A SERMON FOR SEPTUAGESIMA
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be God? I admit, sometimes, I indulge in a little fantasy about being made Pope, and what I’d do to try and fix things in Rome. God help them if it ever comes true! But to be God? That’s a fantasy on a whole different level, and it feels almost unseemly to be thinking about it. Nevertheless, I’m going to put a question out there for you—if you were God, not today, but back in the timeless infinity in which you, God, alone existed, and if, as God did, you planned to create another kind of being, called Man, to share with you in your eternal goodness and love…. here’s the question… what would be the first thing you would create?
You can’t just create Adam. They need space and time to exist in. Then they need a place in that space where they can comfortably exist. Once you’ve worked out how to configure Man’s nature, you’ll need to make sure he has everything he needs before you create him. He’ll need light to find his way around, air to breathe, gravity to keep him from floating away, food to eat, and so on and so forth. And you know what? That’s exactly how God did it. You couldn’t improve on God’s creation in any way.
But what about the existence of evil in the world, you might ask? Maybe I’d leave that bit out. But think about it. Did God really create evil? The answer of course, is that he didn’t. Everything he created, including man, was good. But true goodness in creation is to be found in the conformity of the creature to God’s will. In the case of animals, they do this instinctively, without the use of reason. In the case of man, though, goodness is to be found in their love, their voluntary sacrifice of self for the sake of God or their neighbor. It’s the action only of a will that is free. And it’s that free will that gets us in trouble. If we’re free to do good, then we’re free to choose not to do good. That absence of the good that we should do, has a name, and that name is evil. We produce evil ourselves by not choosing good, by not conforming our will to God’s. It is man who is responsible for evil in the world, never God.
As we begin our season of Shrovetide today, the readings in the Breviary turn to the creation of man. It’s the perfect time, as we prepare for Lent, to remember the events which made necessary our Lord’s Passion and Death, and why we’re supposed to do penance. We read how God created everything in perfect succession, preparing for the creation of man. But man betrayed his trust, repaying the gift of creation with disobedience and ingratitude. And so our fantasies begin. What if God had sent an angel to stop Eve from eating the apple, or what if he had just sent the serpent back to hell before Eve met up with him?
But having createdus with free will, God permits us to useit. Hardly ever does he step in and prevent the consequences of our sin from taking us to places we never intended. If we deliberately pull the trigger, he allows the bullet to shoot out of the gun and follow the laws of nature by traveling in a straight line. If there’s someone in the way, God doesn’t usually intervene to send the bullet off in another direction. You may not have meant to kill someone, but you pulled the trigger and you’re responsible. It’s not God’s fault, and you can’t blame it on the laws of nature. The laws of nature are just that, laws. And they would cease to be laws if God suspended them on a regular basis. In the same way, man is a creature of free will. If God were to regularly override our free will, preventing us from making mistakes, from doing bad things, just because he knows better, then let’s face it, we would cease to be men. We would become mere robots, programmed by the Almighty to obey his input, while we remain powerless to act freely in any way. We wouldn’t even be able to love God freely, and let’s remember, that’s the reason he created us in the first place.
As we come to realize this, we will have a far better understanding the underlying reason we need to do penance during Lent. We can start now. Even now in Shrovetide, before Lent begins, we are invited to refocus on making voluntarysacrifices, making reparation freelyfor all the sins of debauchery and self-gratification that occur during carnival time and Mardi Gras. Yes, we must refocus our lives on God by curbing our own appetites. Yes, we have to do God’s will rather than our own. And yes, we’re obliged to make reparation for our own sins, for the original sin of Adam, and for the sins of mankind ever since. Yes, we have to do all these, but more important yet, is that we do them freely.