At times people feel abandoned by God. One of the more common arguments of atheists against the existence of God is the theodicy argument. “Where was God when …?” Everything from the Shoah to genocide in Aleppo fits neatly into the prepackaged argument. It gets most pointed when they appeal to cases of individual suffering, especially cancer afflicted children. Yes, it is an emotional argument and appealing on that level, but it really goes not much further.
Isaiah muses whether or not God could forget his people and the covenant that he made with them and asks: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
The passage is riveting. It is a rare example in the Scriptures where the Lord is identified in feminine terms. While God is generally seen as masculine, here the Lord likens himself to a mother in relationship with her child. This maternal image offers a new and powerful insight. Yes, the Lord’s love for us reflects the tenderness and sense of awe that a mother feels the first time she holds her child. Imagine that God has that same experience as he gazes upon his creation and encounters us, even in our sinfulness.
The steadfast faithfulness of a mother to her child through the phases of life is also a poignant reminder to us of the constancy of the love that God has for us, his people.
This same sense of the intimacy between God and his people is reflected in the Gospel as well. Jesus emphasizes the particular love of God for each individual of creation as he says: “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?”
Although it is up to us to respond, and at times to knock at the door to express our openness to God, it is God who initiates this relationship. Indeed we could understand these texts to mean that in the very act of creation itself God plans the relationship that he has with us.
We are also to see here the relationship that God claims for the entire created order. It is not only the birds, but the flowers in the fields and the grass that grows throughout the land that the Lord tends to and cares for. We know from the first chapter in Genesis as God created the world and all it contains, he “saw that it was very good.” This goodness cries out to God in praise and God loves that which he created because it is good and because he created it.
Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudate Si states: “Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighborhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves.”
We cannot allow ourselves to lose sight of God’s intimate and personal love for us as we move throughout the daily experiences of our lives.
March 5 – Jesus entered the wilderness so that we might enter the garden
We open our Lenten journey in the lushness of the Garden of Eden. It is there that we find Adam and Eve in the idyllic setting in which God placed them and which he intends for us. They are there, as God created them, in partnership with one other and with God. We then shift to the Gospel where we find Jesus alone, hungry and tempted in the barren desert.
The history of salvation is the story of this movement from Eden to the wilderness and back again. Tucked between these two scenes is the reflection of St. Paul which powerfully expresses the journey to salvation.
Adam and Eve are blessed by God with everything that they could need. They live in the plushness of the garden, where nothing is withheld from them. God walked through the garden every afternoon to be with them. His only restriction was they not eat from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit of all of the other trees of the garden was theirs to eat. Theirs was a life of total harmony, unity and peace. Jesus, in the wilderness, is everyman and everywoman. We struggle through life, seek a unity with God that can often be illusive, hunger for many different forms of nourishment, and never seem to be satisfied.
The one constant that ties the two scenes together is the reality of temptation. Yet, the temptations are markedly different. In the garden, temptation comes in concrete form. The serpent, one of the creatures in the garden created for and named by Adam, presents himself to Eve in a new and sunning way. The serpent’s observations are keen, its questions seem reasonable, and the temptation is subtle. Tempted with the specific fruit the lure of the serpent is amorphous and inviting: they will be like God.
Jesus faces a tempter who offers Jesus what he needs now – bread – and then the allure of fame and importance in the world as a contrast to the suffering and promise of an eternal kingdom.
It is precisely because of the events in the garden that the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness occurs. Paul instructs the Romans: “through one’s disobedience all became sinners.” Jesus stands alone in the garden as a direct consequence of the sin in the garden. God created Adam and Eve as son and daughter. They forfeited their respective relationship with God by succumbing to the allurements which the serpent promised would be theirs. Not only did the tempter deceive them, Adam and Eve lost even more than they imagined. They are banished from the garden and exiled into the wilderness. Their harmony and peace give way to shame and division, expressed in the making of fig leaf coverings. No longer do they experience intimacy with God. God no longer walks among them.
It is this condition, the result of original sin that characterized the moral and spiritual lives of the world from that moment forward.
It is through Jesus and his overcoming the temptations which Satan placed before him, that we can leave the wilderness and return to the garden. As St. Paul points out, “through one’s obedience, all shall become just.”
As we begin this Lenten season, we enter into a time of self-denial and penance in order that we might share more fully in the promise of salvation. The way out of the wilderness is open before us, may we not lose our way on the road to the garden.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]