UNHAPPINESS FROM THE OUTSIDE
Perhaps one of the most distasteful tasks in the world is that of the man or woman engaged to demonstrate a product in a shop window. No human being enjoys being an exhibit. We put privacy near the top of the list of the individual’s sacred things, privacy of thought, of desire, of the home. We can easily understand the unpleasantness attached to fame when an avid public gorges itself with details of wardrobe, breakfast and dinner, literary tastes, family history, and anything else that dogged reporters can ferret out. Curiosity, critical or admiring, easily reaches the point of persecution and is justly resented. We should have something of our own, some rooms which only our guests may enter, some doors that only love throws open, some inner sanctuary where the curious and unfriendly cannot wander about to gape and snicker.
Human dignity suffers only one greater affront: the affront offered to a henpecked husband or to the citizen of a state ruled by a tyrant. It is an insult calculated to drag men down with a crash by snatching from them the fundamental control that makes their actions human. We resent being pushed about and we exalt the contrary idea of independence. And rightly so, for the very heart of tile humanity of our actions is precisely their independence; they are human because they are ours and no one else’s, because they are proceeding under our control to goals of our choice.
The inviolable sanctuary of the human soul
This resentment is not the unreasonable indignation of the man whose flattering day-dreams are brought tumbling down about his ears by stern fact; it is the righteous anger of the man who has been robbed. We have not deluded ourselves into thinking we have this inviolable independence, it is not the product of recent theories or pet day-dreams; we have known through the ages that we have an inviolable sanctuary because we have always known that we are human. We are not making a revolutionary claim to independence of action, because we have known right along that these actions are human, they are ours, they are dependent on no one else.
External forces and sin.
In our last chapter we were forced to the disagreeable conclusion that the one sufficient cause of that distinctively human unhappiness which is sin is the will of the individual man or woman. Disagreeable, yes, but in itself it is a confirmation of and tribute to the inviolable character of our human dignity. We are not pushed about in our human acts, even in such unworthy human acts as sin. Ignorance and passion may try to coax us or trick us into committing sin; but we commit sin only because we have so decided. Heredity, environment, the state of our nerves, our digestion, or any other factor external to our own will can offer no more than an inducement to sin. We have our own sanctuary, inviolable by any force; we are masters of our own deeds and not slaves plodding helplessly under the sting of the lash. For we are men.
External agents and sin
In this chapter we come to a consideration of the influence, not of things, but of persons, upon our human actions, specifically on the human action of sin. From our own experience, from our dealings with other men, we have an accurate idea of our independence and of the limitation of these external agents. We can make a child drink its glass of milk; but we cannot make the child want to drink the milk. Consider the full implications of that: the child is physically insignificant, intellectually just beginning life, totally devoid of experience, of the wiles of diplomacy, without powerful allies or the massive threats of great armies and navies; yet not all the military power of all times, not all the devils in hell, not all the wisdom of the ages can force that child to want a glass of milk! And sin is possible only under condition of being wanted, of being voluntary.
- The fact of sin and human dignity: Enemies of humanity:
- Betrayers of freedom.
It comes as a great shock to men or women not afraid of their humanity but courageously proud of it, to find others positively eager to escape from that humanity. There is, for example, the great throng who would like to slip from under the heavy weight of human action and put the whole responsibility upon God, particularly the responsibility for that human action that is sin (Pelagius, Calvin, Zwingli). They would like to believe that we are helpless, driven mercilessly, necessarily into each particular sin by a totally contradictory deity. Others, on theological grounds, would believe that every action of every man is necessarily sinful; he cannot help himself and no one else can help him. All that God Himself can do is to blink at the sins and pretend they are not there (Luther).
Destroyers of freedom; betrayers of truth
Much the same destruction of human freedom has been attempted on scientific or philosophic grounds in our own day; though, by way of a sop, we are told to cheer up, even if we have nothing to say about our actions, there is no need to worry, because there is no sin. As if that in any way lightened the sweeping insult of denying humanity to men and women! It is no wonder that we resent this sort of thing, this insistence that we be content to be moved like pawns on a chess-board. It is not only an insulting denial of our freedom, of our mastery of our own acts; it is a shameless betrayal of truth, a demand that we embrace the absurdities of an evil divinity, of a godless universe, of a man who is not man, of a freak in nature absolved from natural law. The smile of friendship does not conceal the real enmity towards humanity there; if friendship there is, it is extended only to the streak of cowardice that is rare enough in a human heart and is always the guest of a shamefaced host.
