As faithful readers of this blog know, I am an admirer of the work of our bruin friend at Saint Corbinian’s Bear. In 2014 he wrote an absolutely brilliant post bringing together God, Cthulhu and the New Atheists:
H.P. Lovecraft was a horror writer who invented a world much like ours, except undermined by unspeakable conspiracies aimed at the destruction of everything sane and good. Okay, exactly like ours. At the heart of his writings are ancient gods who shall soon return, bringing madness and mayhem for humanity.
The most well-known is Cthulhu, who lies in troubled sleep deep beneath the ocean. The interesting thing about Lovecraft’s gods is that they are not exactly evil as utterly alien. There are no points of reference to allow us to guess at their motives or judge their actions. At least one is literally insane.
We’re pretty sure the luckiest humans will be the ones who get eaten first.
Dawkins advised God that if He really wanted people to believe in Him, He should appear at everyone’s bedside for a chat. Obviously, what Dawkins fails to consider is that perhaps God’s desire is not merely that people acknowledge Him as a fact. His methods may suggest other motives. Plenty of people seem to have no problem believing in and even having a relationship with God through faith.
How often it is the Herods and Dawkinses of the world who, sneering, demand a miracle.
Actually, that last sentence wasn’t about Cthulhu. (NABRE, Romans 11:33.) It takes a whole book of the Bible — Job — to say just one thing: God doesn’t ask for our advice or approval, or tell us more than we need to know. He is Other.
It seems like 95% of the New Atheist arguments come down to some guy, perhaps with a string of failed marriages that testify to his own purely earthly incapacities, imaging himself as God, then snorting that he would do a better job. (The other arguments are the equally inept Orbiting Teapot, Flying Spaghetti Monster and Darwin. And believers are supposed to be the dumb ones?)
Sometimes the Bear wishes we all had a deeper appreciation for the mystery and otherness of God Almighty, and for our own limitations — especially those of the intellect and imagination. A little humility, if you will. When well-meaning clerics try to humanize God, to make him “safe,” they are robbing us of the reality they should be defending.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Psalm 111:10.
We do not have to imagine God as Cthulhu (in fact the Bear discourages that) but we should have a healthy fear of the Lord. For one thing, there is a judgment that each of us will face, and the possibility that it may not end well for us. But more to the point, we must have the humility not to make our own assumptions about the infinite, eternal, and all-powerful Holy Trinity. “Fear” is more like “awe,” or, more completely, according to Rudolph Otto, the experience of the numinous. Otto was a Lutheran theologian of the early 20th century who influenced, among others, C.S. Lewis in his The Problem of Pain. Otto wrote of the “non-rational factor” in religious experience. (This is not to say irrational.) He called the experience the mysterium tremendum. It is a holy dread, a desire to cover oneself, yet also a fascination.
The Bear knew a very small boy who found himself alone in his father’s still and dimly lit office with an American flag affixed to the wall. This profound experience bore all of Otto’s freight of fear and fascination, and of being in the presence of a mystery. This is of course a shadow of the encounter with the Living God! Here is what Isaiah, the greatest prophet of Israel, wrote:
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said:”Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 6:1-5 RSV)
“Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said: Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance?” (Job 38:1–2). You can read the rest here, on the USCCB web site, or in your favorite Bible. It is a wonderful read, and speaks to the mystery that is God, a mystery that Catholics are privileged to participate in through His grace.
We began with H.P. Lovecraft, but, happily, will end with C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Mr. Beaver attempts to communicate something Rudolph Otto might recognize. “‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.'”
Since my parents purchased a Bible for me, at my request, for Christmas 1970, I have read a chapter from the New Testament and a chapter from the Old each night. What a magnificent collection of books the Bible is! Prophecies, histories, court chronicles, songs, gospels, letters, codes of laws and so much more. The Bible is a boundless sea on which the human mind and soul can glimpse the eternal voyage. Choosing one’s favorite books of the Bible is rather like picking one’s favorite children, but here goes.
