14 December 2016

He didn't make those.


Today's readings:

  • Isaiah 45:6C-8, 18, 21C-25
  • Luke 7:18B-23

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with Mass texts.

Formans lucem et creans tenebras, faciens pacem et creans malum.
I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil.
Isaiah 45:7

I struggled with this verse, sitting and wondering what it could mean, for clearly the English and the Latin both say God creates evil and that cannot be. So chewing upon it for a while I opted to look closer into the earlier text and, in the Greek LXX, as well as in the Hebrew it says God creates evil. Yet in that last, having a better interlinear text, a few things were gleaned. The Hebrew uses an adjective, not a noun. Ra "Evil" is an adjective without an complement. It's like saying "God didn't make little green" and leaving off the "apples". So the Hebrew dictionary offers a secondary reading of "Adversity".

Then, coming forward, the Greek, kaka, is also an adjective, as is the Latin, malum. In English, when it says "God creates evil", it sounds to our ears like a noun because it's an incomplete adjectival phrase. We want to make sense of it as "God Creates Evil" but really it says, "God creates evil..." OK.  "God creates evil...." what? To make up for this, the NABRE has "I make well-being and create woe" and the RSV has " I make weal and create woe". It avoids the awkward floating adjective.

The second clue is in the first part of the verse: because Hebrew poetry is often composed in couplets that have parallel meanings. "I form the light, and create darkness." Darkness is not a thing, itself, but rather the absence of light. We have God as source of Positive Quality, and also as source of the Absence of Positive Quality. And so, I suggest, the "evil" in the second part of the verse is not a thing, itself, but rather the absence of peace.

Light : absence of light : : Peace : absence of peace.

A former coworker discussed with me her lack of empathy. She knows life sucks, but she has gotten through so many things that one more sucky thing isn't going to ruin her. She is a boundless source of humor and love, and yeah, life sucks. She and I have both come to the conclusion that we have a 100% success rate getting through sucky things in the past, and so we're, on average, set to get through the next sucky thing as well. Although she comes at it with the cynical joy of a cancer survivor, I tend to just hit it with the humility of faith.

It's a very different attitude than our world of "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings". It's a different world from our pain killers and opioids, as well. It's a far cry from our pot and alcohol consumption too. Facing reality with no buffer scares people enough that some people are teaching there is no such thing as reality at all. But neither drug-induced nor philosophical gnosticism can successfully banish the reality of suckiness around us. What is important is how to face it.

Elsewhere the Bible teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus and that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. Consider how revolutionary that would sound to a 1st Century Roman for whom all is heartless fate and fickle gods. Now, imagine how that might sound to your random cosmic accident believing coworkers and friends. How can laying off half your coworkers be a good thing? Or losing your family in a car accident? Cancer? AIDS? How can we face the things that happen and keep the peace that our souls crave? How can we live in God's goodness or the absence of the same.

Here is a prayer called the "Prayer of the Optina Elders" from the Byzantine tradition wherein we ask God to remind us that good things come from him, and the things we call bad, and also the unexpected things that no one wanted (or maybe even imagined) until they happened.
O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all people. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by Thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the labours of this coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray in me. Amen.
God creates peace and also the absence of peace. But we are commanded to have peace in our hearts - even when there is none in the world. That can only be accomplished with God's help.