Defenders of humanity: Of human intellect, freedom
Friendship is made of sterner stuff than the sentiment that gives a child pastry and chocolates by way of dinner. The surgeon’s knife is often mercifully kind; a brutal truth usually springs from a much deeper affection than does a pleasing lie. The real friends of humanity have kept their eyes fixed on human happiness, on human dignity, on human freedom, on the truths of man, rather than on the lies that would please him for the moment. So, as we saw in our first volume, Christ and His Church through the years have been the defenders of human intellect (Vatican Council, Sess. III, chap. a, canon I,Denzinger, # 1806), of human freedom (2 Council of Trent, Sess. VI, canons 4 and 5, Denzinger, # 814, 815), of a really divine God (3 IV Council of Lateran, chap. I, “De fide catholica,” Denzinger, # 428; Vatican Council, Sess. III, chap. I, Denzinger, # 1782, 1784), and of a universe with an intelligent purpose behind it. The booming thunder of authority was heard again and again when men, to deny their humanity, turned away from the persistent whisperings of reason. The real friends of humanity have insisted on the inviolable character of the human soul; our sins are our own because we are human, because we possess a citadel that no siege can reduce.
God and the inviolable human soul
There are parents who rigidly forbid anyone to touch their children for any reason whatsoever, the type that rushes to the superior of a school demanding instant punishment of the teacher who has dared to frown at, rebuke or slap their child. Yet that child is being for ever knocked about by his own parents. That is exactly the position we would be putting God in if we held that, after He had built an impregnable wall of freedom to protect the humanity of our actions from every created force, He Himself should step in to violate that humanity, to cause our sins. It would be no more comfort to us to be free from the molestation of the world than it is for the child to be free from the beatings of everyone but his parents; for we would know that at home, within our own souls, we could expect our humanity to take a constant beating.
God’s positive part in sin
But God is not like that. He demands respect for the humanity of our actions from every creature He has produced; and He gives that humanity the same respect. There is no such thing as God pushing a man into sin as we might push a child into a swimming-pool; we have to jump in ourselves, for we alone are the direct cause of our sins.
The Act of Sin
Nevertheless, indirectly, God has something to do with our sins; He must have because there is something very positive, very real about our sins and every reality must be traced back to the first cause of all reality. Remember we defined sin in the last chapter as a human act that has turned off the road of reason; an action with something essential missing, an act deprived of the regulation of reason. The positive side of it, then, is human action; the negative side, the privation of something that every human action should have. This positive side can be explained only by having recourse to God; God does cause this positive element of sin, as He causes our other actions — not destroying our own casuality in the matter.
As a matter of fact God could not be responsible for the privation of sin. Concretely this privation means turning away from our goal or last end; and that last end is God Himself. To suppose that God is the cause of the formal negative element in sin is to suppose God puts Himself in the ridiculous position of turning away from Himself, of making the absurd mistake of supposing something outside Himself is more desirable than His own infinite goodness. It would be as though a woman, looking into an old, cracked, distorted mirror were to think the face mirrored there much more perfect than her own.
In the negative side of sin we need no help from God. We cannot lay the blame for this defect of sin anywhere but on our own will. The staggering gait of a locomotive with flat wheels tearing over crooked rails is not to be traced to the power of the steam driving the locomotive. The flat wheels and crooked rails are sufficient explanation. A steel worker who disobeys the safety rules of the plant by using a cracked hammer puttering around the top of a crane is himself responsible for the cracked head of the man beneath him who is felled by the flying hammer; or the field manager of a large concern who disobeys the orders of the home office is himself responsible for the results that follow from that disobedience. The negative side of sin is precisely the result of going outside the field of the first cause, of disobeying the orders of our superior; for that we ourselves are alone to blame.
Ah yes, but God permits it! Could He not prevent all men from ever sinning? Well then, why doesn’t He? It is the old cry of those afraid of life who would throw out merit, love, triumph, virtue and heaven because they are afraid of demerit, hate, failure, vice and hell. To ask why does God not do away with the possibility of sin is to ask why does God allow men to be men? Why does He not make them machines, or chemicals, or plants, or animals? Why do we have to face these terrible possibilities of failure? Why? Because we can face these other tremendous possibilities of success.
