Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Modern Implications Of Noah's Story

The story of Noah is one of the most popular stories in the Bible. It's probably one of the first bits of Scripture that Christian children of any stripe are exposed to. Most Christian retail stores will have at least a few decorative ark items for kids' rooms. All of this is good, I suppose, but does it seem like we frequently lose the meaning of the Deluge narrative?

What is the real purpose of the ark? It isn't just some cutesy story about a guy loading some animals on a boat. It's about the sin of man and how it results in the destruction of everybody except for the eight people whom God deigns to save. That's a pretty heavy message.

I've been thinking about it a lot lately. More and more, I see people who seriously have it in mind that God owes them salvation. They claim that, since God created us and set forth certain conditions for salvation, that He necessarily must grant us that these conditions be fulfilled. Unless it's Hitler or Ted Bundy, of course. Otherwise, God simply isn't being just. 

Why do some people get to be exposed to the True Faith while others aren't? Because God is so unfair. 

What about miracles that bring about conversion? God apparently owes those to everyone, too. Why should St. Paul have the privilege of being struck blind or St. Thomas be allowed to see the Risen Christ? Why do children in Fatima get to talk face-to-face with the Virgin Mary? What about everybody else who doesn't get such a miracle? More evidence of God's injustice!

Let's try to recall what justice is. Justice is rendering to a party what they are due. By definition then, a person invoking the necessity of salvation or at least of miraculous proofs to persuade someone to the Faith is claiming that God owes them these things. Naturally, they will deny this and say that all they are doing is making God "follow His own rules," as though God was bound by anything other than His own promises.

Of course, God has never promised anything like what is contemplated in the above scenarios.

I'll leave aside that it's a bit crass to be envious over miraculous graces granted to others. Such sentiments are reminiscent of Simon Magus.

I think there are a couple of things lurking behind all these arguments. First, there's the misguided idea that God loves everyone the same. This isn't testified to at all anywhere in Divine Revelation, other than in the realm of "Well, it seems to me..." theology. To the contrary, some people are noted as being in God's favor, while others are not. Some people are noted as God's friends, as opposed to His enemies. The Blessed Mother, St. John the Baptist, and others are specifically called out as being greater than others. Where does this greatness/goodness come from? Or any goodness of our own for that matter? From themselves/ourselves?

Absolutely not. God is the cause of our goodness. Not us. Him. 

Second, there's a weird notion that somehow there is a chance that someone is going to wind up in heaven or hell that doesn't belong there. Someone who wasn't specifically evangelized and died without faith or who was a "nice person" (whatever that means) who just happened to commit a mortal sin one day, whether it was killing an unborn child or missing Sunday Mass, and then died in their sins. God obviously can't let such people go to hell.

In the case of the unevangelized, God can always grant that person a miracle akin to St. Paul's. In De Veritate, St. Thomas talks about the person raised in the wilderness by wolves and the possibility that God gives them a revelation unto faith before they die. Then you've got baptism by desire, perfect contrition, and all that to work with. In the second case above, second-guessing God here is a futile exercise because He's omnipotent, and we're not. He knows the sinner's heart. We don't. Might He have granted that person the grace of perfect contrition? Maybe. If He didn't, was He unjust? No, because He didn't owe that grace to the sinner. The underlying context of challenging God on this point is that we know better than Him who should make it to heaven. 

As for who deserves miracles, let us consider some references from Scripture:

And there came to him the Pharisees and Sadducees tempting: and they asked him to shew them a sign from heaven. But he answered and said to them: When it is evening, you say, It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning: Today there will be a storm, for the sky is red and lowering. You know then how to discern the face of the sky: and can you not know the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.
Matthew 16:1-4

And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance. And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead.
Luke 16:29-31

For when the children were not yet born, nor had done any good or evil (that the purpose of God, according to election, might stand,) Not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said to her: The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written: Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated. What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will shew mercy to whom I will shew mercy.
Romans 9:11-15

In fact, reading the whole of Romans 9 is a good idea on this topic.

What can we glean from all this? For one thing, it's a fair stretch for anyone to claim that they deserve anything along these lines by placing themselves as worthy as opposed to the sort of wretched generation that Christ speaks of in Matthew's Gospel.

For another, we see that God has given us the whole of salvation history as a witness to Himself and His Truth. If you're Catholic, you'll believe that God has given everyone sufficient grace to be saved. With these two items in our favor, it's more than a bit presumptuous to try and demand the God do more or to denigrate God for not having done enough. It makes one sound a lot like the Pharisees. God, in His omnipotence knows how further miracles and supernatural events will be received, ie- in the same way that the teachings and wonders of Moses and the prophets fell on deaf ears.

Finally, we see that God's mercy is His to grant or withhold. It is not something we are entitled to.

And then we have the lesson of the ark. The real lesson. God saves. God judges. He does both of these in the manner and means that He sees fit. If we see a problem in that, perhaps the problem doesn't lie with God. Maybe?

So remember when you read the story of Noah. It's not really about this:

It's about this:

And this:

No comments: