Archive for the ‘Honesty’ Category

Islam Cross Examined

April 26, 2016

View From the Cross by TissotOnce, at a picnic in college, I learned from a Muslim professor about what Islam teaches regarding Jesus — that he is not the divine Son of God but a prophet of Allah. Of course, my own Christian beliefs differed but I sat patiently listening — until he told me something about ‘Jesus (peace be upon him)’ which left me manifestly incredulous. He said Jesus was never crucified; Allah only made it appear as if he suffered and died. Reportedly, most Muslims (like this professor) believe that Allah gave someone else Jesus’ physical appearance to die on the Cross instead.

The relevant portion of the Quran [4:157] says:

That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not…

I began asking the professor clarifying questions on this point to make sure that I understood and after a while he asked me why. I replied that if the eyewitnesses to the Crucifixion were not merely mistaken but actively deceived by Allah, then Allah is the author of a lie. God is Truth and “can neither deceive nor be deceived.” (CCC #156-157) So how could Islam’s doppelganger explanation for denying the Crucifixion of Jesus be true? (Similarly, creationists may argue that evolutionists are misinterpreting the ancient fossil record, but they may not say that God has planted false evidence to test our faith.) The now-ruffled Muslim professor retorted that Christianity’s belief in ‘the three gods of the Trinity’ did not make any sense, and we let our interfaith picnic dialogue end there.

But what if Allah can lie? If Allah acts against Truth then his omnipotence would be unlimited in every sense, transcending beyond both logic and goodness. But if Allah transcends good and evil, if God is not absolute goodness in a way that human beings can recognize, then what is our motive to worship him besides submission before his power? C.S. Lewis wrote in opposition to Calvinism’s doctrine of mankind’s “Total Depravity” with words which are just as applicable here:

[I]f God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our ‘black’ may be His ‘white,’ we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say ‘God is good,’ while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say ‘God is we know not what.’ … If He is not (in our sense) ‘good’ we shall obey, if at all, only through fear – and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend.”

In Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates asks the title character, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Or, put another way: “Is morality right simply because God declares it so, or does God acknowledge it as right because it is right independently of Himself?” Christianity answers that Euthyphro’s dilemma is a false choice. Goodness comes from God’s eternal nature; nothing could exist without Him. God’s word calls forth the good from Himself. He creates good things, sustains them, and sees that they are good. This is the good God we know; the true God “who does not lie” (Titus 1:2); the God who is supremely revealed by the death on the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for all people.

Taking Jesus Too Literally

September 30, 2015

Jesus Facepalm

We do well to closely heed all that our Lord Jesus says, but we must also carefully understand what the Word of God Incarnate is really telling us. Using Scripture to interpret Scripture, let us consider two examples where some modern-day Christians misinterpret Jesus’ teaching by taking him too literally.

 

“Do not swear at all”

Jesus declares, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

Swearing an oath or vow invokes God as one’s witness to a claim or a promise and invites God’s just punishments if his name is taken in vain. It seems that people in Jesus’ day were trying to steal credibility without fearing divine retribution by swearing by lesser holy things. But Jesus warns that all good things belong to God, and condemns clever manipulations of the truth as coming from the devil. Instead, Jesus says, “do not swear at all,” but “let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes.’”

So do any appropriate times and places remain for swearing oaths or vows in the New Covenant? God reveals that such exist through St. Paul. In Galatians 1:20 and 2nd Corinthians 1:23, God himself inspires St. Paul to swear oaths (for example, “I call upon God as witness, on my life, that it is to spare you that I have not yet gone to Corinth.“) And in Acts 18:18, we read that St. Paul “had taken a vow.” Thus, in rare, righteous, and serious situations a Christian may solemnly swear to things before God.


“Call no one on earth your father”

Jesus tells us, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9) Does this mean that we should not call priests (or our even own dads) “Father?” This is not how the first Christians understood Jesus’ words.

St. Stephen calls the Jewish leaders “fathers” in Acts 7:2, and St. Paul does similarly in Acts 22:1. God prompted St. John to address Christian community elders as “fathers.” (1st John 2:13-14) God also willed St. Paul to write of “our father Isaac” and to call Abraham “the father of us all.” (Romans 9:10, 4:16-17) God inspired St. Paul to regard and describe himself as a father to his spiritual children. (1st Corinthians 4:14-15, 1st Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 10) Therefore, the true concern of our Lord is not with the label of “father,” but that our greatest devotion and love always be directed toward “our Father who art in Heaven.”

Set To Heaven — 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 13, 2011

This morning, consider this important question: Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? In this life, we can live like either thermometers or thermostats. A thermometer (as you know) accepts whatever temperature, hot or cold, that happens to surround it. A thermometer acts passively to the world’s influence. A thermostat, on the other hand, does not submit to the world around it. A thermostat is set to an ideal temperature and strives to attaint its goal.  As Christians, we should be as thermostats, and we should all be set on Heaven.

Do you think about Heaven much? Do you ever meditate on what it will be like? I think many of us get so drawn in by the here and now that we fail to give Heaven much thought. Yet, I think we would all be strengthened by meditating on it more; on what it promises and what it requires.

