Why God is the Perfect Author

 

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“None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.”- Saint John Paul II, Letter to Artists

Not many people know how much work goes into creating a wonderful story. Whether we are writing a novel or making a movie or a painting or a play, we are creating new worlds. This process, known as “worldbuilding,” involves a lot of research and  creativity. Whenever I work on a story I’m writing, I am basically reliving the creation from Genesis.

I realize that not everyone who reads this believes in God, but it’s hard to argue that this beautiful universe that we live in came to be by mere chance. All the stars, galaxies, and planets we see when we look at pictures of space aren’t just floating balls of gas and rock. To me, they are works of art. The vastness of space reminds us that there is more to life than just our petty squabbles and the problems in our world.

Zoom down to our tiny planet and think about what this world could’ve been. I heard it said somewhere that if our planet was placed just the tiniest bit closer or the tiniest bit further from the sun, it would be uninhabitable. We are given this beautiful world with huge oceans and all sorts of different environments and climates. Variety is the spice of life.

Which begs the first question: Why do natural disasters happen?

It’s part of the worldbuilding. Earthquakes led to creating the continents. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires all clear out parts of nature, but new things grow from the destruction. Climate change is definitely a factor, but we’ve been doing a lot of damage to the ozone layer since the Industrial Revolution. There is nothing new under the sun.

God doesn’t plan for these disasters to happen. He just allows them to be a “plot twist” in our lives. Some people look at the devastation and question how God could exist. The answer is found in His best creation: our fellow human beings.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Rita, I have seen more good people than bad get the spotlight on the news. Disasters have a way of either bringing out the best in us or the worst in us. The good news is that God created humans with the power to choose how we feel.

Which leads to Inevitable Question #2: Why do bad people exist? Why do terrorists keep attacking? Why do we constantly hear about people acting in such atrocious ways? If God created each and every person on this planet, why are there so many bad people?

Once again, it goes back to choices. God gives everyone the power to choose and choices and the consequences of these choices shape the stories of our lives. One great example can be seen in the Marvel Netflix series Daredevil. Both Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk were people who grew up in New York City and had difficult circumstances in their childhoods. However, one chose to retaliate by doing something evil (even if it meant protecting the ones he loves) and the other was put into the care of good people (even if he did have a jerk for a mentor). Wilson Fisk’s choices led to him becoming the head of the largest crime organization in the city. Matt Murdock chose to become a lawyer to defend the helpless and later chose to be a vigilante when the law wasn’t enough to take down the bad guys.

People are raised in circumstances that shape who they become. Each person has the capacity to change and rise above whatever hardships they experienced, but some choose to stay where they are. The key here is what we choose.

It’s a bit hard to wrap your head around the idea that believing in God leads to having a life with better choices and more freedom, but that’s how a good story goes. Remember how in Star Wars when Luke chooses to trust in the Force instead of the computer that was targeting the exhaust port in the Death Star? Star Wars isn’t a perfect parallel for a faith-filled life, but I do like how being a Jedi relies on having faith and being detached from consuming emotions.

What exactly is the point of this ramble? To quote the Doctor, “we are all stories in the end.” I know this post might sound crazy, but I just want to show you that this universe, this world, and each and every single person gives evidence that there is a Creator. So much work goes into creating a story. So much work gets put into creating a world and all the characters and conflicts in a work of fiction. The world that we live in is no different.

Vocations: Destiny or Free Will?

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As someone who grew up reading fairy tales and watching anime, I began to notice something in the way that people see vocations.

Many of my married friends believe in the idea of pre-determined “soul mate” love and how God planned for them to marry a specific person. The story of their love life is essentially like the chorus from Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”: “You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess. It’s a love story, baby. Just say ‘Yes.'”

People who discern religious life, on the other hand, have vocation stories that resemble the typical anime “destiny plot.” In a typical adventure anime, the main character goes on a long journey or goes to school while trying to figure out what their purpose in life is. Either way, the protagonist finds their destiny and the story focuses on them working towards becoming a priest or a nun, with the perfect gang of friends who accompany them on this journey.

