Lesson 26- Nature of a Heavenly Goal
As I ended my last program I was discussing how former utopian reformers, who tried to create a better world, failed because they drifted too far from reality and human nature. Even Karl Marx, who wanted to create a “classless society” that would be a workers’ paradise in which everyone would “work according to their ability and receive according to their needs” misinterpreted what the workers really wanted or were able to do. Lenin, who first took Marx’s theory and established it in Russia in 1917, died despairing of any hope that the people would ever carry out the theory of Communism as he and Marx had envisioned it. Theories always work better on paper than they do in reality because they don’t have to deal with the problem of human freedom and individual differences.
Yet, civilization, which involves the unification of vast numbers of people into a common effort, has survived and flourished but not without difficulty because it is a constant battle between entropic forces, which are dragging it down, and negentropic forces that are holding it up or pushing it forward. To illustrate this, I used to tell my students that civilization could be compared to a group of people pushing a very large and heavy boulder up a steep hill. So long as they applied enough pressure to keep it where it was, it survived; if they applied greater pressure it moved upwards and advanced; but, the moment they relaxed and took it for granted, the boulder would roll downward and crush them.
My point was that each generation had to continue the struggle to maintain a civilization or they would lose it and the first sign of its collapse was the philosophy of hedonism through which the people adopted the attitude that “whatever gave them pleasure was good; and whatever gave them pain was bad.” Once this attitude becomes prevalent, the Second Law of Thermodynamic, the Law of Entropy, kicks in and the civilization begins its downward spiral towards chaos. It has happened before and it will happen again so long as people fail to realize that all civilizations must be preserved by a constant struggle to maintain the level it has achieved and an even greater struggle to push it to an even higher level.
In a sense, all civilizations contain the seed of their own destruction because through their success they create an environment of comfort and ease which succeeding generations, forgetful of the struggles and sacrifices of those who went before them, take everything for granted. And that is why we institute and celebrate holidays like Memorial Day in order to keep alive the sense that we stand on the shoulders of the many who have given their lives to preserve what we have inherited. Unfortunately, however, we often fail to see the many ways in which we dishonor their memory whenever we add to the hedonistic pursuits that weaken our moral fiber and undermine their spirit of self-sacrifice and discipline. As one philosopher noted, “You can give a civilization to a group of people but only those who know how to maintain it, will be able to preserve it.” It’s like everything else,- your house, your car, your lawn, your marriage, your relationships etc…- the secret is “maintenance”. Without a continuing effort to maintain and repair, they all deteriorate towards chaos.
Thus, those whose aim is to remove the concept of hardship and struggle from everyone’s life don’t understand what life is really about. Jesus did and that is why he said, “If you want life and want it fully… Pick up your cross and follow me.” And to illustrate his point, he struggled up the hill of Calvary, and, according to tradition, after having fallen for the third time, he accepted the help of Simon the Cyrene, thereby illustrating the Principle of Subsidiarity by carrying his cross as far as he could through his own strength and then accepting help when it become more than he could bear. Then he was nailed to a cross, died, and, after three days, rose to a higher level of existence. And, in this living parable, he was showing us that the way to salvation and the “fullness of life” was to sacrifice ourselves out of love for others. Of course, this is foolishness to those “in the world” whose mottos are “If it feels good, do it!, “Eat, drink, and be merry… for tomorrow you die!” “You owe it to yourself”; Whoever dies with the most toys, wins!”; and “Don’t worry… be happy!”
The philosopher Hegel noted that life was not made for happiness, if by that we mean a state of constant pleasure and ease. Rather, he said, it was made for struggle and development with moments of happiness being merely plateaus where we rested in order to get ready for the next challenge that life has prepared for us. And St. Paul seems to agree. In First Corintians 1:18-25 he writes:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
What is the “wisdom of the world” of which St. Paul speaks? Is it the same wisdom for which Jesus rebuked Peter in Matthew16:23 where he says, “ Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence to me, for thy mind is not on the things that are of God, but on the things that are of men.” All Peter did was to suggest that Jesus didn’t have to go up to Jerusalem to be crucified. Is the “wisdom of the world” the easy road of our flesh which, operating on sensations, considers pleasure and ease to be good and pain and struggle to be bad. Is it the road that secular social planners take when they set out to remove all problems and struggles from our lives with debilitating social welfare programs. Is it the wisdom expressed by the World Controller in Brave New World when he said, “Nothing has been spared to make your lives as emotionally easy as possible.” But what’s wrong with this? Aren’t we suppose to make the world a better place by eliminating problems? Does the “foolishness of God”, which is higher than the “wisdom of Men” mean that we are simply to stand idly by and be beaten down by our problems, ignoring poverty, disease, crime, and the needs of others? No!
