A Conscience Examined
I was doing some reading and came across this. Can’t explain why, but thought I should share it with all of you. Enjoy.
A Conscience Examined
I ask you, how can God’s love survive in a man who has enough of this world’s goods yet closes his heart to his brother when he sees him in need? Little children, let us love in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it. This is our way of knowing we are committed to the truth and are at peace before him no matter what our consciences may charge us with; for God is greater than our hearts and all is known to him. 1 Jn 3: 17-19
It is all very well to sit each morning and meditate, doing our best to connect with God, filling our hearts with truth, rising edified. But what happens in the rest of the day? We have done the discerning of God’s will, now comes the aligning with it. Now comes the participating in God’s work. We have oriented ourselves toward heaven, now the rubber meets the road. Now we put one foot in front of the other. Now is the time for action.
And it is the action, the loving in deed and not merely talking about it, that is our way of knowing we are committed to the truth. How do we know we are good? How do we know we are Christian? Or Moslem? Or Hindu. By your fruits. By their fruits you shall know them. By the fruit of our labor. By actual labor. By our work. It is not a matter of belief. Unless belief means action. To find out what we believe actually, examine our actions. How we live. That shows what we believe more than our words.
So. The theory is that God’s will for us will be some form of creativity and redemption. Since these are God’s jobs and we are happiest when we participate in God’s work. That’s not a lot to go on. We don’t know whether our impulses are good, though we have dedicated ourselves to God and asked God to take charge of our impulses, showing the way.
And then there’s that troublesome bit from Paul about seemingly accomplishing evil when he intended good. Poor me. I can’t do the good I intend. So you could have good intention, you could see the good that you are trying to accomplish, some creative or saving goal, and you fail to reach that goal. You don’t know how to reach that goal.
A mother wants her son to stay in the state of grace. To avoid drugs and drinking to excess and casual sex. She wants to do things to cause this to happen. She tries to think of things to do. She tries kindness. She fixes his favorite food. She urges him to go to church. To go to college. She wants him to associate with good people. He won’t listen. Her attempts at conversation end up preachy and screechy. They get to be ugly encounters. She nags. She feels she has lost her boy. Everything she tries fails. Now she feels that she is a failure. Her self esteem is low. She doubts she is a good person.
Hundreds of things like this play out in our lives. I don’t pretend to have the answers. Certainly my simple religion is not the answer. And I would argue that these things are beyond religion. It is too much to expect a religion to find the answer to every problem. It is too much to ask a religion to have a formula for converting each moment of your life, each phase that you go through, each phase of each relationship, into bliss. Into each life some rain must fall.
Actually, the minor keys are richer. A life without hurt is empty. I am almost tempted to say that God knows this. That God arranged it, strangely, contrary to logic and all expectations, to enrich life. To give wisdom. To improve our self esteem. It’s even scriptural: the father disciplines his sons. It is part of creation and redemption. There is benefit in suffering. It creates beautiful people. Ones who have muddled through disaster and not lost faith. Muddled through each morning consulting God, connecting with God, pledging themselves to participation in God’s creative and redemptive work. Trying to discern the best course of action. Taking whatever actions seem most likely to bring a good outcome. Living through bitter times, always oriented toward the good, always oriented toward the ultimate outcome. Striving for salvation.
If we could open our eyes we might see in the disabled, in those muddling through with little mental capacity or physical grace, without limbs or sight or hearing, the bravest people on earth. And those most connected with God. Those being creative and redemptive in their own persons, just by living their own lives. We might see a thing of beauty. Instead we avert our eyes. We shut off empathy. We do not want to feel what these people feel. We cannot put ourselves in their place. We would rather not see. We feel awkward and embarrassed. We don’t know how to act.
Wait. Didn’t we just this morning pledge ourselves to Godly action. To lives of creation and redemption. And we know this only when we act on it. So OK. Focus. Look. What a brave person this is. One of God’s best. Good morning to you. A cheerful good morning to you. Praise God for your bravery. Show me how to live will you? Let me in on your secret.
What? Can’t we say these things? Shouldn’t we? Can we at least acknowledge their existence? Can’t we at least affirm them? Make eye contact. Give a smile.
And what about seeing my brother in need. I who live well. Who have furnished myself with a sufficiency of this world’s goods. What about all those in distant lands who are starving. Those suffering from war. Those whose lives are hard because of local politics. Because they live in the wrong place. Because they were born there. The author of John could not imagine a world where the suffering of others around the globe is brought daily into our living rooms. Still he or she seemed to speak to that. How can God’s love survive in a man who has enough of this world’s goods yet closes his heart to his brother when he sees him in need?
I am a man who has enough of this world’s goods. I do not wish to close my heart. But what do I do? Should I give away my stuff until my brother has as much as I have. Until I am in the same state as those suffering from famine? Do I need to suffer from the same level of violence as the least of my brothers? Or is it enough to write the occasional check?
Gee I wish I had an answer. I know that some people have given up everything and put themselves in harms way for the poor and downtrodden of this world. I haven’t. I enjoy my wealth. I wish I had a way of knowing that I am not called to follow their example.
OK maybe this. Think of Beethoven. Think of Newton. Think of the entrepreneurs of the industrial age. We are not all called to work with the poor. We are all called to be charitable in our own constellations of personalities, in our own circumstance. We are called to share our lives and our sustenance, but not to the point of not caring for ourselves. Becoming dependent on others for necessities. If I were poor in my old age, I would be a burden on the state or on my children. They write of Jesus that he said the poor you will always have with you and you can help them whenever you wish. As if the goal of creation and salvation is not an utterly equal distribution of wealth. As if we should not stop all other efforts until the problem of poverty is solved. As if poverty is not only the only priority.
Some are called upon to push creation further. Some are called upon to achieve in other spheres. To push back the frontier that divides ignorance from knowledge. And many of the greatest breakthroughs, many of the enterprises that have changed our lives for the better, alas, even the inventions that bring the pictures of poverty and war into our living rooms, were motivated by profit; by the lure of great wealth. As if there’s a place for greed. A benefit.
We are all called upon to create beauty in our relationships. To pour out love in them. To sustain them. To make them holy. And to redeem whatever relationships and persons we can. Help with self esteem. Affirm. There is enough to do in our own circumstances. And to some degree we should remaining open to helping those in other circumstances. And yes some of us are called upon to take ourselves out of our comfortable circumstances and put ourselves in those of the poor and suffering.
Our actions show our faith. And so to see our faith, examine our actions. If we believe in love, we will love. If we believe in redemption we will redeem. If we believe in sacrifice, we will lay down our lives for our friends. What form this takes in our circumstances cannot be predicted or prescribed. You must be creative. You must connect with God and learn to discern. Let us love in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it.
Written by: James Stemmle