By Charlie Johnston
The following article is the first of a trilogy of articles that may not, at first, seem connected, but are actually intimately connected. I will be doing a national ZOOM meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20. I will give more details over the next week so that any of you who wish to participate may.
Several decades ago, I wrote for several statewide Illinois journals on politics, public affairs, and culture. In one article I casually mentioned that Nazi Germany was the only modern functionally pagan state – a fact that was uncontroversial among historians. It was true when I wrote it, though sadly, over the last decade and a half, almost the entire western world has adopted a functionally pagan rather than Christian ethos.
I was startled when pagans and wiccans started contacting me to complain – and demand that I retract it. However inconvenient or painful for them, I had no intention of retracting a simple truth – and in fact, doubled down. Living a pagan ethos is cultural suicide. When I would not back down, various anonymous pagans informed me that they had chosen a date when they would gather in covens across three states – Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa – and have cursing ceremonies against me. I laughed and told them, “Curse away. My Boss is stronger than your boss. But take care, for when you curse a child of the light, my Boss often causes the curse to rebound on you.” The night of the cursing came and went – and I never heard from the pagans again. I hope they all survived their misguided spiritual assault on me.
All of us over 30 (and most of us a lot younger than that) have encountered the fellow who is a huge suck-up to the boss when he is around and a useless, vile lizard when he isn’t. Usually that guy thinks he is a sophisticate who understands the way of the world, plays hardball, and knows how to get ahead. He does nothing that advances the company’s aims, never advocates for fellow employees (except in the rare event that seeming to do so can advance his own goals), and treats customers and clients with the same oily artifice. Some have a genius for preventing the boss from seeing reality. All too often he does, indeed, fool the boss, to the chagrin of everyone who has to work with him. He measures his success in how many good people he undermines and clears out of the path of his self-advancement. If the boss is clueless enough to promote a few of these people, the business is headed for a great fall – for the only business of the self-anointed “sophisticate” is ruthless self-promotion.
What happens, though, when the boss is God, Himself? God sees all and knows all hearts. The dodges and manipulations of the most elegant cons are laid bare before him. God knows who the self-serving promoters are. God knows who the power-mongers are whose vanity seeks to dethrone Him. God knows the frauds in His flock who corrupt His Holy Word into an instrument with which to batter and starve His sheep. And God is not mocked. So why is evil allowed to persist for so long while the innocent suffer?
The answer is for much the same reason as the answer to why a good God allows evil at all: free will. God created man in His own image, giving him free will and, thus, full moral agency. We are not His pets, but are called to be heirs in His household. From the beginning God pledged not to interfere with man’s free will. He constrained Himself against it. That allowed for the possibility of evil. In our myopic state we only recognize acute forms of evil as evil, at all. Actually, anything contrary to God’s sovereign design and will is evil. Evil is always wounding even when it is not deadly. The grave danger of the milder sins is that we can come to think of them as no sin at all. So many sins are more like a cut than a mortal wound. We do not typically die of a cut. Ah, but the devil loves to infect a cut by convincing us that it is no sin at all. And we will die of a thousand cuts. God says that love is to will the good of another. The satan says love is love, reducing it to mere sinful lust. God made man in His own image; male and female He created them. The satan says man is his own god and he can choose his own gender, despite what God says. The Lord says that pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov 16:18). The satan says celebrate pride month and demand respect empty of honor and kindness. Our whole culture is become a massive cutting disorder – with the devil infecting every new cut.
So is God helpless to stop us because of His pledge not to interfere with our free will? Hardly. He tells us openly, through Scripture and the Magisterium, what is and is not sin. But when we commit sin without obvious consequence, the devil deceives us first that it is not sin at all and second that there is no God at all. In order to both preserve our moral agency AND call the most souls to salvation, when an evil age takes root, the Lord must show us and make us feel it – and make us choose. It is the only thing strong enough to focus our minds and strengthen our hearts against the devil’s constant assurance that we are our own god. Foolish men think God condemns sin because He is a killjoy. To the contrary, He warns us against sin because it is, in itself, debilitating and deadly. It is because He loves us that He warns us against it – and because of that same love that He quickly forgives the sins of weakness when we call on Him, even though our weakness leads us to sin repeatedly. “For I do not the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do,” is St. Paul’s anguished lament (Romans 7:19). How sublime that God treats a contrite heart with such tender mercy! Otherwise. none of us could stand.
When the sin of the angels, pride, takes hold and gets infected, the more we sin, the prouder we are, and the more we deny our sins are sins at all. The prouder we are, the more anguished we become. The more painful the anguish, the more we curse God and the more we sin for the brief narcotic relief it brings before the pain grows even greater. When that sin besets an entire culture, God acts by giving us a dose of divine chemotherapy – which is less pleasant than even the unpleasant temporal variety. It always unfolds in largely the same manner, though the details are ever new. A close reading of the Old Testament and Israel’s tempestuous relationship with God reveals the sequence.
