Thursday, October 13, 2016

Can we be a society free from all “bad things”? A lesson from Cain

1. Can we really get rid of violence? Can we eradicate it completely from society? Can we completely eliminate from our society crime, illegal drug taking, corruption and cheating? Many nations may show historical evidences of how they have reduced the occurrence of “very bad things” happening there. They may be proud of their low crime rate, for example. But in my opinion a complete eradication of “bad things” happening in society is a utopia.
2. The Church views us, humans, as marked by “original sin”. We are inclined to do evil, to sin, to do “bad things”. This is a notion from St. Augustine that emerged during his controversy with Pelagianism. We may agree or disagree with the way St Augustine formulated it, but one thing is clear to all of us: we really have evil inclinations. During mass we say, “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. The best explanation I heard about that came from Father Lahiff SJ, my former teacher in modern history. He said that when we pray that in mass we just do not mean that we ask the Lamb of God to remove this or that sin we may have done. He said that we pray that the Lamb of God cleanse us from the very capacity to do evil--to sin. We may have been so good for a whole week but we do not fully congratulate ourselves because this inclination for evil stays in our hearts. So at the end of the week we ask the Lamb of God to help us.
3. Christian life is also a daily combat against the daily inclination to evil. In Baptism the Christian is plunged into the water and loses breath to come out and breathe in a new breath. Original sin is said to have been “removed”. But the effects of original sin stay, and our combat continues. We may agree or disagree with this link between baptism and original sin but one thing is clear: Christian life is an option for the good and for the mission to make more evident the love of God in the world. It is what baptism has instituted in each baptized person. The baptized continues to lead a life with combat knowing that full restoration happens in the “fulfillment of time” or the “eschatology”.
4. Meanwhile we have to live with the fact of violence, crime, injustice, and all sorts of “bad things” happening. We are not in full eschatology even if it has been inaugurated by the resurrection.
5. People in authority who try to eradicate all the evils of society and claim that through their acts they will eventually bring an everlasting society of zero-crime tend towards totalitarian political behavior. This usually happens when people justify violence in view of peace. It is totalitarian, Utopian and unrealistic.
6. The Bible tells us a story of how the doing of violence, crime and other “bad things” can be channeled—not eradicated. The Bible gives us insight about God who realistically admits that the human heart has really opted to do “bad things”. The Noah’s boat story is a clear illustration.
7. But here I would like to talk about Cain. He killed his brother, Abel. Yet God continues to talk to Cain and even protects him from the violence of others. “So the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight” (Gen4/15). Cain, the murderer, does not lose contact from the Lord God, he is even protected. Do we now see an end to other crimes? No. The son of Cain, Lamech, admits to having murdered someone else. “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for bruising me” (Gen4/23).
8. Jesus knew this well; he knew the power of the inclination to doing bad things. He spoke of the unclean spirit leaving a man and then returning with seven more unclean spirits: “it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first” (Matt12/45).
9. Let us go back to the Genesis story. The Cain cycle ends with an interesting verse: “At that time people began to invoke the LORD by name” (Gen.4/26). Bible experts see in the Cain (and Abel) story a shift in the religious practices of the Israelites; from the ritual-sacrificial offering type of religiosity to the listening to the Law of God religiosity. We cannot go into this erudite discussion; we are not competent. But we can make one point: to guide the human heart, listen to the Word of God. There will be plenty of Lamech’s to replace the Lamech’s in our midst. Meanwhile we hold on to the WORD as we await a more definite eschatology.
10. In more Christian terms we can say that we are in the process—a continual process—of freedom. We are set free from sin, a daily combat, as we are oriented by the WORD made flesh to be free for God. This can be a bit more realistic that to expect a zero-crime and zero-“bad” society. We realistically admit how we are in constant transformation and how we need to vigilantly attune ourselves to the WORD. To claim that we hold a system to complete success can be dangerous. As we said above, it can be “totalitarian”.

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