What does the Bible think about our current cultural fascination with finding our own voices, setting our own agenda, doing things according to our own lights? (By the way, if you doubt that this attitude is dominant today, I would invite you to watch practically any movie, listen to practically any popular song, or read practically anyone’s latest blog or Facebook posting). Is the Bible for or against this ego-dramatic approach to life? Might I suggest we look at the close of the book of Judges, a text marked by enough murder, mayhem, and miscreancy to put Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino to shame.
After the death of Samson, the last of the judges of Israel, the tribes, we are told, drifted into disunity and commenced to manifest shocking violence to one another. The most remarkable and frankly sickening story, again in a book filled with such stories, concerns the outrage at Gibeah. We hear of a man from Ephraim in the north who had taken a concubine from Bethlehem in the south. When the woman escaped and returned home, the man came after her and took her back into his possession. He then set out with her and came to the town of Gibeah. We are told that “scoundrels” from the city that night surrounded the house. Exactly duplicating the infamous tale from the book of Genesis, the mob shouted to the owner of the place: “Bring out the man who has come into your house, so that we may get intimate with him.” With astonishing moral turpitude, the owner of the abode replied, “Do not commit this terrible crime. Instead, let me bring out my virgin daughter and this man’s concubine. Humiliate them or do whatever you want; but against him do not commit such a terrible crime.” At that, they shoved the concubine outside, and the men, we are blithely informed, “raped her and abused her all night until morning.”
Utterly indifferent to her suffering and humiliation, the man placed her, next morning, on his beast of burden and commenced the journey to Ephraim. When he arrived home, “he got a knife and took hold of the body of the woman, cut her up into twelve pieces, which he then sent throughout the territory of Israel. Was she dead when he found her that morning? Did she die on the way? Did he kill her? We’re not told, which only adds to the horror of the narrative. When the gruesome message was received across the nation of Israel, the elders assembled an army and attacked the city of Gibeah, effecting a general slaughter of the people.
Now, why do I rehearse this awful tale? Though there is a good deal of competition for the distinction, I believe that this gruesome and cruel episode represents the low point of human behavior described in the Bible. We have cruelty, crude physical violence, utter disregard of human dignity, sexual immorality, rape, cooperation with sexual abuse of the worst kind, murder, mutilation, and genocide. As an aside, I am always slightly amused when some Christians primly criticize me for watching, and in some cases recommending, films in which violence and immorality are on vivid display. I wonder, “Have they ever even read the Bible?” If the Bible were depicted honestly in film, the movie would receive at least an “R” rating. One of the great virtues of the Scriptures is that they are brutally honest about human beings and the myriad ways that we go wrong, the thousands of bad paths down which we walk.
Another virtue of the Bible is that its authors know precisely where all this dysfunction comes from. The book of Judges clearly indicates that the moral chaos it describes is a function of the disappearance of anything like moral leadership among the people. When the judges faded away, the law was no longer taught and enforced, and hence the people wandered into appalling behavior. Rudderless and without a captain, the ship simply smashes into the rocks. The final line of the book of Judges sums up the spiritual situation: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own sight.” I would not interpret this necessarily as an endorsement of kings in the political sense, but rather of leadership in the moral sense. A healthy society needs leaders—political, economic, cultural, religious, etc.—who are animated by a keen sense of objective moral value, who have risen above mere subjective self-interest. The scriptural authors knew that the strident assertion of one’s own private prerogatives, so on display today, is fundamentally adolescent and morally catastrophic for any human community. This is why the heroes of the Bible are never those who “find themselves,” but rather those who heed the voice of God and remain obedient to the mission that God has given them. Mind you, as is often the case, the Bible trades in exaggeration and overstatement in order to get our attention, similar to the method employed by Flannery O’Connor in her macabre stories. So the almost cartoonish violence displayed in Judges is meant as a warning to a society such as ours that is increasingly losing its moral bearings: you might not be there yet, but this is where the road that you have embarked upon is leading you. Next time you find yourself wondering why the world is in such a precarious state, call to mind the final lines of the book of Judges: “Everyone did what was right in their own sight.”
© Bishop Robert Barron is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Bishop Barron is a #1 Amazon bestselling author and has published numerous books, essays, and articles on theology and the spiritual life. ARTICLE originally published at wordonfire.org. Reprinted with permission.