First, God starkly reveals the depth of the rot. He is almost taunting as He effectively says, “Behold what you have sown and are now reaping!” Then He lets us stew in our own juices for a long while – sometimes even hundreds of years in captivity or under the yoke of an oppressor. We are forced to make our choice for Him at the very worst of times because we would not stand with Him in the best of times. Oh, but how glacially slow our proud, rimy hearts are to turn back to Him! So He makes us face the consequences of our prolonged infidelity, sometimes even using overt enemies of His to oppress us and bring the point home to us. Some think He is punishing us. Actually, we are punishing ourselves by what we have wrought – and He simply lifts His protective hand for a time that we may not just know, but feel in our bones that, “…there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
Some, like the man who buried his talent in the ground, complain that they have done nothing wrong and have kept the faith in their hearts. But ours is an evangelistic faith – and if we do not give effective witness to it with our actions and our words we have been intentionally barren – and that is a stench in God’s nostrils. The world and the hierarchy did not degenerate into dystopian dysfunction in a vacuum. Our leaders come from among us. When we suffer the culture to become corrupted without effective remonstrance, why should we be surprised to find many leaders chosen from that culture are equally corrupted? And having failed to effectively stop the corruption how do we dare think ourselves blameless? If we knew a fellow was riding headlong to the edge of a cliff and figured it was none of our business, we could deceive ourselves that it is not at all our fault. But God is not deceived. We knew – and did nothing. So it is altogether right and just that we should suffer the consequences for our failure to do the things we should have done. More importantly, without interfering with our free will, it drives home the consequences of indifferent neglect – sort of like touching a hot stove.
A couple of decades ago I went through a period of a few months where everything went wrong; nothing I touched prospered (this was not the five-year period of intense sorrows I went through, but another episode altogether). I squirmed and wailed, begging the Lord if He would only show me where I had run afoul of His grace, I would correct myself forthwith. I believe He came to me suddenly – and rather tartly told me that this was not about me at all. Rather, someone I cared deeply for was being seduced by the satan and would soon fall into dysfunction and eventually apostasy. The Lord asked if I loved my relative enough to do penance for him now or was I only concerned about myself. I was both shamed for my self-centeredness and startled, for I had not yet seen any signs of what I was told was going on. But I agreed to accept whatever further penance the Lord sent without further complaint; even with gratitude. Whether anyone believes this was a case of my imagination or not, it unfolded as I saw it on the day of my rebuke – and is one of the deepest ongoing sorrows of my life. How grateful I am now that I was able to offer a little penance for one who seems lost now, but who I dearly want to be friends with in heaven. This would be a good time to meditate on my piece, “Into the Whirlwind,” a meditation on the Book of Job.
God is not like any other boss in existence. He is deceived by nothing. He knows the hearts of all. During this period when the depth of the rot is revealed, God uses some of the godless to afflict the faithful whose hearts have grown cold, many deceive themselves that they have pulled a fast one on God or that there is no God at all – and that they are gods. It is the oldest temptation of mankind – and, sadly, one to which we are ever vulnerable. But it is an illusion. God sees all. What is actually happening is that we are giving witness of our hearts before Him, answering His divine deposition even as we think we are carrying out our own schemes. If we have many leaders, both temporal and religious, who are corrupted, how does that keep any of us from living fidelity? Will we join the crowd in trying to get a leg up on our neighbors, or will we serve God in building up our neighbors – defending the faith, heartening the faithful, and defending the faithful? Make no mistake, however things seem, we are giving testimony about ourselves to the God who sees all. In His good time, we will receive recompense from Him for the fruit we produce by our faith and fidelity. Woe to the wicked who think they have outwitted God because He allows offenses to multiply for a time! Unless they repent, they will be swept away – and will not be able to plead that they did not know what they were doing. Pray for them. Never allow yourself to be seduced into being counted among them. Go forth with fidelity and fortitude that, under God, you may bear fruit that will last. Never let the failure of any of your expectations persuade you that God has failed you. Walk humbly with Him, knowing how little we all are before Him, even as you remember that we are His beloved.
As the world get uglier and darker, walk boldly without fear in the Lord’s service, knowing that our Boss is stronger than the world’s bosses, including the prince of this world.
If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.
Find me on Gab at Charliej373 or at the CORAC group.
Find me on Twitter at @Charlie62394802
The Corps of Renewal and Charity (CORAC)
18208 Preston Rd., Ste. D9-552
Dallas, Texas 75252