I had a nice conversation with a young adult whose sister will be married in a few months to a wonderfully kind and fun young man. My young conversationalist is a man of simple faith, not one who attends church on a regular basis but one who believes in the Christian God. Like so many believers who don’t work particularly hard at growing in a intellectual understanding of their faith, my conversationalist does not have a good way to frame the various emotional struggles he sees in himself and in his family.
When these types of questions come up, they rarely come up in a quiet, thoughtful, convenient time and place. My conversationalist shared his observations at a cocktail party, where people were talking and laughing and drinking about surface things rather than deep things. I tried to share in ways that I hoped he would understand a basic understanding of who we are as human beings.
I shared with him, as I share with many, my reflection on the selection of St. Peter as the rock of the Church. On the night of Jesus’s passion, Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. One can make a good argument that the sin of Peter that night was no less than the sin of Judas that night. The difference between Peter and Judas was that when Peter realized what he had done, he wept and eventually sought reconciliation with his God. Judas, on the other hand, despaired of reconciliation and took his own life. Yet it is St. Peter, a model of weakness, to whom Christ gave the keys to the kingdom of God.
I shared with my conversationalist that there is an Old Testament parallel to St. Peter in the person of King David. At the time of year when he as King should have been out campaigning, he was lounging around the castle and the sight of a pretty woman bathing led him to commit the sin of adultery. He compounded that sin with the sin of murder when he arranged for his lover’s husband to be killed in battle. Yet King David was the model King, the one whose heir everyone was looking for.
Just as Saint Peter sought reconciliation when he realized his sin, King David was filled with contrition when the prophet Nathan pointed out to him the seriousness of his crimes. Psalm 51 is the song David wrote revealing his sorrow at his sin and his confidence in God’s acceptance of his confession.
I think these two figures from the Scriptures should remind us that God loves us even as he dislikes what we do. From the creation story we know that God made man in his image. The human person is God’s greatest creation. God made mankind out of love and for love, a loving relationship with our Creator. God also gave man free will. Adam and Eve, our parents, in their free will chose to turn their back on God and his love and to listen to Satan and his lies. We, and all of the children of Adam and Eve, inherited from our first parents that original sin of turning away from our loving Creator. That is why, even though we are made for goodness by goodness itself, we regularly turn away from that goodness and find ourselves in pain.
So the challenge for the Christian in the modern age is to know that his deepest most inner part of himself — which the Old Testament describes as our heart — is deeply good, full of dignity that comes from being God’s greatest creation. If we know this as David knew God loved him, then we can be less concerned with the outermost layer of ourselves. This is completely contrary to the way of the world.
The world, exemplified by social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, wants us to compare ourselves with each other looking only at the outermost level. Pretty children, pretty spouses, pretty cars, pretty houses: all these things we are encouraged by the modern world to think of as deeply important. Christians in the modern world must remember what is truly deeply important, and hold all these other things only lightly.
Satan, who Jesus described as the father of lies, is the ruler of this world. If the father of lies is the ruler of the world, then one should operate as though most of the messages spread through the world are probably false. That does not mean that the spreaders of those messages are intrinsically evil, for all men and women are made in the image and likeness of God, and all men and women share in that intrinsic dignity of the human person. But not all men and women know that truth. It is the sad reality of our world today that most men and women are seeking goodness without the knowledge of where goodness comes from and where it ultimately goes.
The modern world is really not all that different from the ancient world. St. Augustine, writing in his biography called Confessions, said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Our world is restless, seeking truth and goodness and beauty in everything except the source of truth and goodness and beauty. We don’t know why we are the way we are. We don’t really know who we are. And we really don’t know whose we are.
Once Christians know who they are, and whose they are, and why they are, they can be the fount of love for all those who lack that important knowledge.