Monday, December 18, 2006

Could be Worse

I was thinking the other day (and you never know what will happen when I start doing that!), after I had been reading more stories of divine providence and angelic intervention in Joan Wester Anderson’s books. I thought, first of all, of the many healings and exorcisms Jesus performed in his earthly ministry, and the many more worked by Him through his apostles and saints through the ages. I thought of the many stories I had read of the ways that God sent his angels to protect his people from injury, illness, or premature death. Then I thought: what would the world have been (and be now) without them? How would history have changed, and for the worse?

It’s impossible to trace or to speculate on all the possibilities, but in very general terms, what would this world be like? All those people that Jesus and his saints cured, exorcised, or even raised from the dead: what would have happened without that blessed intervention? Thousands of prolonged, painful illnesses, thousands of premature deaths, thousands of people still possessed by demons. And without all that angelic ministry? Thousands more accidents, injuries, and again, premature deaths—and who knows what marvelous contributions of culture and holiness the world might have lost thereby!

We may complain today about the number of people that suffer from illness, accidents, or other afflictions. But it could be worse—much worse. Without divine and supernatural governance and even direct intervention, this world would very nearly be a chaos of misery, mayhem, and an endless series of relentless tragedies. I thought: we don’t really know what it means to say that this world is fallen; we can’t begin to understand the terrible consequences of sin. There is suffering, sickness, death, and every sort of agony and tragedy solely because there is sin in the world—not that your or my specific sin created this or that particular disaster (though it’s possible), but that the universal fact of sin results in the universal fact of suffering. The real consequences of sin are that none of all the evils I mentioned above would be prevented or mitigated, and earth, despite its natural beauty, would be akin to Hell—or at least purgatory. But God, though righteous in his judgment of human sin, loves us so much that He softens the blow, prevents any disasters that could in no way fit his plan for our salvation or contribution to the good of humanity.

Here’s a small part of what St Basil the Great wrote in the anaphora of his magnificent text of the Divine Liturgy: “…for having taken clay from the earth and having formed man, and honored him, O God, with your likeness, You placed him in a paradise of delight, and promised him immortality of life and the enjoyment of eternal goods in the keeping of your commandments. But when he disobeyed You, the true God and his Creator, and was deceived through the serpent’s guile, and was subjected to death through his own transgression, in your just judgment, O God, You cast him forth from paradise into this world and turned him again to the earth whence he had been taken, and devised for him the salvation of regeneration which is in your Christ. [notice that without missing a beat he goes from God’s expulsion of Adam from paradise to devising his salvation—God does not rejoice in the death of any sinner, but immediately seeks to reconcile him]

“For you did not turn away forever, O gracious God, nor did You forget the work of your hands: You watched over man in many ways through the depth of your love; You sent forth prophets, You worked mighty signs through your saints who were pleasing to You in every age. You spoke through the mouths of your servants the prophets, promising the salvation to come. You gave man the Law to aid him; You set angels over him as his guardians. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us by your Son, through whom also You made the universe, who being the brightness of your glory and the express likeness of your Person, upholds everything by the power of his Word…” He goes on to describe the birth, life, teachings, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord, and then returns to the narrative of the Last Supper, to introduce the consecration.

So we see that despite the evil and suffering and injustice in this world, it could be worse. God could have allowed his just judgment to stand forever; He could have refused to send angels and work miracles and heal the sick and raise the dead; He could have allowed us to bear the full consequences of sin. But in his love for us, He invited his own eternal Son to bear them: “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

There is still suffering to be endured as our share in the Cross of our Savior. The Fall has not been reversed but redeemed. Suffering is no longer (or need not be any longer) punishment, but offering—a contribution, in union with Christ, to the advancement of the peace and salvation of the world. Know, then, how bad it could be without the loving providence of God, and how good it really is, despite the darkness and trials—and how blessed it will be, when He comes once more to wipe away every tear.

Emmanuel: “God is with us”. He who seeks finds. He who opens his eyes shall see.