I’m speaking in generalizations, of course. I know that every vocation story is different. But in the years I spent going to vocation-related events, it seems like people see marriage and religious life as a pre-determined destiny and all they have to do is “discern” which one is right for them. In reality, marriage and religious life are not as cut and dry as that.

Yes, God creates each and every person with a unique personality and skills, but he also gave us this strange thing called free will. We have the ability to choose what to do with our gifts, for better or for worse. Our lives are more like those video games where the choices you make effect the way that the game ends. (Just think of Mass Effect or Infamous.) It doesn’t mean that we can just do whatever we want. The power to choose comes with the responsibility of making sure we choose to do God’s will. In an ideal life, we work with God to help us to choose the right thing. Eventually, our choices help reveal what God wants us to do with our lives.

The best example of this can be seen in the movie Moana. Although Moana was chosen by the ocean to voyage out and return the heart of Te Fiti, her journey was not an easy one and at one point, she gave the heart of Te Fiti to the ocean, wanting to return home after Te Ka nearly killed her. The spirit of her grandmother was supportive of Moana’s decision to turn back, but at the same time, Moana was hesitant. She had to choose to take the heart back herself and not just because the ocean or her grandmother told her. She did that by remembering who she was, where she came from, and reflecting on how far she has come.

So how does free will play a role in discerning marriage or religious life?

When it comes to marriage, I have a bit of a bias. For one thing, I don’t believe in soul mates. Now before you clutch your pearls and start citing the examples of Tobias and Sarah as well as Mary and Joseph, know that I wrote a Bible study on Tobit and I have a great devotion to the Holy Family. Tobias was worried about having to marry Sarah. He was free to choose to fulfill the promise he made to his father. Thankfully, Raphael guided Tobias to understanding how they would save Sarah from the demon that killed her previous husbands. If Sarah and Tobias’s marriage was predetermined, God would’ve found a way to have Tobias marry Sarah first and also expel the demon from her house at the same time.

In a similar way, Mary and Joseph still had to choose to say “Yes” to what God was asking of them. And their life was anything but a fairy tale, with Mary having to deal with at least three months of pregnancy alone (even while she was helping her cousin Elizabeth) and Joseph almost choosing to divorce Mary when he heard about her having a child.

God creates each and every person with a unique set of personality traits and skills and in our lives, we find people who we’re compatible with and some that we don’t get along with. But everyone we meet teaches us a lesson. Every relationship we have is a unique experience because we fall in love in different ways, depending on the person. It’s not going to be an instant-love-at-first-sight kind of thing that we see in romantic comedies and fairy tales. We choose who we love and then, once we marry, we can choose to stay with them in good times and in bad.

On the flip side of things, I know people who are still waiting for their lives to start, who have an idea on what God is calling them to do, but still have to choose the path they need to take in order to get there. The good news about these people is that they’re not just waiting around waiting for an answer to come on a silver platter. These people might have to pave their own paths or consider options beyond the norm. Regardless of where they head, God will always be with them.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t have a hand in our lives, but when it comes to our vocations, we can’t make the idea of finding our calling the end all-be all. We are called to ask God to be the compass of our hearts and then we choose the paths we walk down. There is no grand destiny where we save the world from an apocalypse. Most of us are called to live our holiness in ordinary lives. But is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think so.

tl;dr: Our path towards our vocation, whatever we are called to be, is not a straight line. It’s a path we forge with God guiding us through each and every choice we make.

Lent Day 38: The Voice In the Silence

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Many a Catholic identifies this as a refrain to a familiar psalm.

But what is God’s voice? We can’t exactly hear it!

Maybe the reason we can’t hear it is because we’re not listening to it. But we’re not the only ones. There’s a famous passage about Elijah trying to find God in 1 Kings 19: 11-12

‘Then the Lord said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12after the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.’

The last four words in this verse are more well known as “a still small voice.”

Mother Teresa said that “In the silence of our hearts, God speaks.”

