Before Mass this morning I read in the LA times that former LA Deputy DA Vincent Bugliosi has come out with a new book in which, after prosecuting bunches of people both in the courtroom and in print, has come up with a new challenge, this time he puts God in trial: “Divinity of Doubt: the God Question.”
It was just released five days ago, and seems highly promoted if the Amazon.com site is any indication. His argument seems like an old one, and from the Times article and the reviews on Amazon, I can’t see anything new to it. The challenge of trying to reconcile the idea of an all-good God with the immensity of evil in our world necessarily comes up with imperfect and unsatisfying answers. The real answer is only that all rational categories we use to describe God are limited by our own powers of understanding. It’s not only that “God has a greater plan,” as some theories maintain, or that God will ultimately reward and punish, but that the mystery of God simply can’t be subject to human concepts. Our minds are capable of knowing God, but not of comprehending God.
During the reading of the Passion according to St. Matthew this morning, it came home to me that even Jesus could not “rationalize” the Father’s love with his experience of evil. His struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane was not play-acting, he was indeed arguing with the Father. His last recorded words in Matthew scream from the ultimate depths of darkness and abandonment, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”
There is no hope of justice, vindication, or redemption in those words; only unrelieved depths of despair. The supreme irony is this: on the cross there was no redemption. None. Just terminal darkness and emptiness. Just like the Holocaust and the countless repetitions unimaginable tragedy that has been the lot of humankind throughout history, and seems even more immense in today’s world.
Supreme irony gives way to supreme paradox. There was no redemption for Jesus, human and divine, on the cross. But God, in Jesus, embraces the depths of the human experience of evil; God has taken into himself the reality and consequences of evil, and precisely in that is our redemption as human individuals and the human race. God is not a proposition to be debated, but a mystery to be entered.