Monday, June 26, 2017

Is the God we are often angry with really God? Or is he a being of our own construct?

The things that we hear in the confession as confessors often do several things to us.  Many, if not most of history’s well-known confessors have admitted that hearing confessions have humbled them to a great degree.  This is true.  It always humbles us to see how hardened sinners have come to the realization that the God of mercy had been waiting so long for them to come to that point in their lives to admit that they had strayed and drifted so far off course.  It further humbles us to be used by God in the celebration of the Sacrament to impart God’s mercy so lavishly. 

The other thing that is often revealed to us is how stilted and underdeveloped many Catholics are in their notion of God.  While it is lamentably true that many of the faithful have a very simple and basic theology (if at all), what they reveal about how they feel about God, his mercy and his justice give us the impression that so much of their so-called ‘sins’ are really an unnecessary burden that they are carrying around with them, sometimes for a huge part of their Christian lives.

Let me explicate.  Let’s say that a penitent confesses that he is very angry with God because there is so much violence in the world.  In this one line, he is saying much more than he articulates.  First of all, there is the reason for his anger.  When asked why he is angry, he could reply by saying that a loving God, and a God who is just, will not let such injustices happen in the world.  It is also very possible that he is saying that if he were God, he would do a much better job at being God.  There’s a hidden pride in this, if we get to the ‘brass tracks’ of things.  This person may have prayed with great fervor that the violence be stopped by some divine act, and this would solve problems at so many levels, one of them being that angry atheists who don’t believe in God’s existence would then have to rescind their stand.  However, God doesn’t operate this way, and so it gives one some reason to be infuriated with this god.  Again, the hidden or unseen arrogance would be that God’s ways appear to fail, especially when put against the scrutiny of man’s very limited judgments and standards. 

Getting back to being angry with God, putting all that was considered into perspective, it becomes clear on such occasions that the real sin isn’t so much anger with God, but that one’s idea of God was faulty and erroneous.  The penitent was, to be fair, guilty of worshipping a self-created or false god, than of being angry with God per se.

I’ll try to use a metaphor from mathematics to make this clear – if we get the fundamentals of a mathematical formula right, we will be able to apply this to the problems that we are trying to solve, and come to an acceptable answer.  But if we get it wrong from the level of the formula itself, the correct or acceptable answer will never be reached.  We will need to address the formula and right what was wrong in the first place to reach a correct solution.

I am not saying that faith is like math.  It is far more complex and delicate, with more mystery than epistemology.  But just like math, the basics often affect the end with results that are grave and alarming.

I try to spend some time counseling my penitents in the confessional whenever I see signs of this in their confession.  Though it is often appreciated, I am sure what is not appreciated are the very slow moving lines outside my confessional room, resulting in causing penitents in line being angry or impatient with the line that moves with the speed of molasses.  A wise priest once told me – as a confessor, treat each person in the confession as the most important person in the world.  Doing this will always mean that time cannot be hurried.  But if I have helped to open the eyes and mind of a person who had been worshipping a God of his or her own construct, it would have been worth the wait. 

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