It’s not the solving of the problem that is wrong, because God expects us to overcome problems, which is just another name for crosses. In fact, it may be that the problems of life are His greatest gift to us because they are inducements to enter growth processes. As one country song puts it, “God gave us mountains to teach us how to climb!” It becomes wrong when the method used is government entitlement programs that undermines the growth of love that results when we become personally concerned and involved with the needs of others. Mother Theresa looked upon the needs of those she helped as gifts from God because they presented her with an opportunity to develop and exercise her capacity to love.
To the people in the world, this sounds foolish because, believing that Man lives by bread alone and the satisfaction of our physical needs is enough to make us happy, they consider the elimination of the need to be enough. God, and the Church, on the other hand consider the method to be more important because our need to give and receive love is greater and more important to our eternal salvation than the aid that is given. In fact, St. Paul says that if we gave everything we had to the poor and even gave our bodies to be burned for a cause, it was of no profit if it did not involve love.
Our idea of imperfection, in which persons and things are lacking, is God’s idea of perfection and that is why “the foolishness of God” is wiser than the wisdom of men, and the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men.” God’s Wisdom, Jesus, says “If you want to save your life seek to lose it”; if you want to get, learn to give; if you want to be first, seek to be last; if you want to lead, seek to serve. And that is why Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to serve, not to be served. All of these are foolish by human standards.
Had we made the world, everything would have been perfect and complete… and utterly boring. In such a world, everything and everybody would be equal because to lack something that somebody else has is a sign of deficiency and imperfection. There would be no doctors, lawyers, plumber, carpenters, ministers, judges, teachers etc… because, in a perfect completed world, there would be no need for their services. In fact, there would be nothing to do because it was already done.
So to those who think that the goal of life is comfort and ease, both Jesus and the Church continue to remind us that it is struggle and effort. And that is why Jesus told Peter, “thy mind is not on the things that are of God, (which is struggle, growth, and development) but on the things that are of men (which is ease, comfort and stagnation.)”
Thus, the City of God, which we are called to build, is not the place of automatic comfort and ease that many imagine. In fact, comfort and ease may not be what we really want. Yet, in our misguided worldly wisdom, we continue to imagine that work and effort are our enemy and comfort and ease are our final destination. You old-timers might remember the song, “Lucky Old Sun”, by Frankie Lane whose lyrics express our misconception about heavenly bliss. They said:
Up in the morning … out on the job
Work like the devil for my pay
But that lucky old sun has nothing to do
But roll around heaven all day….
Dear Lord above, can’t you see my pining
Tears are in my eyes…
Send down that cloud with the silver lining
Take me to paradise…
Fuss with my woman
Toil for my kids
Sweat till I’m wrinkled and gray
But that lucky old sun has nothing to do
But roll around heaven all day….
So that’s what it’s all about and the heaven that we all yearn for. To be “That luck old sun that has nothing to do but roll around heaven all day.”
And, of course, there are similar visions of heaven that have us sitting on a cloud playing a harp… Or, if you are a Muslim male, having at your disposal forty virgins for your carnal delight. And all of this is for eternity. Did you hear that… for eternity. Do we really think that “having nothing to do… or playing a harp… or being involved in carnal pleasure with forty virgin… for eternity is a heavenly state and the fulfillment of all our dreams. Why we couldn’t even stand any of them for a lifetime, let alone an eternity. So if these aren’t heavenly bliss, what is?
In a previous program I quoted John Garner, a former head of the Health, Education, and Welfare, who had this to say…
"Despite almost universal belief to the contrary, self gratification, ease, comfort, diversion and a state of having achieved all one's goals do not constitute happiness for man. We are coming to a conception of happiness that differs fundamentally from the storybook version... The storybook conception tells of desires fulfilled; the truer version involves striving towards meaningful goals... goals that relate the individual to a larger context of purposes. Storybook happiness involves a bland idleness; the truer conception involves seeking and purposeful effort. Storybook happiness involves every form of pleasant thumb twiddling; true happiness involves the use of one's powers and talents. Both conceptions of happiness involve love, but the storybook version puts greater emphasis on being loved, the truer version more emphasis on the capacity to give love."
For centuries Christian mystics have concentrated on the pain and suffering of Jesus’ passion and have beaten and tortured their bodies in response to his command to pick up their crosses and follow him. Yet, he also said, “My yoke is easy and my burden light”. How could that be? I don’t want to minimize the efforts of these mystics because self-induced pain, suffering and self-denial benefit us by bringing our hedonistic impulses under control and St. Paul says that we should offer up our suffering for whatever was lacking in the suffering of Christ. But maybe there is an additional response to his command that has not received as much attention.
