own bad decisions one day. And we will have to live with that.

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Then there’s suffering and illness and death, which all come under the category of the laws of nature. Our human nature follows its own laws, too. And it is a law of our nature that we have a beginning and an end. So like everything that breathes, we will all experience suffering and illness and death. This is not negotiable. But it’s not all bad. We plant flowers in the spring, knowing they will wilt and die by the fall. Does knowing that make us plant fewer flowers? I bet it helps us appreciate the flowers more.

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Then in today’s readings, we witness God’s irrational behavior toward people who make bad decisions, causing untold grief to himself and to others. The younger son in the parable disrespects his father, takes his inheritance, and gets wasted. Then he comes home. A reasonable person would say he deserves a sound beating. Instead he gets a party. The older son refuses to play along. His father pleads with him. We don’t know if he forgives his father. But Jesus tells us this is how God would behave.

And Paul has a story to tell us, too. He admits his shameful past, that he was a persecutor, a blasphemer, and an arrogant man. Yet God set his sins aside, forgave him, and sent him to be an apostle, to proclaim the Gospel to the gentiles. If God had asked our vote, Paul would have ended up alongside Anthony Weiner and Elliot Spitzer.

So can we live with God’s insanity? We really have no choice. It’s not up for a vote. What it comes down to, I think, is that God does not play by our rules. So that’s something to keep in mind always. Just because it makes sense doesn’t mean it’s what God would do. That’s why God is complete and total mystery. Just when we think we’ve got God all figured out, he surprises us. Paul tells us “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” A reasonable person would object. Not me. And here’s where things get even more crazy. When it comes to forgiveness, God always sets the bar high. Forgiveness may make no sense, but God wants us to do as he would do. We can choose to be like God and do like God; or we can choose to be reasonable and do what makes sense. Just don’t expect God to approve, simply because it makes sense to you.

Rather, I think we should go by what makes sense to God.

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Rolo B Castillo © 2013