By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series
A couple of weeks ago, an older gentleman, who I will name Steve, approached me after Mass, convinced that I was the right person to answer a question that he has been unable to answer for the past 30 years. He would go on to warn me that many people have tried, thinking they were up to the task, but failed to satisfy the logical mind of a retired Ford engineer.
“What are some of the rational and logical explanations that could explain WHY a “Good & Kind & Loving & All-Powerful God” would create an Earth populated by emotional & greedy humans who have free will to do as they please only to watch them destroy each other and eventually die to never be heard from again at which time they will be judged for their sins he already knew they would commit and shuttle them off to Heaven or Hell?”
After handing me a printed copy of the question above, we agreed that I would come to his house for dinner and discuss the question.
This past week, Steve and I met as planned. After the usual small talk, Steve told me about the God who saved him from the depths of darkness. He also rattled off tenets of the Baltimore Catechism as he described a Catholic faith that provided his life with necessary parameters, rules and categories. Later, Steve would describe the great hurt he felt when he was laid off by Ford, and the great joy he felt when he married his wife 40 years ago this year.
As Steve spoke, I prayed that God might use me to give him the answers he so desperately longed to have. At the same time, I wished that my high school students could be with me that evening to hear someone speak with such meaning about life’s deepest longings and most simple blessings.
When it was finally my turn to respond, I prayed and started to speak.
When it comes to our faith, many of us start off on the wrong foot — mostly likely because that is what we were taught to do. We have approached our relationship with God in categories: this equals that; that equals this; and this has such and such consequence that requires such and such to remedy it. The difficulty with this approach is that our faith is first and foremost a relationship; therefore, it does not fit so neatly into categories, nor is it easily mapped out into problem-and-solution statements.
Thus, our relationship with God is not defined by our devotions and obligations; rather, by its gifts and communication. Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote, “Prayer may not save us, but it makes us worth saving.” I have always loved that quote because it puts the emphasis on the process. What we learn simply by being in this relationship is that we are not nearly as independent as we believe. The very act of praying reminds us that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves.
In response to Steve’s question, I think its answer lies in our very ability to ask the question. Ultimately, Steve’s question concerns the meaning of our lives. Yes, God could have made humanity without the capacity to sin, but the meaning of our life is increased because of our potential — in either direction. I believe a fulcrum is a good metaphor: the greater the distance between the poles, the greater our ability to rise to greatness. Our dignity is found in the tension we hold along the spectrum of good and evil, and our challenge is see ourselves as God sees us. Ultimately, we are worth saving because we are not only greedy, but also generous; not only selfish, but also selfless.
As for Steve, he was more than satisfied with my answer (which I have greatly condensed for this blog). After I finished my explanation, I watched him think to himself for at least 10 minutes with his eyes closed and head tilted back. Much like a computer processing through equations, Steve tried to find holes in the logic. Somewhere along the way, he accepted that God could not not have created us, because love, in its essence, is generative. God creates, and what God creates is great. Amen.
Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.