Sunday, July 24, 2005

MH - God's Respect For Our Free Will

It was another stiflingly hot Sunday here in Minnesota, and for the second consecutive week Fr. Welzbacher kept the homily short. But although it was brief, as usual it packed a punch.

Fr. Welzbacher chose to concentrate on today's Epistle, Paul's letter to the Romans. Do Paul's words suggest, as Calvin believed, that we are all predestined to either salvation or damnation, with no control over our lives? Not at all - as Paul himself says. Notice his words - "For those he foreknew he also predestined" - in other words, God, Who knows all, Who knows what we will choose long before we make that choice, already knows the identities of those who will, freely, choose Him. Far from being left without a choice, His predestination in fact depends entirely upon the choice we make. What Paul is telling us is that God already knows the choice we will make, and for those who choose Him, He will "conform us to the image of his Son."

A lot of us have trouble with the idea of free will. For example, how can God, who created all, allow evil to exist? If the presence of evil is a direct contradiction to that which God stands for, why does He put up with it? Why does He allow us to make that choice?

To answer that, one has to understand how much God values that freedom which He gave us. I've had this discussion with several people over the years, and it always comes back to this central point - God, ever the perfect Gentleman, refuses to force Himself on us in what would amount to, as Fr. Welzbacher called it, a divine rape. He respects us too much to take away the free will He gave us. And it is that respect that is the key to understanding the rest.

For starters, there's reproduction. God could, with a snap of the divine Fingers, create a baby out of thin air, right? Why stop there, however - why not create each new life in a fully mature, fully grown state? Would solve a lot of problems: abortion, infant mortality, birth defects, childhood hunger. There's no doubt God could do this, should He choose.

And yet He involves us, His humble creations, as integral players in the act of human reproduction. We are involved as co-creators in the continuing of life on earth. Without men and women working together in concert, the human species ceases to exist. Now, that should give us something to think about - only a God with a mighty respect for humanity would give us such a role.

It continues, however. For when God came to earth as man, He again bypassed other means of creation and chose a human woman to give Him life. Immaculately conceived though she may have been, Mary was not a god, not a divine creature. She was a woman, a human being like us. Our God, Who created heaven and earth, chose the form of a humble human, born of a human, when He appeared to His creations.

And still it goes on. Did you happen to concentrate on the words of the priest at Mass today?

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.

Again, God involves us. Notice the words - the bread which "human hands have made," the wine which is the "work of human hands." He has entrusted to us the making of the very elements which He will change into His Body and Blood. It's not manna from heaven, created by God alone - it is the work of "human hands." I just stumbled on this angle this week myself, and it was profoundly humbling. The gentleness, the love which is implicit in this act of Our Lord, allowing us to play such an important role in His work. He didn't have to do that, you know, just as He doesn't have to continually dispense His mercy on us.

But he does.

There are many, many more examples, of course, of how He involves us in His work. After all, it was to mere men and women that He entrusted the spreading of His Divine message. But for a moment look at the three examples above, in conjunction with Paul's words today. Does it not speak of the dignity which God invested in man? Does it not address the respect which He shows for our free will?

When we find ourselves tempted to sin, against ourselves or against others, we should think for a moment about the lack of respect we show through such acts - not only the way we fail to respect ourselves or our fellow brothers and sisters, but the lack of respect it shows our Heavenly Father. Contrasted to the Divine Respect He has for us, it gives us pause indeed.

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