The Catholic Thing
The Lord’s Enemies Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Thursday, 08 July 2010

We would not imagine that the Lord has or could have “enemies.” Yet we read in Paul, for example: “Christ’s reign will last until all his enemies are made subject to him” (1 Co 15:25). And in Psalm 110: “The Lord’s revelation to my Master: ‘Sit on my right’ your foes I will put beneath your feet.” An enemy opposes us on the basis of what we are. Can anyone oppose God on the basis of what He is? I have long pondered this notion that God has enemies. Christ said to “love” your enemies. He did not say they would necessarily love us in return. The classic idea was not to “love” your enemies, but to destroy them. In an obvious sense, Christ’s enemies did destroy Him.

This notion of God’s enemies is counter-intuitive. God is good. Deus caritas est. Does the fact that God has enemies mean that God is not good, that something about Him is unlovable? It seems unlikely. God has enemies because He is good. Something about the goodness of God can be rejected. It is standard teaching, however, that if we really know or see what is good, we cannot reject it. We are made to see that what is good is good. So where is the problem?

The goodness of God is ever the first perplexity in believing in Him. We insist on asking about evil for which we blame God, not ourselves. Few have trouble admitting that disorder is found in our lives and in the world. We argue that God could have done a “better” job if He made a world without evil.

Yet we pray. “Deliver us from evil.” That is, we have a world in which evil is present. We ask God to protect us from it. We find depictions of Satan saying, “Evil, be thou my good.” This choice of what is the opposite of good is itself described in terms of good. We cannot do evil without affirming some good.

The fact is that the world was created good and we in it. The origin of evil is not the world itself. This puzzles us. We suspect that evil is related to something greater, something that could not exist without its possibility. The world is better made, as it were, if evil is permitted to be in it. The world exists in order that more than God can affirm what is good. This affirmation indicates that within the world is a being capable of affirming the goodness of God.

But if the goodness of God can be affirmed, it can also be denied; otherwise the affirmation has no meaning. But we just said that the enemies of God always attack Him on the grounds of what is good. The grounds for rejecting God are provided by God in creating what is good, but what is not Himself. All movements against God include affirmations of what is in fact good.

The “enemies of God” do not seem to be something passive. Indeed, what is against God seems out to recruit others to follow them. It is not enough to stand by on the sidelines. We are to make a choice. We cannot be neutral. Yet we often want not to be bothered by these things of God. We want to be left alone when neither God nor His enemies will let us alone. Why is this?

God’s enemies would logically have something that they affirm to be superior to God. The classical alternative has ever been one’s self. God seems to have had but one real choice that would stir Him to create in the first place. That would be the reality of a being or series of beings other than Himself who were invited to affirm their own goodness by recognizing a goodness that was far greater than theirs.

We generally call this power in a being his “freedom.” God does not want to be recognized for anything less than who He is. This recognition is what we are invited to manifest in our deeds, words, and lives. The key word is “invited.” We are not forced or necessitated. We are “commanded” in the sense that God wants us to know the real meaning of our lives – “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God.”

But this command has the force of an invitation, of directing us to what reality is about. It has about it “See all there is to see, nothing less.” God’s enemies are ever those who urge us to see less than there is to see, who deprive us of the great adventure of what is more than ourselves. God’s enemies take God seriously as an enemy; otherwise they cannot affirm themselves as something greater than God.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book isThe Mind That Is Catholic.

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Comments (4)Add Comment
Evil and Suffering
written by Joe, July 09, 2010
Provocative piece, father, and one that I connected to the themes that Dostoyevsky, who suffered the chains of the gulag for years and a variety of misfortunes, struck in his great novels. His disciple Berdyayev wrote, "The existence of evil is proof of God''s existence. If the world consisted solely and exclusively of goodness and justice, God would not be necessary, for then the world itself would be God. God exists because evil exists. And this means that God exists because freedom exists."

Dostoyevsky, who had nothing but the New Testament to read while in a Siberia prison, came to believe, in his words, "there is nothing more beautiful, more profound, more sympathetic, more reasonable, more manly, and more perfect than Christ...Furthermore, if anyone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth, and it really was a fact that the truth was outside of Christ, I would rather remain with Christ than with the truth."

The day after his wife Masha died, he wrote, "To love another as oneself according to Christ's commandment is impossible. Man is bound on earth by the law of personality. The Ego holds him back. Only Christ was able to do this, but Christ is a perpetual and eternal ideal, towards which man strives and according to the law of nature must strive against ... And therefore on earth man strives towards an ideal that is opposed to his nature. When man sees that he has not lived up to the commandment to strive for the ideal, that he has not sacrificed his Ego to other people or to another person (Masha and I), he suffers and calls this state sin. Man must suffer unceasingly, but this suffering is compensated for the heavenly joy of striving to fulfill the commandment through sacrifice. This is the 'earthly equilibrium'; without it, life would be meaningless."

In The Brothers Karamazov, his greatest novel, when the Grand Inquisitor denies Christ for having left man freedom of choice between good and evil, the answer is not in reason but in the heart and in the suffering for the sins of others. Dostoyevsky said the "whole novel" was an answer to those who accused him of having a naive "faith in God."

written by Ars Artium, July 09, 2010
Why do we choose evil and call it good? One approach is offered by Paul J. Griffiths' "The Nature of Desire". He writes that, after the Fall, "human desire has been deranged. Our desires have moved from order to chaos; they have been opened to the damnable as well as the beautiful." "We lack natural desire because our desires have been removed from their proper arrangement...." Our grasp of natural law is so deformed, "we Christians might do well to substitute a phrase such as 'to be cultivated in response to divine gift' in place of the word 'natural.'
Quick Thoughts
written by Joe, July 09, 2010
There can't be love without the other. The other cannot be truly other without free will. There cannot be free will without transgression. There cannot be transgression without knowing - yet it is only through transgression that knowledge is born - before knowledge, there is only experience. This is pointed to in Genesis in the image of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There is a little appreciated cost to being truly other. The cost is staggering to consider and involves the births and deaths of stars in the physical plane and the incarnation on the spiritual plane. It helps to remember that God can do everything, but not anything. He can make the universe out of nothing, but cannot act against love. But free will requires that others can do so.
Can God command Evil?
written by Willie, July 09, 2010
Father excellent as usual! It seems that the simplicity of that old Baltimore catechism is clear enough. " God made us to know Him, to love Him and serve Him in this world and be happy with Him in the next." It seems that the hubris of mankind and our secular culture has blinded us to the fact that there could be a Being more intelligent than ourselves. There are some who believe the day will come when be will conquer death. Where have we heard this before? I would submit that anyone who doesn't think man-made evil exists recall that day on September 11. Yet there are those who would call this an act of God. Why is the "problem of evil" and the recognition of evil so confusing?

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