In this morning’s Mothers’ Day sermon the pastor was speaking of the plight of unmarried mothers, noting their dramatically increasing number during the last several generations, and the suffering so many of them and their children must endure. One notes that, given the statistics, a great number of them must have come themselves from intact homes. Somewhere along the line they became convinced they had a better way than their parents or grandparents, that they could as readily find happiness outside of traditional ways of doing things as within. They and their children are now paying for the error.
One has little doubt, however, that what led to this felt right at the time. It is important to take note of this phenomenon: the powerful illusion, under temptation, that evil is in fact good.
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate . . . .
She was thoroughly convinced that, whatever God was alleged to have said, eating of that fruit felt as right as anything could: Here was nourishment for the body, mind, and soul, pleasurable and promising in every sense she could at that moment imagine. Against all this, the word and warning of God seemed purely arbitrary. Given the state of mind she had let herself be led into, there was no comprehensible reason for the prohibition; indeed, all reason and desire was on the other side. It felt so very right, so she ate the fruit, then shared it with everyone else in the world.
My point here is not to single out the woman; indeed, St. Paul makes it clear that the man’s fault was greater, since he was not deceived, as she was. It is simply to make the point that deep, positive, thoroughly reasoned belief that something which stands against the apparently meaningless, unnecessary, and deeply questionable (especially under the circumstances) command of God, is a gateway to fathomless, unforeseen misery and death.
God knows what he is talking about, and so do those who point us to “traditions” that originated with him, our sincerely held opinions about how right it all feels be damned.
Obviously a great many young people are in bad situations because their parents or grandparents screwed up. I would assure them:
(1) If you are a member of a stupid, messed up family, you are not required to be stupid and messed up yourself. It’s your choice, like it was theirs. God Almighty is on the side of everyone who wishes to have a clean conscience and an orderly, love-filled life, where people make promises that they keep.
(2) Not everyone is messed up, and not everyone who looks good is a hypocrite. While your fool parents were out doing the things that messed them up and gave you a rotten start, others were trying to live by God’s rules, and were mostly successful. The failures and screw-ups, if you haven’t noticed, hate them, because they’re half-mad with jealousy, and will do anything they can to make them look bad. You can join them, or you can join the others. You can’t belong to both groups, but you can quit one side and join the other, right now. If you’re tired of being good, you can go bad instantly. If you’ve had it with badness, climb right up on God’s lap and stay there as long as you like. I’ve seen hundreds of people go in either direction.
(3) While life can be very hard, misery is not inevitable. What life’s normal misfortune and tragedy does to people depends on what kind of people they are, not on the mere fact of misfortune and tragedy.
(4) The happiness of inward peace comes from obedience to God, and has nothing to do with your level of material prosperity--nothing whatever. Success or failure in the things that count has absolutely nothing to do with how much you own. Truly great people can be rich or poor; the same is true of the truly bad.
(5) God doesn’t stop people from messing up, and paying for the consequences. If he made a policy of this, he’d have to kill everybody, right now. The license he gives them to mess up is the same one he gives them to do right, succeed, and enjoy the rewards of success. It’s called freedom, and he takes it very seriously. He did not make us robots, but beings like himself, who are defined by their choices. (Sirius Black said that to Harry Potter, didn't he?) He made people for infinite happiness, whether they like that idea or not.
(6) God is not impressed with the excuse that you had a bad start in life. He’s no more against you than he is for those who, also through nothing they did, had a good one. They can, and frequently do, become screw-ups. Some of the best people who ever lived had bad starts; some of the worst ones had piles of advantages. Also remember that many people who had good starts took advantage of them and became good people like their parents, and many who had bad parents, stayed bad themselves. God gives us many lessons in nature; which ones apply are up to us. On one hand, caterpillars become butterflies; on the other, big pigs make little pigs.
(7) Anyone who wants to come to God has to believe (a) he exists, and (b) that searching for him is worth their time and effort. That’s in the Bible, but it stands to reason. You want to be a clever little atheist? OK, go ahead--God has never stopped anybody who wanted to. He will provide enough evidence for you to believe that he exists, if you want to, and evidence that he doesn’t, if you don’t. He’s not interested in forcing people to believe in him against their wills. (Freedom, remember?) You get to choose which evidence to believe, and that’s something that comes from deeper inside you than just your brain or your guts.
Once you decide you’re going to believe he exists, though, you can’t just sit on your duff, congratulating him on his existence and yourself on believing in it. You’ve got to spend the rest of your life--eternity, in fact--in a never-ending journey deeper into him. (He’s big enough for that.) This journey, like all others, begins with a single step. In the case of some it’s one they continue with their families, in case of others, it's the first step out of messed-up-ness. But remember that the formerly messed-up, spurred on by a strong desire to get away from the smell, can move very fast indeed, once they’re up on the road.