Holy Week is a period that consists of more silence than celebration after Palm Sunday. The readings are more solemn and many people spend time meditating on Jesus’s passion and death.

But how can we distinguish God’s voice from other voices, even in the silence of our hearts?

It starts by knowing what God would say. 9 times out of 10, what God wants is pretty much the opposite of what the world says would make us happy. And Satan, Father of Lies that he is, tries to make us think that he is God’s voice by offering us everything we think we want on a silver platter.

Tucker Max, famous for being the epitome of frat boy dreams everywhere, says “The devil doesn’t come dressed in a red cape and pointy horns. He comes as everything you’ve ever wished for.”

While God wants to give us what makes us happy, a lot of the time, what God wants to give us is not something we expect. It’s often the last thing we expect. Think of all the Bible stories you know. It usually starts with a reluctant hero who at first thinks he can’t, but decides to do God’s will anyway. Okay, that’s also part of the Hero’s Journey, but you get my point. There’s a reason why people always say “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

Today, I want you to spend time in silent meditation and I pray that you hear God’s voice during this Lenten season.

Four Loves Friday: Agape AKA Charity

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

The last section of CS Lewis’s The Four Loves brings in a form of love that goes beyond the natural loves of Affection, Friendship, and Eros. The difference of life with three of the four loves but no agape and life with all four loves is the difference between a garden and a wilderness, according to Lewis. He also emphasizes that the three previous loves are not rivals to God’s love (Agape) in and of themselves. The way that the rivalry was created was when we put the three loves ahead of Agape, an idolization of them if you will.

Think of it this way: it’s harder to find works in media that portray selfless love. Eros is easy to find, due to our hypersexualized culture. Agape is stuff saved for Oscar movies or movies that want to get Oscars. It’s harder to find in the everyday life, partially because of how selfish and skeptical the culture is. We often scoff at the “Christ” metaphors in superhero movies such as Man of Steel, we often question a celebrity’s altruistic motives, and while we all love A Christmas Carol, our minds cling to the image of the miserly version of Scrooge rather than the changed man he became in the end.

But does being selfish and skeptical really benefit society and ourselves in the long run? To make a long answer short: NO! 

No matter how hard we try to pride ourselves as an intellectual society, the fact of the matter is that we are a culture that follows our passions. Human beings can’t cut themselves off from emotion unless they want to be labeled as a “sociopath.” There’s no such thing as being “incapable of loving” because even the worst of humanity has something or someone that they love.

This is also the most theologically centered chapter of the book because Agape ties into so much of what God means to Christianity. In the eyes of Christianity, God IS Love. He created humanity to love him, but the love He wants isn’t a forced love. God NEVER forces any person to love Him if they don’t desire it because real love comes from free will. Christians don’t do good things because they think they’ll go to Heaven. They do good things because God’s love inspires them to love others in return.

So often, people think that Christianity is hateful when in reality, Christianity is so selfless that they want to protect people from hurting themselves. In the end, everyone has a choice to make, but Christians want to encourage people to make good choices. Christians don’t get anything out of trying to stop somebody from hurting themselves, if their motives are for all the right reasons. Real Christians don’t actively try to condemn others, but they admonish others.

Admonish means to caution someone, to remind a person of his or her obligations to something. Think of a child who is still learning the ways of the world. If a child was going to climb a tree, you would caution that child to be careful. If a child was procrastinating on an important project, you would remind that child of his or her duty as a student.

This all falls under the category of selfless love because the person who is admonished may hate the person doing the admonishing; he may not listen or he may condemn the other person. But the person doing the admonishing will still love the person being admonished anyway.

The best example of Agape in a person is Mother Teresa. She serviced the poor, but she never discriminated against a person’s religion. However, she did admonish wealthy countries and spoke out against abortion. Some people have hated Mother Teresa for what she stood for, but she continued to do her work anyway.

I’ll end this entry with a quote attributed to Mother Teresa and leave you to think about how our society would be if we were all a little more like her…

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

 

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

 

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

 

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

 

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

 

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

 

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

 

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

 

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.