It was a stormy night. Sister Faustina bowed her face to the ground and prayed the Litany of the Saints. Toward the end of the Litany, such drowsiness overcame her that she couldn’t finish the prayer. She immediately got up and prayed, “Jesus, calm the storm, for Your child is unable to pray any longer, and I am heavy with sleep.” With these words, she threw the window open, not even securing it with hooks. Sister Fabiola said to her, “Sister, what are you doing!? The wind will surely tear the window loose!” But Sister Faustina asked her to sleep in peace. At once, the storm completely subsided. The next day, the sisters were talking about the sudden calming of the storm, not knowing what had really happened. And Sister Faustina thought to herself: “Only Jesus and Faustina know what it means…” Such was the trust Saint Faustina had in Jesus. No wonder He appeared to her and gave her the mission of Divine Mercy for the whole world, with the instruction to inscribe the words: “JESUS I TRUST IN YOU.” She abandoned herself to Him completely, just like a child. Once, during Holy Mass, she had a miraculous vision. Jesus appeared as a one-year-old child and asked her to take Him in her arms. When she had taken Him in her arms, Infant Jesus cuddled up close to her bosom and said, “It is good for Me to be close to your heart…because I want to teach you spiritual childhood. I want you to be very little because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart, just as you are holding Me close to your heart right now." Spiritual childhood is often misunderstood as naïveté or excessive sentimentality. However, it involves a total surrender to our heavenly Father's providential care—total abandonment of our own plans, opinions, and self-will—and a radical trust in God. Can we, too, ask God to give us the grace to accept—like a little child—all that He asks of us in this life? As we do, can we trust, like Saint Faustina, that the Lord will not abandon us, even for a moment?
She was diagnosed with chronic OCD, and put on meds for a lifetime. Then, something unexpected happened. In the 1990s, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The doctor prescribed me medication and told me I would have to take them for the rest of my life. Some people think that mental health issues happen because you lack faith, but there was nothing wrong with my faith. I had always deeply loved God and relied on Him in all things, but I also felt an abiding disabling guilt. I had not been able to shake off the belief that everything that was wrong with the world was my fault. I had a Law degree, but my heart had never been there. I had taken up law to impress my mother, who thought my choice of teaching as a profession wasn’t good enough. But I had married and given birth to my first child just before I finished it, then gone on to have seven beautiful children, so I had spent more time learning to be a mother than working in law. When we moved to Australia, the law was different, so, I went back to university to finally study my first love, Teaching. But even when I got a job doing what I loved, I felt that I was trying to justify my existence by earning money. Somehow, I didn’t feel that looking after my family and nurturing the people entrusted to me was good enough. In fact, with my crippling guilt and feeling of inadequacy, nothing ever felt enough. Totally Unexpected Because of our family size, it wasn’t always easy to get away on a holiday, so we were excited when we heard about the Carry Home in Pemberton where payment was a donation of what you could afford. It had a beautiful country setting close to forests. We planned to go for a weekend family retreat. They also had a prayer and worship group in Perth. When I joined, I was made to feel very welcome. There, at one of the retreats, something totally unexpected and overwhelming happened. I had just received prayer when I suddenly fell to the ground. Rolled up on the floor in a fetal position, I screamed and screamed and screamed. They carried me out onto this rickety old wooden verandah outside and continued to pray until eventually, I stopped screaming. This was totally unsought and unexpected. But I knew that it was deliverance. I just felt empty as if something had left me. After the retreat, my friends continued to check up on me and come to pray over me, asking for Mary’s intercession that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would become manifest in me. I felt so much better that after a week or two, I decided to reduce my dose of medication. Within three months, I had stopped taking the medication and felt better than I ever had. Melting Away I no longer felt the need to prove myself or pretend that I was better than I was. I didn’t feel that I had to excel in all things. I felt grateful for the gift of life, my family, my prayerful community and this tremendous connection with God. Freed of the need to justify my existence, I realized I could not justify my existence. It’s a gift–life, family, prayer, connection with God–these are all gifts, not something you are ever going to earn. You accept it and you thank God. I became a better person. I didn’t have to show off, compete, or arrogantly insist that my way was the best. I realized I didn’t have to be better than the other person because it didn’t matter. God loves me, God cares for me. Out of the grip of my disabling guilt, I have since realized that “If God didn’t want me, He would have made someone else.” My relationship with my mother had always been ambivalent. Even after becoming a mother, I was still struggling with these feelings of ambivalence. But this experience changed that for me. As God chose Mary to bring Jesus into the world, He had chosen Mary to help me on my way. My issues in the relationship with my mother, and subsequently with the Holy Mother, slowly melted away. I felt like John at the foot of the Cross when Jesus told him: “Behold your Mother.” I have come to know Mary as the perfect mother. Now, when my mind fails, the Rosary kicks in to rescue me! I never realized how much I needed her until I made her an indispensable part of my life. Now, I couldn’t imagine stepping away.
