“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed – the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-18)
Catholic author Matthew Kelly wrote a new book in 2018 with the thought-provoking title The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity. I won’t spoil what the lie is, for Kelly’s book is worth reading. But I do want to reflect on another lie that is widespread in our culture.
This lie is that you don’t need Jesus to be good. Non-Christians do some good things, right? All religions teach more or less the same ethics, right? So what difference does it make if you’re Christian, or another religion, or none of the above?
The truth is that God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is the source of everything that is good. Everything God made, everything that was, is, or will be, is good. (1)
Every good action that anyone does – be they Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew, Hindu or Buddhist, agnostic or atheist, as well as the just plain indifferent, lukewarm or lazy – springs from the triune God working in their soul, and their cooperation, wittingly or not, with his grace.
How do we know that every good action springs from God? How do we know that God is absolutely good and absolutely true? The answer is Jesus. God revealed the fullness of his goodness and the fullness of his truth in his Son. The gospels are not only the record of Jesus’ life on earth; they are the revelation of the goodness and truth of God. As Saint Paul puts it, God “made known to us the mystery of his will… to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)
What if you didn’t just happen? What if you were made? Not made in the sense of a clockmaker God setting the universe in motion and watching how things unfold. What if God lovingly, painstakingly hand-crafted you, carving and chiseling until you were formed perfectly to his liking? What if he beheld you before you were formed in your mother’s womb and said that you were very good?
What if he created the universe for you? What if he divided the light from the darkness, formed the stars and the planets and set them spinning in their elaborate web, separated the land and the sea, breathed life into the smallest living things, and from those kept creating, grander creatures on a grander scale, culminating in the creatures made in his own image and likeness, and for a special, eternal friendship with him?
And then what if you betrayed him? He created you, loves you more than you could ever imagine. Isn’t it only right that you return his love? Could a just God ask for less? But what if you betrayed him, and in doing so created a chasm between you and him that you yourself could never bridge?
Only he could bridge the chasm. But he could only do so by leaving his throne, his eternal paradise, and lowering himself to you. So in his abundant love he did, becoming a helpless baby just for you. He endured all the pain and misery we experience in this life, only unjustly, for while our suffering is a result of our sin, he who never sinned took upon himself the burdens of our sins. This culminated in his death on the cross, a cruel death reserved for the lowliest criminals, which he willingly submitted to for you and me. (2)
If you know this to be true, would you recognize that this God is the source of all goodness, all love, all mercy? That his love and mercy are infinite, and that everything that is good comes from him and is for him? (3) His eternal mercy is our endless joy.
We can sometimes get tripped up because some measure of the good and true can be found in other religions or outside of religion. But anything that is good and true is a reflection of the light of Christ, like a mirror reflecting the sunlight.
We can also get tripped up thinking that God seeks to punish us, blaming God for our own free choices to separate ourselves from him. God desires that we know him, love him and serve him. Love must be a free choice, or it is not love. God did not make us to be slaves, but to be heirs to the kingdom as adopted sons and daughters of Christ the King. “In love he destined us for adoption for himself through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
(1) God granted his angels and mankind free will, which includes the free choice to separate themselves from his goodness by choosing evil. This does not negate the truth that all God’s creatures were made good and for good by their loving Creator.
(2) A four year-old (not one of my sons) referred to Jesus restoring the relationship between God and mankind as the “rainbow bridge.” What a wonderful image, evoking the rainbow that sealed God’s covenant with Noah! (Genesis 9:12-17)
(3) The idea for the questions at the end of this post came from chapter 38 in Matthew Kelly’s 2015 book Rediscovering Jesus entitled “What if?” Rediscovering Jesus is a good starting point if you have never read any of Kelly’s books.
Image: The Creation by James Tissot (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).
You’re ready for the in-laws, but are you ready for the coming of Christ? Go to Confession this Advent.