Temptations from creatures
God can prevent all sin, but should He? Is there an obligation of justice on His part to stop sin? Unless there is, we certainly have no claim to think injustice has been done to us. God does permit sins, permits even the negative side of sins according to the ends of His sublime wisdom and justice. The guilt of Roman tyrants fashioned the glory of the martyrs; many a proud soul in imminent danger of hell has been brought weeping to the feet of Christ through the humiliation of a degrading sin of the flesh, for always it is true that the evil God permits is ordained to some good. It is not always for the good of the individual sinner; sometimes it is for the good of others, sometimes for the good of the whole universe. But even the sinner himself is again and again the object of the divine mercy and the watchful providence of God; often we are allowed to fall into sin that, knowing the bitter taste of that joyful-looking cup, we might come to ourselves, know the reality of sin and, humiliated, come back to God. And where mercy has worked again and again in vain, the sinner’s act will not escape the divine power for good; if it cannot serve the health of the sinner and the mercy of God, at least it will serve the divine justice which flows from that mercy.
Punishment P Remember now it is not a case of God’s doing evil that good might come; we do the evil and the divine workshops are kept running at full capacity to turn that evil to some good. That is strictly true of the evil of sin. Of the evil of punishment, it is indeed done that good might come; that is its precise reason. Many an optimistic parent has placed great hopes in a spanking which was decidedly evil for the child; in fact it is only love and justice that can administer punishment and if we insist on running away from love we are actually insisting on embracing the punishment of justice.
There is a point here well worth mention by way of putting still more of our feeble human excuses for sin definitely out of the running. One of the older ecclesiastical writers was quite sure that women were created to torment men. There was something unfair about the beauty, grace and attractiveness of women; and he greatly suspected that women had learned their feminine wiles from the devil himself. No doubt there are the elements of a sincere compliment in this opinion. Unfortunately we cannot lean back comfortably and laugh at antiquity from our superior age; for even today there are people who are sure drink is a curse originated for the degradation of man. Probably a little research would uncover many other instances of this mental kink that insists creatures were created to tempt men. Of course this is absurd. All that God made was good and ordained not to the downfall of man but rather to the attainment of his end; the universe was planned as his tool. Doctors have slashed their wrists with scalpels; but the scalpel was not designed as an instrument of suicide or murder. Creatures were not made to coax man into sin; it is rather the stupidity of men that perverts creatures to uses foreign to their original design, much as a contractor might conceivably turn out a machine gun nest from material the architect had planned for a penthouse.
- God’s negative part in sin: blindness and hardness of heart
- Turning from good and embracing evil; withdrawal of grace
There is another angle of God’s part in sin that meets with much unjustified complaint from men. Among the effects of sin frequently mentioned in Scripture is “blindness and hardness of heart”; a perversion of reason and will, of intellect and affections, that leaves the sinner buried in his sin as though he were put bodily into setting concrete which grew more rigid with every passing day. The blindness is a conversion to evil, a turning away from divine light comparable to the impatient movement of weakened eyes away from light in search of darkness; the hardness of heart is a reversal of the normal course of the affections of man so that instead of seeking the things that would turn man from evil he despises these aids to good. This blindness and hardness of a sinner are what make a death-bed conversion a marvel of God’s grace; and which all too frequently result in death-bed tragedies that tear the heart out of the most experienced priest as he watches the sinner go defiantly down the road of death.
What part has God in all this? It is again the story of sin and its punishment; man furnishes the sin, God the punishment. In this perversion that appears in the habitual sinner, there is a double element: the adherence to evil and the revulsion from good; and the subtraction of God’s grace which illumines the intellect and softens the heart of man. In their proper order we have first the placing of an obstacle to grace — the sin of man; then the refusal of grace by way of punishment; finally the result of this punishment is blindness and hardness of heart. In other words, the cause of it all is the sin of man, for by sin alone is punishment merited. Why does not God overlook the sin? Ah, but He does time and time again, though each time this punishment was well merited, God does not turn away from us, it is we who turn away from Him; and even then the “Hound of Heaven” keeps relentlessly on our track until divine mercy itself surrenders before the obstinate will of the creature made to the image and likeness of God.