In regard to emotional and intellectual impact nothing in the Old Testament moves me more than the book of Job where Man stands before his creator and realizes that God truly is I AM, the ultimate reality:
Then Job replied to the Lord:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”
The longer I sojourn in this Vale of Tears the more I understand the truth and wisdom of this passage.
In the New Testament nothing can surpass the beginning of the Gospel of John:
We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs.
Henry V to his brother prior to Agincourt, Henry V, Act III, Scene 6
The thirtieth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here, here, here, here and here.
Kipling, as I have often observed in this series, was not conventionally religious. Any man who could refer to himself as a good Christian atheist obviously would never qualify as being conventional in any sense in regard to faith. However, many of Kipling’s poems do deal with religion, and few more powerfully than The Answer. At first glance a brief and simple poem, it deals with immensely complicated theological questions involving death, innocence, predestination and trust in God, a poetic rendition of the same issues raised in the Book of Job.
This poem, like Job, I suspect can only be understood completely by those afflicted with grief. The temptation when disaster overtakes us in this Vale of Tears, particularly disaster not brought on by any evil on our part, is to rail against our fate and against God. This is natural, and it is always a mistake. We are the children of a loving God and ultimately our response to what befalls us in this life can only be that of Job when he stands before God:
 Then Job answered the Lord, and said:
 I know that thou canst do all things, and no thought is hid from thee.
 Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have spoken unwisely, and things that above measure exceeded my knowledge.
 Hear, and I will speak: I will ask thee, and do thou tell me.
 With the hearing of the ear, I have heard thee, but now my eye seeth thee.
 Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes. Continue reading
 Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said:
 Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words?
 Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me.
 Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding.
 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
For any parent, I think the death of one of their children is the worst thing imaginable. Abraham Lincoln would see two of his four sons die, Eddie and Willie, Willie dying on February 20, 1862 from typhoid fever, that great killer of the 19th century. Mary Todd Lincoln would see three of her four sons die, and witness her husband assassinated before her eyes. Small wonder that Mrs. Lincoln had a fragile grasp on reality after so much sorrow. Prostrate with grief, Mary Lincoln retired to her room for a month after Willie’s death, inconsolable in the immense anguish she felt, unable to bring herself to even attend Willie’s funeral. Mr. Lincoln said when Willie died, “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!” Lincoln continued his work, not having the luxury of private grief in a time of such public peril.
Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian church in Washington that the Lincolns sometimes attended, preached the funeral sermon. I suspect this passage caught Lincoln’s attention:
His kingdom ruleth over all. All those events which in anywise affect our condition and happiness are in his hands, and at his disposal. Disease and death are his messengers; they go forth at his bidding, and their fearful work is limited or extended, according to the good pleasure of His will.
Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His direction; much less any one of the human family, for we are of more value than many sparrows.
We may be sure, — therefore, bereaved parents, and all the children of sorrow may be sure, — that their affliction has not come forth of the dust, nor has their trouble sprung out of the ground.
It is the well-ordered procedure of their Father and their God. Continue reading
A great compilation of cavalry charges in movies. Cavalry charges in reality were much grislier of course, with wounded and dying horses adding to the inherent horror of any battlefield. However, it would take a heart of purest granite not to be stirred by the sight of a cavalry charge. Job 39: 19-25 captures the glamor that has ever attended the cavalry:
 He breaketh up the earth with his hoof, he pranceth boldly, he goeth forward to meet armed men.  He despiseth fear, he turneth not his back to the sword,  Above him shall the quiver rattle, the spear and shield shall glitter.  Chasing and raging he swalloweth the ground, neither doth he make account when the noise of the trumpet soundeth.  When he heareth the trumpet he saith: Ha, ha: he smelleth the battle afar off, the encouraging of the captains, and the shouting of the army. (Whoever the inspired author was who wrote Job, I would wager that he had been a horse soldier at some point in his life!) Continue reading