Jesus, who is life, reality, and truth, is constantly confronting us with challenges that, if accepted, almost always involves pain, suffering, self-denial and also struggle. And struggle always involves a negentropic, goal-directed effort towards an end. And so, without minimizing the actions of ascetic saints, I would like to suggest that pain and suffering without a struggle towards a goal, while beneficial to the total cause of salvation, takes on an added dimension when it is combined with a worthy goal. And goals, as I have mentioned, are inducements to enter growth processes in which hidden talents are revealed and developed. And, when attained, they leave us with a sense of accomplishment and self-fulfillment that “rolling around heaven all day with nothing to do” will never provide.
The obvious conclusion is “Work is good… retirement is bad” and perhaps that is why many of Jesus’ parables involve workers in the field. But why do so many people seem to believe that work is something to be avoided. Perhaps it’s because their “heart” isn’t in it. A wise person once said, “ Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Or as another one said, “It’s so easy when you want to and so hard when you have to…” Or as Jesus might say, “If you struggle to overcome the crosses and difficulties of life in order to establish my Father’s kingdom on earth by being of service to others, you will discover your “real self “ by actualizing hidden potentials that my Father placed in you and your life will take on a fullness that will make the effort involved easy and light.”
As a person who has been retired for ten years, I can assure you that there are only so many lakes, mountain ranges, cruises, vacation spots, beautiful sunsets, and foreign lands to see before you start to yearn to be meaningfully involved in some cause that is higher than your personal pleasure. The other experiences are merely resting stops. They are not meant to be our life.
Someone recently asked me “What is the first thing that you would say to God when you meet him?” My first response was “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner” and, then upon further thought “Here I am, Lord. I’ve come to do Your Will. What do you need done?” The person laughed because he imagined heaven to be a place of eternal rest where all work ceased. Yet, the scriptures say that God has legions of angels who are constantly at His service. For what? Doing nothing?
God, according to the scriptures, is a great delegator who sends angels, like Gabriel to Mary, to do His bidding. He has a universe to maintain and, even if He could do it all by Himself, He seems to prefer to involve others. Why? Because the “fullness of life” is to be involved in the service of others and He wants to share with us the joy and sense of fulfillment that comes from this.
Emmanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century Protestant philosopher, who claimed to have experienced life-after-death said that when people arrive in heaven they all arrive with some concept of what it should be. God, he said, allows each person to experience his misconception. Some think it is sing songs of heavenly praise; others to listen to the thoughts of great philosophers; still others to meditate and pray. And, after experiencing their misconceptions for a while, they are overwhelmed with boredom and despair when they realize that this is forever. Then God reveals the true meaning of heaven which is to be actively involved in sharing our gifts for the benefit of others. In other words, it is the sacrifice of our time, treasure, and talents in the service of others, which is a description of “sacrificial love”. And “sacrificial love” is just another name for God, whom, Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God, portrayed while hanging on the cross. So when we meet God, our first question, after admitting our sinfulness, it to ask how we can serve Him in the service of others.
Thus, we should beware of utopian thinkers who want to eliminate all of our problems, or crosses, by taking the responsibility from us. Whoever assumes the problem or cross grows and develops and rises to a higher level of competency, while those who avoid them stagnate and wither and remain dependent on others. The path to the “fullness of life” is not always easy but it is always fulfilling because it calls forth creative responses that reveal potentials that lay hidden within us.
The problem is that the people who want to save us are motivated by misguided love and concern for us. Or so it seems. And that is why it is so hard to resist their overtures. It is also why those who oppose them seem so uncaring and heartless. It is very difficult to watch those we love go through the growing pains of development but unless they do, they will not grow. That is why “our motives should be loving but our methods must always be wise.” We have to be wise enough to know when and how to help according to the Principle of Subsidiarity.
We are presently experiencing the consequences that result when well-meaning governments attempt to save everybody through generous government social programs. The results are bankrupt socialistic government in Europe that, through their generous benefits, drew masses of dependent people who have come to expect a “handout” and, in our country, a federal government with massive deficits and states like California who are facing the same problem. Yet, President Obama was elected on the promise that his goal was to equalize everybody by redistributing the wealth through federal laws.
What wrong with this? Isn’t this country based on the belief that “all Men are created equal.” Yes. But it meant the equality of opportunity, not equality of results. In other words, everybody has the opportunity and freedom to pursue their own interest and vision through hard work and ingenuity. Immigrants, who come here from places where this is not possible, are the first to appreciate and take advantage of it. They often rise, through hard work, within a few years to levels higher than native born Americans who have lived here their entire lives.
Yet, the temptation to have a paternalistic government assume the responsibility for our lives is so great that young idealistic people in each generation seems to toy with a socialistic solution. I know this from experience because during the ‘60’s that is what I thought until I eventually saw how ineffective and inefficient the federal government is and that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Eventually, somebody has to pay. People who say “Yes!” to these social programs often follow it by “So long as you don’t raise my taxes.” And so the bill is passed on to the next generation, who attempt to do the same. Yet, the young continue to be tempted because they don’t know there is a cost, and the old don’t seem to care because they know that the bill has been passed down to future generations. Consider a recent email that I received from a friend.