Helplessness of the devil
The devil may go about the world as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour; but as far as directly causing sin is concerned, he is a toothless old lion. The devil is as helpless as any other extrinsic force or agent in his attempt to force his way into the privacy of our souls; in spite of the marvellous perfection of his angelic nature, he is as helpless as the toddling infant. This sanctuary of ours is absolutely inviolable. We have no more reason to fear that the devil will make us commit sin than we have to run in terror from the gurgles of an infant on the same grounds; the Curé of Ars plunged to the heart of the truth when he chuckled at the antics of this droll companion of men. The thunders, knockings, mysterious whispers and broken furniture were all part of a satanic masquerade calculated to have the same effect on men as a Halloween false face might have had on children thirty years ago.
Power of the devil: Limited field of his operations
However, the devil has enough to keep himself busy. He can cover the whole field of material and human operation in influencing our human acts; that means he can go from the senses up to the phantoms of the imagination — and not a step farther. In other words, he can offer us inducements to sin as a merchant might offer us inducements to buy his wares; but he cannot make us want to buy. More concretely, the devil can produce in our senses all the results produced by external stimuli; all the physical and organic changes which ordinarily accompany the passions; he can induce phantasms in the imagination. And what is all this but saying a spirit can work on a material thing? He can do all this — if he is not restrained by God. The general lack of experience with diabolic activity is more than sufficient evidence of the extensive restraint imposed on the devil and his angels by the infinite mercy of God.
His activity material for virtue as well as vice
The devil started his downward career with a mistake and has been making them ever since. Imagine a football coach, because of his dislike for a certain athlete, putting him through twice as rigorous a training as the others; and as a result turning out a far superior specimen of physical ability. That is the sort of thing the devil is doing all the time. For all these inducements are the brick and mortar from which a splendid house of virtue can be erected; they are opportunities for the exercise of good habits, for cutting the groove of virtue deeper and deeper into our souls.
Limited character of his actual activity Ordinarily we do not cheat the devil of any credit he deserves for our sins and our temptations. In fact we give him much more credit than he has any claim to, not because we are inherently generous but rather because we are so eager to think well of ourselves and so reluctant to disturb the foundation of those very kind thoughts of ourselves. The self-made man who traces all his success to the excellence and persistence of his own efforts, and the town drunkard who lays all his misfortune at the feet of bad luck are extremes of the same human vanity which never tosses a morsel to a guardian angel but heaps the refuse on the head of the devil. Even if there were no devil at all, there would still be ignorance and passion to offer a line of sin attractive even to the connoisseur. However, in one sense we can blame the devil for our troubles; after all, he started them all by tempting Eve.
Hereditary sin and the inviolable human soul:
And speaking of Eve, and of course of her husband, we come to the one effective cause of our sins from the outside; a cause which yet, in a mysterious way, is not outside at all. Original sin with which we are born apparently violates that inviolable sanctuary of man’s soul; apparently one sin has slipped into our private quarters without an invitation. But only apparently.
- Fact of Original Sin and its transmission a certain truth:
- Nature’s indications
It is necessary, before going into this question, to insist that original sin is definitely not a matter of myths, ignorant superstitions or inferiority complexes induced by a scheming ecclesiastical organization for its own ends. Original sin is a fact. Even nature itself gives us an indication that there is something wrong with man; in fact the modern world is quite ready to admit there is a good deal wrong, even to insist that almost everything is wrong so that the individual must be cared for like a helpless infant by his betters or his Government. But the modern world is not at all prepared to admit that this human defect is a matter of sin. But then the modern world does not know much of anything about the cause of human unhappiness, as we saw in our last chapter. It seems evident, though, that man alone, of all the creatures of the universe, is poorly equipped for the human things he is expected to do. A chemical, a plant or an animal is marvellously well equipped for every function nature demands; but man stumbles into the universe as poorly equipped as a Roman captive staggering into the arena. Considering the usual wisdom and efficiency of nature, this is very. strange; considering the benignity and mercy of God and His providence it is inexplicable except on one ground: something has been taken away from man, he has been punished; and the one cause of such spiritual punishment is sin.