There is a poetic meditation of an early twentieth-century Greek novelist named Nikos Kazantzakis that I keep on my nightstand when Advent comes around every year. He pictures Christ as a teenager, watching the people of Israel from a distant hilltop, not yet ready to begin his ministry but acutely, painfully sensitive to the longing and suffering of His people. The God of Israel is there among them—but they don’t know it yet. I was reading this to my students the other day, as I do every year at the start of Advent, and one of them said to me after class: “I’ll bet that’s how Jesus feels now too.” I asked him what he meant. He said: “You know, Jesus, sitting there in the tabernacle, and us just walking past like He isn’t even there.” Ever since, I’ve had this new image in my Advent prayers of Jesus, waiting in the Tabernacle, looking out over His people—hearing our groans, our pleas, and our cries. Waiting... Somehow, this is the way God chooses to come to us. The birth of the Messiah is THE KEY EVENT IN ALL HUMAN HISTORY, and yet, God wanted it to take place ‘so quietly that the world went about its business as if nothing had happened.’ A few shepherds noticed, and so did the magi (and we could even mention Herod, who noticed for all the wrong reasons!). Then, apparently, the whole thing was forgotten. For a time. Somehow…there must be something in the waiting that is good for us. God chooses to wait for us. He chooses to make us wait for Him. And when you think about it in this light, the whole history of salvation becomes a history of waiting. So, you see, there’s this simultaneous sense of urgency—that we need to answer God’s call and that we need Him to answer our call, and soon. “Answer me, Lord, when I call to you,” the psalmist says. There’s something so brazen about this verse that it’s charming. There’s an urgency in the Psalms. But there is also this sense that we must learn to be patient and wait—wait in joyful hope—and find God’s answer in the waiting.
Q – Why did Jesus Christ have to die for us? It seems cruel that the Father would require the death of His only Son in order to save us. Wasn’t there some other way? A – We know that Jesus’ death forgave us of our sins. But was it necessary, and how did it accomplish our salvation? Consider this: if a student in school were to punch his classmate, the natural consequence would be a certain punishment—perhaps detention, or maybe being suspended. But if that same student were to punch a teacher, the punishment would be more severe—perhaps being expelled from the school. If that same student were to punch the President, they would likely end up in jail. Depending on the dignity of who is offended, the consequence would be greater. What, then, would be the consequence of offending the all-holy, all-loving God? He Who created both you and the stars deserves nothing less than the worship and adoration of all Creation—when we offend Him, what is the natural consequence? Eternal death and destruction. Suffering and alienation from Him. Thus, we owed God a debt of death. But we could not repay it—because He is infinitely good, our transgression caused an infinite chasm between us and Him. We needed someone infinite and perfect but also human (since they would have to die to settle the debt). Only Jesus Christ fit this description. Seeing us abandoned in an unpayable debt that would lead to eternal doom, out of His great love, He became man precisely so that He could pay back our debt on our behalf. The great theologian Saint Anselm wrote an entire treatise entitled, Cur Deus Homo? (Why did God become Man?), and concluded that God became man so that He could pay back the debt we owed but could not pay, so to reconcile us to God in a Person Who Himself is the perfect union of God and humanity. Consider this too: if God is the source of all life, and sin means that we turn our back on God, then what are we choosing? Death. In fact, Saint Paul says that “the wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23). And sin brings about the death of the whole person. We can see that lust can lead to STDs and broken hearts; we know that gluttony can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle, envy leads to dissatisfaction with the gifts God has given us, greed can cause us to overwork and self-indulge, and pride can rupture our relationships with one another and with God. Sin, then, is truly deadly! It takes a death, then, to restore us to life. As an ancient Holy Saturday homily put it from the perspective of Jesus, “Look at the spittle on my face, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image. See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.” Finally, I believe that His death was necessary to show us the depths of His love. If He had merely pricked His finger and shed a single drop of His Precious Blood (which would have been enough to save us), we would think that He didn’t love us all that much. But, as Saint Padre Pio said: “The proof of love is to suffer for the one you love.” When we behold the incredible sufferings that Jesus endured for us, we can never doubt for a moment that God loves us. God loves us so much that He would rather die than spend eternity without us. In addition, His suffering gives us comfort and consolation in our suffering. There is no agony and pain that we can endure that He hasn’t already gone through. Are you in physical pain? So was He. Do you have a headache? His Head was crowned with thorns. Are you feeling lonely and abandoned? All of His friends left Him and denied Him. Do you feel ashamed? He was stripped naked for all to jeer. Do you struggle with anxiety and fears? He was so anxious that He sweat blood in the Garden. Have you been so hurt by others that you cannot forgive? He asked His Father to forgive the men driving nails into His hands. Do you feel like God has abandoned you? Jesus Himself cried out: “O God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” So we can never say: “God, you don’t know what I’m going through!” Because He can always respond: “Yes, I do, my beloved child. I’ve been there—and I am suffering with you right now.” What a consolation to know that the Cross has brought God near to those who suffer, that it has shown us the depths of God’s infinite love for us and the great lengths He would go to rescue us, and that it has paid back the debt of our sins so that we can stand before Him, forgiven and redeemed!
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