Who is this God we seek? II

I submit that the obedience God calls us to is not some slavish, Pharisee-like obedience to a memorisation of rules in a similar way to that in which we might teach a parrot to speak. What God calls us to is obedience to the very specific and very personal messages he is endeavouring to give to each of us in the privacy and sanctuary at the very heart of our being (the soul). These messages often involve difficult moral choices not only between black or white understandings of good and evil, but the subtle choices that are involved between what might be categorised as merely "adequate" moral choices and the "most" moral choices.

Let me explain that a little further. Most of the choices in life are not actually between black and white good or evil. They are instead choices between what might be called "an adequate" answer and the ideal answer – or "the perfect" answer. These dilemmas can arise in myriad places in our lives. For example we might stuff up and get pregnant, or get someone pregnant, and face real dilemmas in our ability to care for the child. We face choices between having the baby, giving it up for adoption and even at least nominal Catholics face the dilemma of abortion. We might come across a situation in our workplace where someone is doing something that is morally wrong. We only discovered the information by accident. We face a moral dilemma as to whether it is our responsibility to keep that information confidential or whether the correct moral response is to alert some higher authority to the infraction. Sometimes the correct moral response is to actually keep "mum". The information we came across is actually "none of our business" and our correct moral duty is to act as though we had never seen the transgression. In a subtly different set of circumstances the correct moral response might be that we do have to report the infraction. There is no priest or Church standing beside us though to tell us which is the correct moral response for the particular circumstances that apply in that situation. We have to sort through that dilemma ourselves and ultimately listen to our conscience, that private place where God will guide us, free from the distractions of our own egos and needs to suck up to our boss, or suck up to our friend, or prove even in our own eyes what a "goody two shoes" we are and what a horrid little sinner our workmate is.

This is the sort of Catechesis I am suggesting we need from our spiritual leaders and pastors at the moment. It is a totally different vision of God and the relationship we are called into with God than one picks up in the door-stop, 10-second grab interview communication methods used by the media. This level of "obedience" is something a heck of a lot more difficult to live out than the simplistic, hoop-jumping behaviours proselytised by the Pharisees. I have provided only two practical examples of moral dilemmas but there are literally billions of them and if we are leading a reasonably normal and intelligent life we meet many of them each day. They are not dilemmas that only apply occasionally in our lives. The abortion example I chose is in fact a bad example but I chose it deliberately because the hoop-jumpers seem for some reason to work themselves up into a bigger lather about sixth commandment issues. Most people simply never have to face that dilemma in their lives. Many do though but even for those who do it is usually only a one-off time of trial or, at the very outside, they might face it less than a handful of times in their lives.

The other example is far more common. We face it in the workplace. We face it as parents when sometimes we see our children doing something wrong and we have to make a choice as to whether we discipline them or whether the correct moral response is that we simply did not see and we have to let them learn from their own mistakes. Sometimes we face it as children in observations we might make of failings in our own parents.

To me the relationship between "The Rules" and this inner guide of conscience – or God guiding us very personally and intimately in the real moral decisions we make in our lives – might be compared to the process of driving a car on a long country journey. "The Rules" are like the white guideposts at the side of the road. Or they might be compared to the white lines drawn down the middle of a highway.

In our journey down the highway we are certainly aware of the guideposts and the white lines. If we don't want to end up dead we certainly "obey" the rules that are implicit behind where those posts and lines are drawn. Those posts and lines though are not actually the objective of our journey. We don't make the drive in order to play tag with all the white the posts or see how closely we can "follow" the white lines. They "guide" us. Hopefully we will never actually have to "touch" any of them as the safest place to be is between those lines but often situations arise in our journey where we have to disobey those posts and lines. Once I can remember a great tree had fallen across a highway in a storm and we had to drive around the wrong side of the posts in order to get back onto "the straight and narrow". In passing other cars one often has to "cross the lines" and one has to make judgements as to when it is safe to do so. The spiritual journey is exactly like that I find. To drive on the road we do have to know the rules of the road. No policeman, magistrate or judge is going to excuse us if we front up to a court and say "but please, madam or sir, I didn't know that rule". If we want to get to our destination though incessantly worrying about the policemen, magistrates or judges would mean that we probably wouldn't set off on the journey in the first place.

Finally, one other major difference between the pharisaical way of thinking and this alternative seems to be this. The Pharisee seems to present the spiritual journey as a period of preparation, akin to school, and then the rest of life is presented as a business of merely parrot-like or monkey-like behaviour of following what one has learned. The alternative presents the spiritual journey as a life-long process of learning. It is a life-long process of becoming better and better at being able to "hear" what God is saying about these myriad moral choices we have to make in our lives. Our religious education or formation does not end when we leave school. In a sense it is only beginning at that point.

The "process" though is not one akin to jumping through a complex series of hoops like some circus animal. The "process" is one of discerning the particular things God is saying to us as the navigator of our "journey through life". God is not looking for "hoop-jumping compliance or obedience". He is looking for our increasing ability to be able to discern like his Son Jesus would discern what are the correct moral choices for the particular set of circumstances that I face at this moment in my life. Do I talk to this "sinning" "woman at the well"? What do I say to this "sinner" divorcee who has come to me for advice or guidance? I am not trying to "use" these people to prove how much better I might know some long list of rules. I am called into a loving relationship with those "sinners" so that I might both learn from their experiences and they might learn from mine.

I'd be interested in the views of others as to how we (the Church) might better articulate what this whole spiritual quest is about and what is the nature of the relationship that God is calling us into.

PS: The answer to the problem as to how long it would take you to separate out the individual atoms in a 500 gram slab of coal is about 600,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000 seconds. The trouble is though that if we take the age of the universe as 15 billions years and there are 60 seconds in each hour, 24 hours in each day and 365 days in each year (not counting leap years) and you multiply all that out you find there are only 450,000,000,000,000,000 seconds so far in the whole history of the universe. Atoms are intrinsically small and unable to be "seen". Like God they are also intrinsically mysterious and we have now learned that by the fundamental laws of science themselves we will never be able to "see" their parts as we can say see the structure or layout of billiard balls on a table. We do now have though a very good understanding of the laws that govern the behaviour of atoms but, as in theological understanding, there are many paradoxes, or contradictions, as to how those laws apply in specific situations. The full explanation can be found in In Search of Schrodinger's Cat – Quantum Physics and Reality by John Gribbin, Corgi, 1984 pp 67-68.

CONTINUED [use navigation below]...

Am I trying to use my religion to take the contradictions and uncertainties out of life? Or do I see myself as a person trying to better access the ways in which God thinks so that I can better navigate the contradictions, uncertainties and sin in my life?

©2005Tom Scott/Brian Coyne/Vias Tuas Communications
Posted: 16Dec2004, 4:26 pm

Tom Scott

"In spite of all that might be said against our age,
what a moment it is to be alive in!" James McAuley