These are only indications of a fundamental truth. Its absolute certitude is based on the solemn declarations of infallible authority. Our human minds might overlook or misread indications of a mysterious truth, indeed they might be blind to the valid proofs of an evident truth; but there is no room for human error. The fact of sin and of its actual transmission comes from a source that cannot deceive or be deceived. A few of the references are given in the outline of this chapter; let me repeat the solemn words of the Council of Trent: “If anyone says that the sin of Adam injured only Adam himself and not his descendants; that losing the sanctity and justice he had received from God he lost them only to himself and not to us; or that through the sin of disobedience only death and the corporal penalties were handed down to the whole human race, but not sin — let him be anathema.” (Sess. V, chap. 2, Denzinger,# 789).
The mystery and its difficulties
For Catholics there can be no doubt: the fact and transmission of original sin are solid truths infallibly established. Precisely because we must believe, we are free to take this truth, turn it inside out, let our intellect run with the exhilaration of a man on skis down to the depths and up to the heights. Strange how men ever came to look on our dogmas as a limitation of truth. A scientist who has only an absolutely empty test-tube with which to engage his scientific energies might as well be paralyzed. Energetic investigation is possible only when he has something to work on. Our dogmas are distinctively positive things; they give us something and thus open up unsuspected fields for further inquiry. A denial of them just slams another door on the human intellect.
We might consider just what original sin is, what its effects are, just what man has lost; and we will consider all these things in our next chapter. Here we are interested in just one phase of original sin — how does it get into our souls? How is such a mysteriously spiritual thing passed on from parents to children; how can it possibly measure up to the essential demand of all human acts, that of control and voluntariness; and what is the justice of our coming into the world with such a stain as this on our souls, even granted that it is a sin?
- Theological explanations:
- By the transmission of the human soul
With the easy familiarity of Catholics accustomed to rubbing elbows with patriarchs, apostles, martyrs and virgins, of linking arms with the Mother of God and ushering the Son of God into the unpretentious cosiness of their own souls, the theologians of the Church from the very beginning made no excuses for their bold attempts to answer these questions. Augustine thought perhaps the sin was transmitted from parent to child by the transmission of the soul itself; an opinion of which he was dubious himself before his death, and rightly so. For the parents do not transmit the soul, all they can do is prepare the material into which God infuses a soul He has newly created; a spiritual soul is not the product of material agents, even of exalted spiritual agents such as men and women, it is not to be made out of something, but to be carved from nothing by an almighty stroke of an infinite sculptor’s chisel.
By transmission of corporal defects
So other theologians decided that perhaps the transmission of original sin was to be explained by the transmission of corporal defects which certainly fell within the power of the parents; then the soul being infused into this infected body would itself become infected with original sin. Unfortunately for this opinion, the harbouring of the guilt of the wrong human act within the confines of a material body is simply inconceivable; that guilt is a stain on the soul, a spiritual stain; and we can no more make a material body the subject of something spiritual than we can wrap an angel in cellophane; look at the terrible time our modern philosophers have had trying to place intelligence in animals and to keep free will out of the human soul.
By transmission of human nature
No, these two opinions will not do. Even if it were possible to transmit the sin by transmission of body or of soul, there would still be the enormous difficulty of keeping that sin a voluntary act; and voluntary it must be if it is to be a sin. To St. Thomas these opinions seemed to involve more than great difficulties; they involved impossibilities and that itself was enough to justify their discard, for we are not asked to believe impossible things. St. Thomas pointed out that there was a third possibility: original sin was not transmitted by the transmission of the soul, nor by the transmission of the body, but by the transmission of human nature.
Let us look at it this way. In the individual there are properties that are common to all human nature and there are family traits like long noses or red hair; both types of traits are passed on to the next generation according to definite laws. There are still other strictly individual traits which belong to the individual and die with him. In other words, in the individual nature there are some things that belong to nature; and there are some that belong to the individual, things that are acquired over and above the natural or specific perfections. The same was true of nature in the beginning: it had some traits that belonged to it as nature and other perfections that came to it by grace, perfections that we will see in detail in the next chapter.
If we imagine an individual given the chance by one trial to have the privilege of passing his strictly personal traits on to his children or to lose them both for himself and for his children, we have a fairly accurate picture of the position of Adam in the beginning of the human race. He had the chance by one trial to win for his children, or to lose for both himself and his children, the privilege of passing on not only human nature’s own traits but the perfections that came to it in the beginning by grace. And he lost.
In other words, Adam was the head of the race, not only biologically, but also spiritually. Through his elevation to the supernatural order he was constituted by God the spokesman and agent of humanity, just as by his creation he was constituted physical head of the race.