“An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had once failed an entire class. That class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich. It was a great equalizer. The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on your plan". All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade, so no one would fail and no one would receive an A. After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little. The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. The scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else. All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail, because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.”
This is another example where the “foolishness of God” is wiser than the wisdom of Man. God, who created the natural laws which include the Laws of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest” knew that the price of freedom would have to be “winners” and “losers.” But in the long term this competition would create the greatest good for the greatest number. But, in addition he knew that competition would also impel individuals to form cooperative groups to increase their chances for survival. And thus two great principals evolved from His Plan: competition and cooperation and, in the end, the need to compete would lead towards the greatest degree of cooperation as each group sought to get a competitive advantage through their pooled resources.
The philosopher Hegel once observed that any good idea, taken too far, becomes a bad idea because the Truth is a unity of opposites. In other words, it is a balance in the tension between two opposing ideas, each of which contain some truth, and anyone who fails to keep the balance falls into error. In previous programs I have mentioned that one of the reasons that the Church has survived over two thousand years of history is because it always seems to find the midpoint. Is Jesus God or man? He is both! Are we saved by faith or works? By both! Do we know God through faith or reason? Both! Should we follow scriptures or traditions? Both! Should we adopt capitalism or communism? Both! Should we compete or cooperate? Both! It seems that the answer to many, if not all, “either/or questions” is “both/and”. Or, as Hegel might say, the Truth is the Synthesis between the Thesis and the Antithesis.
Thus, people who speak of equality as though it were the value that trumped every other value need to know that “inequality” is also necessary. Without inequality nothing would move. In Physics they say that “work” is the movement of energy between unequal forces and it ceases when the forces are equal. I have already mentioned that electricity is the result of the flow of electron through a wire from a negative pole with an excess of electrons towards a positive pole that has a deficiency of them. Once the numbers of electrons in both poles are equal, the flow of electricity stops. Or to bring it to the human level, teaching is the transmission of the greater knowledge of the teacher on a topic to the mind of the student with lesser knowledge. Once the student knowledge is equal to the teacher, the process ends. And if the knowledge of all student was equal to that of all teachers, that would be the end of teaching. It is the need of the other that motives the efforts of the provider and if there is no need, there is no reason to provide.
Equality of opportunity, which leads to inequality of results is good because it rewards effort and ingenuity. Equality of results which has no relationship to effort and ingenuity is bad because it rewards and encourages what is debilitating to the receiver and unjust to those whose efforts and ingenuity provided the basis for the reward. If God based the natural world on this principle, there would be no Survival of the Fittest and no evolutionary development. But, of course, there are those among us who, wishing for an easier way, don’t like the laws of the natural world, and wish that Walt Disney had created it instead of God. And that is why the “foolishness of God” is greater than the “Wisdom of Men.” Only God would send His Wisdom to show us the way to salvation by having him struggle up a hill to his death and then have him rise to a higher level. Death and birth are opposite sides of the same door. You can’t be born to higher level until you die to the older one. And, as Eric Fromm, a Secular Humanist psychologist, once noted, the whole process of life is giving birth to ourselves as the struggles of life bring forth hidden potentials. Thus we must be born again, and again, and again. We should, says Fromm, be fully born when we die but unfortunately many people die before they are fully born. In other words, they had not reached the level of development where they should have been when they died. He sounds like a Secular Humanist who has stumbled upon the meaning of the Gospel.
Although Fromm has nothing to say about what happens after that, we do. As Christians we have a linear view of life that is eternally progressive because we are the finite in pursuit of the Infinite. Therefore our mindset at death should be linear and open to all that God wants to give us.
So it doesn’t matter whether we die young or old. What really matters is that we die with a linear attitude, which by the way, is the natural attitude of children, who knowing they are incomplete, are constantly seeking to grow and develop. And as Jesus once said, “Unless you become like little children, you can not enter the Kingdom of God.” It’s an attitude that say, “Becoming is better than being.” Or, “development is better than existence.”
My point is that any worthwhile enterprise must be entered into with a vision that will involve effort and struggle and so if would be wrong to think that the Kingdom of God is some idyllic state where all difficulties will disappear. It appears that we have made for “conflict resolution” because so long as differences remain, there will always be a need for adjustments and compromises. That was the point that C.S. Lewis’ made in “The Great Divorce”. Hell ended in fragmentation and isolation because no one would make any compromise to the differences in others. The obvious conclusion is that heaven leads to unity simply because people are willing to do so.
Well I see that my time is up.