SPidge Tales

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Either/Or or Both/And

Last week in one of my classes, we were reading together from the textbook when we came across this passage that says, “God alone is holy and good” or something to that effect. Immediately my students had questions. “How can only God be holy?” “Aren’t there other holy people?” “Wasn’t Jesus holy?” The last one was simple to answer: Jesus is God. But, that led into “How can Jesus be both God and human?” Luckily, class was just about over, so I decided to think over how I could respond, and then explain it in class the next day. Below are some of the ideas that came to my head, and some of what I told them in class. If you think I’m full of shit or there are better explanations, feel free to comment. I was just doing the best I could, and I can be wrong.

(1) God alone is holy and good.
(2) There have been and are people, often called saints, who have been and are holy and good.

How do we explain this apparent contradiction? Well, in one sense, only God is good and holy, and only God can be good. God is beyond our wildest imagination. God is infinite goodness and power. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote volumes on God. His Summa Theologia is over 3000 pages, and covers everything from “Does God exist?” to “Does crying mitigate sorrow?”, offering reasons contra, with rebuttals of the contra, before offering an affirmative, with reasons for the affirmative. Few have written as much on God, the world, theology, philosophy, etc. as Thomas. Yet, Thomas never finished his Summa Theologia. In his 40’s, when close to death, he received of vision of God. In this vision he saw that all that he had written was only “a drop of water in an ocean” of knowledge about the nature of God. As much as we know about God, it is only a tiny grain of sand in desert compared to what there is to know about God. (This is why we can say we know, through the Church and Scripture, much about God, yet what we know is hardly anything at all). God is beyond our wildest dreams, so there is no way anyone can measure up to the goodness of God to be considered “good and holy.”

Yet, we do call some people “good and holy.” How? Let us turn by way of example to Socrates. Socrates was considered the wisest man in ancient world. And, why? Socrates was wise because he knew that he was a fool. He knew that he, a simple man, could not possible know all that much about the world and the way it works. His humility made him wiser than other men who thought they knew a lot. The first step towards wisdom is recognizing one’s own foolishness. Likewise, the first step to holiness is recognizing one’s sinfulness. All of the great saints considered themselves great sinners and unworthy servants of the Lord. If you are sick, the first step in getting healed is realizing that you are sick. You need to know you are sick before you can go to the doctor. We need to see our own sinfulness before turning to God and asking for help. The paradox is that in order to be holy, we must realize that we are not holy. Think of St. Francis’s prayer: “In giving we receive…in dying we are born to eternal life.”

Another way to understand the apparent contradiction is the recognition that these two statements may very well be speaking of “good and holy” based on different standards. For example, I can say that Mark Bellhorn is a terrible baseball player, and that I am a good baseball player. Mark Bellhorn is far superior to me as a player (he is in the Major Leagues, I am not), yet both statements are true. How? Well, I can say that I am good because I was really good in high school, and played in college. Bellhorn is so bad, that the Red Sox cut him. Both statements can be true because we are speaking of “good baseball player” on different levels in each statement. When I say that I am good, the reference point is your average amateur baseball player. When I say Bellhorn is bad, the reference point is a good Major League player. When we say that God alone is holy, the standard of holiness implied is God. Of course, none of us measure up to God. When we speak of humans who are holy, the standard is the saints, prophets, and holy men who have gone before us.

I hope that helps. I am still confused by all of this. Comments are nice :-). Unless you are a spammer. Then, no comments, please.


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11:51 AM  

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