- Heredity and personal sins:
- Strict limitation of transmission to Original Sin
This original sin, then, is my sin, not in so far as I am a person but precisely as I have received human nature. It is not a personal sin but a sin of nature, a sin committed for all human nature by the head of human nature, and coming down to every individual human being who receives human nature from that first head of the human race. So in the human seed original sin is present, not actually, but virtually in so far as that seed virtually contains human nature.
Actually this is my sin; I have sinned in Adam, not in the mere physical sense of being contained in Adam as in an ancestor, but in the sense of Adam having acted for the whole human race. Perhaps it will be more clear if we visualize all human beings as members of one body of which Adam was the head, the director; then somewhat the way that sin is in the assassin’s knife-stroke because his hand is moved by participating in the action of his will, so sin is in the descendant of Adam’ the sin of Adam is participated by his descendants even though thousands of years have intervened.
Immediately an objection comes into our minds: why did we have nothing to say about the choice of this head of humanity? The answer is fairly obvious. If we waited for an election until every human being had a chance to cast a vote, the whole thing would have been ridiculous, for the great majority of the human race would have been long since dead and beyond any personal interest in the outcome of Adam’s test. It was something to be settled immediately if the descendants of Adam were to reap any benefit by it; and there were no electors handy. Moreover, if we had been present and had a chance to pass on Adam’s qualifications as head of the human race, we would have seen the most perfect man God ever produced (except Christ Himself Who was God) physically, intellectually and morally. Would we have been willing to make the gamble? Would we have been willing to accept the rewards if Adam had made a better fight of it?
Ah yes, but after all sin has to be voluntary to be sin at all; yet original sin invades even the womb of the mother to infect the soul of the still unborn child. Surely the child at that age is not exercising his free will, not producing voluntary acts. Of course not. Original sin is certainly not voluntary by an act of my personal will; but it is voluntary and mine as proceeding voluntarily from the head of the human race, the champion of the human race, the champion who failed.
Universality of transmission to all men
It is evident from this that the personal sins of Adam, the personal sins of any of our ancestors, are not part of our heritage. It is only this sin of nature that comes down to us, for only in this limited field did anyone have the power to act for us. We lost the acquired perfections of nature; but the other perfections come to us intact. On the other hand, no descendant of Adam escapes the contagion of this sin; it comes with the nature received from the head of the human race. The solitary exception is our Blessed Lady who was never contaminated by original sin through a special privilege of God in anticipation of the merits of Christ; and that is what we call the Immaculate Conception. Christ Himself, of course, did not have original sin; but He was not an exception to this universal rule for He did not descend from Adam by carnal generation. Carnal generation is the absolutely necessary condition for the transmission of this sin; just as the hands or feet can participate the sin of intellect and will in so far as they are subject to the movement of intellect and will, so all men participate the sin of Adam in so far as they are moved by Adam through the motion of carnal generation, i.e. in so far as they receive human nature from Adam.
Fundamental condition of transmission: “active principle of generation”
St. Thomas expresses this again and again by saying that the sin is transmitted by the active principle of generation, the father. That statement has been persistently misunderstood. The argument proceeds from Adam’s headship of the human race, from the immediate father’s headship of the family. The sin comes down through the male line precisely because Adam was constituted head of the race, the father constituted head of the family. To throw out St. Thomas’s opinion on the grounds of modern medicine, if modern medicine has grounds for rejecting the scientific stand of the thirteenth century on the active principle of generation, this is to misunderstand St. Thomas. Carnal generation is the instrument of transmission of human nature and thus of original sin. The basis of our participation in original sin is the headship and consequent orderly subordination necessary for the good of the race and the good of the family. But it does follow from this that if God miraculously generates a man (as He did Christ) or if the scientist were to produce a man in a laboratory, in either case there would be no original sin, for the necessary condition of its transmission is missing, i.e. reception of human nature from Adam.
- Conclusion: Basis of modern revolt against God:
- Original sin, personal sin, physical evil and punishment
The modern bitterness against God has more than one explanation. There is, for example, the jealous preference of men for the idols materialism has set up; and this is no more than the logical climax of the gradual development of philosophy these past few centuries. A more recent source of this bitterness, recent only in its extension and in the sweeping devastation of its denials, might be dated from the despair of the World War. It is engaged primarily with the problem of evil and bitterly rejects God because of the evil it finds. Actually it is a strange mixture of insults to God, insults to men and absurd flatteries of humanity; like the incoherent ravings of a man gone mad.
