What is God’s will? How do we recognize it? The Holy Scriptures work on the premise that man has knowledge of God’s will in his inmost heart, that anchored deeply within us is a participation in God’s knowing, which we call conscience. But the Scriptures also know that this participation in the Creator’s knowledge, which he gave us in the context of our creation ‘according to his likeness,’ became buried in the course of history. It can never be completely extinguished, but it has been covered over in many ways, like a barely flickering flame, all too often at the risk of being smothered under the ash of all the prejudices that have piled up within us. And that is why God has spoken to us anew, uttering words in history that come to us from outside and complete the interior knowledge that has become all too hidden. The heart of this historically situated ‘complementary teaching’ contained in biblical Revelation is the Decalogue given on
1, 148 Nazareth
Reflection – ‘All moral questions are complicated if one lacks principles.’ One of my brother priests reminded me of this Chesterton quote last week. It is true. We have this buried knowledge of the true, the good, the beautiful, this ‘participation in God’s knowing’ that we call conscience. We also have all these layers of ash and rubble—all the false knowledge of what we think or wish to be true, good, and beautiful, more often than not all mixed up with the genuine article. It’s all so very, very complicated…
But then, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ And suddenly abortion, for all the complex emotions and hard situations that surround it, becomes very, very simple indeed. Medical science tells us that a new human life begins at conception; God tells us we are not to kill one another; abortion is always and everywhere morally wrong. Simple.
Remember, simple is not easy. The same holds with lying. Oh, it’s all so complicated, and there’s so many reasons to tell lies—to save trouble or inconvenience, to spare someone pain, to cut corners, to self-aggrandize, to… oh, it’s all so complicated!
But then. ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against one’s neighbour.’ Oh. Okay. Simple. Not easy, but simple.
The context here always is relationship with the God who made us. God made us, and everything else. His law planted in our beings is simply the correspondence of our minds to the reality He created. His law coming to us in Scripture and through the teaching authority of the Church is simply a reminder of that which is planted in our beings, not exactly an extrinsic force coming to bear on us from outside, but an anamnesis (remembrance) of what is truly there.
And this God who made us, loves us. His law is for our happiness, our delight. His plans for us are good plans, and so we can entrust ourselves to them. It is simple. It is not easy, because we have fallen into sin and our wills are pulled this way and that way, but it is a simple affair.
It is made even harder by our social conditioning. It’s not just my own compromised intellect and will lying under the rubble and ashes of sinful choices and desires; the world is lying under that same rubble and ash. And so there are great loud voices clamouring about how very difficult and complex it all is, or how simple it all is – just do whatever you want, whenever you want – simple!
As we enter the Year of Faith this Thursday, part of our living this year could be a re-taking of our stand upon the Word of God, upon the guidance of the Church into that word, upon the simple truth of how we are to live and what things we must not do if we are to live that way.