Harsh & Dreadful

Children of the baby-boomers will remember Rob Reiner’s melodrama A Few Good Men, and that memorable scene when Jack Nicolson’s character thunders in righteous indignation, “You can’t handle the truth!” God knows that we surely cannot handle “the Truth” but if we are being honest with ourselves better yet to say we cannot handle Truth, Justice, Mercy, Faith, Hope, or Love. Limited beings that we are these realities exist on a plane above us and still, to become complete, to reach our fullness, we must climb the ladder that reaches outside our narrow collection of dust. And if we want that dust to catch fire and become an amalgam of blazing sparks we have to come to terms most of all with Love. 

Today we know love as a rickety sentiment, an emotion, a trivial jingle from the ‘60s All ya need is love… The word love cannot express for us what Dostoyevsky called, “A harsh and dreadful thing.” We have forgotten that love is a person, that love is God. It is easier, more comfortable to think of love as something esoteric, as a divine or universal attribute. To say God is love means that his existence is love and therefore the infinite reality which holds all creation in being is calling you, me, and every other part of existence with the harsh and dreadful voice of love. 

Why harsh and dreadful? The tragedy of original sin was less the fact that we betrayed the divine command and more that we realized that we are only complete when we are utterly dependent upon God. Humanity does not want dependence. We want to be self-defined, autonomous subjects, free to determine and live our lives as we see fit. Problem is, we are limited creatures, and any program we make for ourselves pales in comparison to the one which God has planned. But in order to reach our greatest heights we must first bow our heads, not in subjection, but in reverence and filial obligation to Our Father. What could be more harsh and dreadful to the illimitable ego of man?

Humanity would far prefer to construct a reality apart from God because then we do not have to admit our dependence. This love which seeks our greatest good allows us this choice, we can reject and place ourselves apart from our creator. God never withholds his love for us but he does allow us to repudiate it. We must choose the love of God and in doing so we have to deny our love of self and confess with St. Catherine of Siena that “every evil is founded in self-love, and that self-love is a cloud that takes away the light of reason, which reason holds in itself the light of faith, and one is not lost without the other.”

Then there is the problem of the other. Maybe I have run home, despairing that the world could ever satisfy the needs of my soul but who is there alongside my beloved Father? My brother. And I can’t stand my brother. He’s a liar, a bigot, and a self-centered jerk. Yet there he stands, beside my Father and I have to accept this painful truth: God’s love for me is no greater than God’s love for him. 

To accept the love of Christ is to understand that when he hung upon the cross, against a sky outlined in blood, he gave his life for everyone. Atonement was not made for a select few, a handful of precious disciples who really got the message. If we know anything from scripture it is that no one really knew what had happened on that Good Friday. There is no secret knowledge for Christians, we have no council of the wise who hold the true doctrines for the initiates. That would make things far too easy. If the truths were all contained in some esoteric doctrines we might be able to ignore the words, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) Why must we do this? Because we are disciples of Jesus and that is what he did for us. Because God loves indiscriminately and gratuitously. You do not have to agree with your brother, you do not have to accept the choices of your sister or condone the indiscretions of your earthly fathers and mothers but if you follow Christ then you have bound yourself to this one harsh and dreadful reality…love.

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