Saturday, February 21, 2015

Good Thing Alanis Morissette Isn't God

I'd like to build upon a point I made in my last post over at Catholic Stand. There, I talked about the significance of the fact that the risen Christ still has his wounds. Among other things, this shows the respect that God has for our free will: He respects our free will by allowing the consequences of our actions to have effect in the world, even as He redeems us from their effect on our souls. Allow me to illustrate that in another way.

The Kevin Smith film Dogma is seemingly intended to shock Catholic sensibilities, from the assertion "Jesus wasn't white, Jesus was black" (neither is true, and more importantly, what would it matter?), to the suggestion that the Blessed Virgin Mary was not ever-virgin (which is put crudely and betrays a low estimate of the human capacity for chaste living), to a depiction of God by a woman (the more offensive part is that God is played by Alanis Morissette). But one of the most offensive things in the film is not one that might jump out at you right away.

At the end of the film, after the villanous fallen angels have caused their havoc and the scene is strewn with their victims, God(dess) shows up and annihilates the offenders. Then, with a sad look on her face as she surveys the scene, God(issette) waves her hand and restores all that was: buildings rebuilt, pavement repaved, people brought back to life, none the worse for wear. God-lanis simply hits the rewind button and puts everything back where it was. A big pink bow on a happy ending.

Except this is not how God works, and thank God for it.

What is at stake in this scene is nothing less than the free will of God's intellectual creatures, the ability for us to choose either good or evil. In this story, the fallen angels made certain choices, and those choices had consequences--tragic, horrific consequences, to be sure. But that is the great power and the great gift that God has given us: the ability to choose to fulfill our good and be united with Him in contented joy, or to choose our own willfulness and be united with ourselves, caught in a loop of selfish misery. This is the choice before us in our freedom. But imagine if our negative choices had no negative consequences.

Suppose you were the sort of person who liked to club other people over the head with blunt instruments, and suppose God consistently acted like the Celestial Mr. Fix-It that Dogma portrays at the end. Imagine that every time you exercised your head-clubbing proclivities, God prevented that head from feeling the club's effects. You could drum on that cranium like Keith Moon playing on "The Ox," and your victim wouldn't be bothered. Or suppose that God caught your arm and prevented you from following through, so that, try as you might, you couldn't bludgeon anyone for anything. You would shrivel into a bitter, inert lump, full of impulses you were physically incapable of enacting. Nothing would have changed your desire to bash in skulls; it would still be there, lurking beneath the surface like a shark trapped beneath ice. 

Or suppose that God did indeed remove your skull-bashing desires: one moment you were all ready to Hulk-smash, the next you're whistling "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah," unaware of the 180 your will had just done. You'd be something between a dog on a leash and a puppet being made to do or say whatever the Master of Puppets directed.

Or suppose that God allowed the head-cracking to take place, then wiped away the event with some spatial-temporal Oxi-Clean and erased it from history. 

If God were to obliterate our wrong-doing and its effects from existence, to hit the metaphysical reset button and call a mulligan, it would not soothe our pain so much as insult it. Such an act would rob our suffering of any meaning. It did happen! It did! That should mean something! There should be consequences! There should be justice for perpetrator and victim. We feel this at the deepest level. And we feel this because God made us according to His own nature, in His image and likeness, and part of that image is God's justice.

Part of justice is to restore what has been lost, when possible. And with God, all things are possible. So, when we lost our friendship with God in the Fall, God restored this friendship. But He did not wave away the offense, or pretend it didn't happen. God took upon Himself the necessary steps to make things right while still acknowledging the seriousness of the offense. As St. Anselm explained in his Cur Deus Homo: in order to pay the infinite debt owed, the one paying it would have to be able to make an act of infinite worth; and in order to pay the debt on humanity's behalf, the one would have to be human. So, for friendship to be restored between God and man, God became man--the infinite Being taking on a human nature, thus able to pay the debt on our behalf. 

That's justice. That's love. That's how God does things. Thank God that He didn't take the Kevin Smith approach.

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