The next life is a mystery about which we can know a great deal. As Saint Paul says, “What God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” For example, we know that there will be no suffering or death in Heaven. The Book of Revelation says God ‘will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order (the way of this world) will have passed away.’

There shall also be no hatred in Heaven. No one with hatred in his or her heart will be able to enter. The Book of Wisdom teaches that God hates none of the persons he has made. He does not always like all the things that they do, but it is His love for each one that continues to hold them in being, and will hold them in existence forever. In order to see God in Heaven, we must become like Him. This is why Jesus forbids not only murder, but hatred in the heart as well. Consider how wonderful it will be to live in Heaven at peace with everyone.

After the resurrection, when our dead bodies are reconstructed from the dust, those who are just will be remade, stronger, handsomer, more incredibly beautiful, than they have ever looked before. Will their perfect bodies have any flaws? If glorified bodies do have “flaws,” they shall be as the wounds that remain in Jesus’ hands and side, beautiful and glorious forever. In this life, the beauty of one’s soul has little relationship to the beauty of one’s flesh; but in Heaven, the holiness of the saints shines out for all to see. 

In Heaven, in this midst of this overwhelming beauty, no one shall lust and none shall exploit another. Lust and exploitation go hand in hand. There is a good reason for the expression “to lust for power,” for lust is about manipulating another for one’s pleasure. Instead of lust, everyone in Heaven shall desire the true good of one another from their hearts.

In this life, temptations will come whether we want them or not, but remember that temptations in themselves are not sins—it is only when we say “yes” to temptation, when we choose to sin as temptations suggest, that we can be guilty of a sin such as lust. Until we can refuse temptation’s invitations, until all lust is driven from our hearts, we are not yet ready for Heaven. This is why Jesus teaches not only against adultery, but against lust in the heart as well. How wonderful it will be to full of love for all, purely, from our hearts, and to receive that same overflowing love in return.

Our lives on earth we are full of questions. But in Heaven, every question which has answer will be answered for us. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a [cloudy] mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” Heaven is a place of transparent truth. There, the barriers to communication disappear. In Heaven, we shall know others fully, and be fully known ourselves. No lies nor concealments are possible there, “for there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” Until we are free of lies, until we are people whose ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes,’ and whose ‘No’ mean ‘No,’ we are not yet ready to live in Heaven.

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, we may still have some attachments to sin, and be unprepared for Heaven. But, thanks be to God, there is Purgatory, to clean us up and make us perfect, so that we may enter the Father’s house and join the feast of Heaven. Though there is Purgatory, we must always aim for Heaven. If you shoot a bow and arrow and aim carefully for the bull’s-eye, you will probably miss but still hit the target. If you shoot only aiming at the target in general, you will probably miss and hit the ground. So aim for Heaven, lest any of us miss entirely.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So let us not default to world’s standards. Do not be a thermometer. Set your thermostat to the perfection of Heaven. Meditate on it and strive for it, and you will experience the joys and blessings of Heaven beginning in this life.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

September 20, 2009

Somewhere, in an underground lair, a secret hideout, or a den of iniquity, we find a criminal mastermind, or a mad scientist, scheming a nefarious plot. “Mah-ha-ha-ha,” the villain manically laughs. “Once I unleash my evil plan, evil will conquer the world.”

This is the way of villains as we often find them in comic books. Comic book bad guys love doing evil for evil’s sake. But we should realize that this isn’t why people do bad things in our world. In the real world, nobody does evil for evils sake. Every single person acts to achieve some real or perceived good. Sinners simply go about the pursuit of happiness in wrong ways. Bad people are not bad because they’re trying to do bad things. Unrepentant sinners actually feel justified in what they do.

For instance, in Jesus’ day, influential people said, “That Jesus from Nazareth so obnoxious. Let’s have him condemned and see how he holds up then.  If he’s really holier-than-thou, a son of God, then God will come to his rescue—otherwise he gets what he deserves.” People still rationalize like this today. It’s easy to come up all sorts of reasons for doing bad things rather than what is right:

“Lying? What I said isn’t technically untrue. Besides, it’s only a little white lie.”

“Angry? Is it any wonder that I get so angry when I have to deal with stuff this.”

“Stealing? The way I see it, they make plenty of money, and I deserve more than what they pay me.”

Activities outside of marriage?  “What’s the big deal? It’s all consensual, and nobody’s getting hurt. Besides, we love each other.”

It’s not only “bad people” who say things like this. Each of us fall into embracing lies like these sometimes. But what is the antidote for rationalizing aside our sins? The cure for this is a prayer life with Jesus Christ.

When the apostles came face to face with Jesus inside the house, Jesus began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent, for they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Coming into Jesus’ presence, who is the embodiment of Truth, the reality of what they had been doing  became clear for them. Their false illusions completely faded away, like the smoke from a blown out candle.

We should spend time in conversational prayer with Jesus Christ every day, allowing Him to form us, build us up, and console us. When you receive the encouragement, confidence, and consolation which Christ is eager to give you in prayer, when He acknowledges you as His own brother or sister, as His good friend, as a favored child of His Father, fears dissolve and you live in peace—a peace in which cleverly-devised excuses are no longer sought for and no longer necessary.