There is first of all a violent rejection of a God Who would usher into the world men loaded down with the weight of sin and yet demand that they measure up to heights of virtue. This, they say, is a cruel, bitter, mocking divinity without the elemental justice of a crooked politician; a monster who made the world for the torture of men. Then, coming down a step further and taking the picture of God drawn by the destroyers and betrayers of human freedom as an authentic photograph, they vent their mad wrath on a straw god who never existed; on a god who creates men for hell, who pushes them into sin and awaits gleefully with a whip in his hand to punish the evil he himself has caused; on a god who should have prevented all this evil and did not. After having insulted God and insulted men by denying them the fundamental control of their actions, they leap to absurd heights in supposing the puny intellect of the creature they have so insulted is capable of taking in by one glance the sweeping plans of infinite wisdom. They meet hunger and thirst, pain, accident, death and injustice and demand to know why they cannot understand these things happening in a universe ruled by a good God. Why should not the creature who cannot master one human science grasp all the intricate workings of infinite wisdom ruling a universe from His eternal throne?
- Sin as evidence of the perfection of divinity
- Nobility and generosity
Perhaps they are a little mad. At least they are a distinct disappointment to the race that bore them; for surely we, with our great gift of intellect, should be able to appreciate the patent evidence of divine perfection which sin parades before the world. The very possibility of triumph and defeat, of virtue and vice, of success and failure, of heaven and hell, is both a tribute to man and a generous sharing of divinity’s power with humanity. Only a master sure of his power, supreme in his greatness, would dare to give so much independent power to his subjects; only a being infinite in his goodness would invite such a hopelessly inferior subject as man to share his own divine life; only a mind infinitely wise and a heart infinitely generous could have put into the hands of man the tools which would make that brilliant participation of divinity’s life the product of man’s own efforts. He could have made man merely an animal, a plant, a chemical. He could have put man on a spiritual dole and freed him of responsibility and self-respect; He could have tossed him the scraps from the tables of heaven as to a beggar who had no claim. But the astonishing thing He did was to treat man as man.
It is not well, in talking of sin, to forget Bethlehem and Nazareth, and the long, weary, discouraging years that led up to the climax of Calvary. It is not good to forget the bread of angels, the picture of the slave nourished on the body and blood of his Master, the strong flow of grace, the wide horizons opened by faith and hope. In a word, we are blinding ourselves if we refuse to see the manifest evidences of divine love as well as of divine justice, if we refuse to see that God has treated us not merely as men, but as friends.
Respect for inviolable sanctuary of human soul
But even as men, the very nature of sin itself shows us the thoughtfulness of God. He gave us the privacy our nature demands; an inner sanctuary that no force, no devil, no man can violate. And He himself refuses to challenge the inviolability of that sanctuary. That soul is our own; its actions can be forced by no one else. They are ours; they must be ours if we are to be held accountable for them, for only by proceeding under our control to our goals are they human actions. The same is true of: our sins, for they too are human actions.
Beneficent ingenuity and merciful justice
Even the abuse of our mastery of our actions furnishes overwhelming evidence of the beneficent ingenuity and merciful justice of God. Time and again our sins are turned to good; time and again we are snatched from the hardness of pride through the humiliation of other sins, brought to our knees by the awful face of sin and the kind face of God. Again and again suffering and misfortune serve as steps to bring us closer to the divine heights. Even the raging activity of Satan himself is made the material by which the sanctity of the friends of God is fashioned. And winch, after years of patient search for sheep that insisted on losing themselves, after silent years of unbearable insult, divine mercy sees the quest for love is hopeless, the very damnation of the sinner is made to serve the double purpose of warning, helping others and fulfilling divine justice.
Why should we have to face these awful possibilities? Why must we play the game of life and run the risk of defeat? These are the questions of the man or woman afraid to live, afraid to be human, the questions of the coward. These are the questions of those who would sacrifice freedom for fear of making a mistake, give up intellect for fear of ignorance, give up action for fear of failure, give up heaven for fear of hell, give up life for fear of living. We cannot have anyone of these without the possibility of the other; and our dignity as men is precisely that we can have, if we will, the most perfect of all, the triumph of life, a share in the life of God.