January 2, 2020


Day 9: God's Dilemma (Walter Russell Mead, January 2, 2020, Providence)

[A]t the end of the day, for Christians, the heart of the matter is this: God is love. Love doesn't just describe God's relationship to the creation; it describes God's essence--His inner life and being. This, as we have seen, is the origin of the Christian idea of the Trinity: love is so intrinsic to the divine nature that we cannot conceive of His unity as solitude.

From a Christian perspective, God's act of creation is an expression of love. God made the world because He wants an abundance of beings and sensibilities to love, to be with, to share life with, and to make happy. [...]

All this means that human beings present God with an extraordinary problem.

On the one hand, God finds us irresistibly lovable, beautiful, and, where God's love is concerned, needy. How could we not be? Beings made by love out of love are inescapably drawn to the perfect love from which they come. No matter how grizzled and grumpy we become with the passing years, or how pimpled and snarky we turn in our adolescence, God looks at us with the kind of tender solicitude and hopeful anxiety with which we look at small children.

Yet at the same time, like many angelic-looking children, we can be a fairly nasty bunch of characters, more Lord of the Flies than Little Lord Fauntleroy. Just pick up a newspaper or go to your favorite news site: genocides, starvation, sexual tyranny and exploitation, vast contrasts of poverty and wealth; terror, arms races, environmental destruction; the rich and the poor cheating and stealing from one another, with the rich generally doing best because they've got more power to abuse; nations nursing ancient wounds as hatreds fester.

Or back off from these entrenched historical evils and look at what goes on in families, neighborhoods, and among friends. Abused children grow up to repeat the cycle. Children of alcoholics and addicts grow up with psychological wounds that predispose them to repeat the same sad behavior. Widespread epidemics of cheating in school, cheating on taxes, cheating on expense accounts, cheating on spouses. It's a bit like the national debt; each generation gets the bill for its parents' shortcomings--and passes that bill with some additional charges down to their own heirs.

Christians talk about this situation under the heading of "original sin," saying that our species has been a dysfunctional family since the dawn of time, and that each of us repeats and adds to that cycle of abuse and betrayal in our own way, even as we suffer from the damage done by those who came before. Other religions object to the kind of metaphysical structure that Christians give to the concept, but virtually everyone intuitively gets this picture of a human race somehow at war with itself and fundamentally out of whack.

This flawed race, trapped in a cycle of cascading pain and wrong, is what and who God is bound and determined to love; the question is, How can He do it? [...]

To hold everyone to a strict standard is to condemn the whole world, but to wink at the real evil that people do is to give up on the moral standard of true justice, and to leave people trapped in a cycle of evil and pain. Christians believe that God refused to choose between His love and His justice. He refused to overlook the evil of the world and say things were OK when they weren't, but He also refused to walk away from the whole ugly mess.

Instead, God chose to engage. He would draw closer to us, but not in a way that took evil lightly. Specifically, God chose to become a human being, to live with us, and ultimately to do for the human race what we could never have done for ourselves. The baby in the manger wasn't just there to look cute and beam rays of benevolence to shepherds and kings. He was born to suffer rejection and injustice, to be tortured and scourged, humiliated and mocked, to face an unjust trial before an oppressive foreign ruler, to feel the full weight of the wrath of God due to all the evil in the world, and to die a cruel death while being ridiculed and mocked by those He came to serve.

God resolved the dilemma between love and justice by taking them both all the way. The Creator of the world took the hit we had coming. The anger, the condemnation, the judgment all fell on Jesus, who bore it all out of love. That, for Christians, is what makes Christmas such a special time of year. God really knows us; He knows the worst things about us and isn't fooled by our rationalizations and evasions. And He still loves us enough to be born among us and to pay the price for all we have done.

Jesus came to deal with the flaws, the weakness, and the twisted selfishness that stand between us and God. He came to deal with the reality that no matter how much we might wish to live the right way--we haven't and don't.

Finding Himself alone and unloved on the Cross, he finally became fully Man:  "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 

Forgive us, Father, we know not what we do.

Posted by at January 2, 2020 7:12 AM