Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Rules of the Game

Listening to the gospel this Sunday, with the story of the evil tenants in the vineyard, it struck me that we often think of God in very human terms -- as if He were a human high king enforcing laws according to the dictates of justice. And yet, God doesn't just enforce justice, He is justice. His being encompasses justice, and it isn't so much something he enforces as a law of creation that emanates from him.

In human terms we speak of God purging the vineyard and putting them to a nasty end before installing new tenants. But in another sense, does God have to actively punish us for our sins, or does the nature of His creation make punishment automatic?

In the material world, obviously, justice is imperfect. Yet if we are created "to know, love, and serve God and to be happy with Him in heaven" (about the only piece of the Baltimore Catechism that I have retained) then it must follow that when we fail to follow God's laws we act against out intended function, and cause ourselves problems.

In the afterlife, there are two ways of thinking about "death, judgment, heaven, hell". In the vision of God as enforce, we imagine that God weighs our sins and condemns sinners to hell while rewarding the virtuous with heaven, either immediately or after a time of purgation. In the vision of God as the essence of Good and Justice, we imagine the beatific vision as the ultimate acceptance of God's will and law, which the soul accepts or rejects: choosing its own salvation or damnation.

Both models hold important truths. Using only one means abandoning important truths illustrated by the other. But I think that the latter model better reflects God's eternal and unchanging nature. If God exists in the eternal now, then imagining Him issuing a command, then punishing us for not obeying it seems a trifle odd, since His issuance of the command and our response to it would be simultaneous. Additionally, it suggests that if God did not actively punish us for violating His laws, there would be no negative consequences.

If I can make a peculiar analogy, I wonder if doing evil is a bit like an adverse mutation. God's law is the constant system according to which man is meant to act. When we sin, we act in a way contrary to the dictates of these universal laws. What happens if an animal is born that does have the fur necessary to keep it warm, or whose legs are not strong enough to bear it's weight? It doesn't matter that, if the world were warmer or gravity was less the animal would do perfectly well. The fact of the matter is that the animal in question lives in an environment with a specific temperature range and amount of gravity.

In the same way, when we sin, we act as if the world worked according to our desires instead of God's. It doesn't, and so we injure ourselves by battering ourselves against God's universal laws. We act as if the world worked in ways that it does not. And invariably, we hurt of kill ourselves in the process.

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