Friday, 12 March 2010
No sooner had Father Ignatius faced a curve ball question from one of his parishioners ill in hospital, that he faced another one that very evening.
He was chairing the monthly “Any Questions” meeting at the Parish Hall. This is an event he had initiated some time ago whereby parishioners and their guests gather of an evening, and after refreshments of tea, coffee, hot chocolate drinks and cakes, they sit in cinema fashion and ask him any question totally un-prepared. Usually the questions are about the day to day running of the church, or the two Catholic schools nearby; but more often than not there are some questions about Christianity and the Catholic Faith.
Father Ignatius was convinced that the hot drinks and cakes were the main attraction; but he was assured this was not the case.
His curve ball came from a young lady sitting at the front.
“Father,” she said, “I can’t help feeling sorry for Judas. What chance did he really have? He had to betray Jesus; because if he didn’t do so, he’d be going against God’s will. So what choice or free will did Judas have?”
The priest put down his cup of coffee and cleaned his spectacles; a trick he had learnt in order to gain time.
“Would it help if I say I don’t know the answer to this?” he said eventually.
After a short pause the young lady continued, “well Father, I don’t understand the difference between our free will, or Judas’ free will, to do as we wish, and pre-destination to do what God has determined will happen.”
Before the priest could answer a man put up his hand and said: “Oddly enough, I was reading about this the other day. In John Chapter 17 I think it was. When Jesus was praying for His disciples He says to God something like ‘I kept the disciples safe. Not one was lost except the one who was meant to be lost so that the Scriptures may come true.’ This implies that Judas had no choice. He was pre-programmed as it were to betray Jesus.”
A few of the audience murmured at this; perhaps they hadn't read or heard about it.
“Free will and pre-destination are matters which have taxed many a learned brain over the centuries,” replied Father Ignatius gently, “and no doubt they will continue to do so.
“I am not God, and so I do not have a definite answer for you. But I assure you I will ask Him when I get to meet Him.
“In the meantime, let us consider the question a bit more.
“When God created us He had two choices.
“He could have created a species of robots. All pre-programmed to obey Him, to love Him and to do His will without question.
“And how trouble-free that would have been! No sin, no rebellion, no satan.
“But God loved us so much that He gave us a precious gift. He gave us the gift to choose. He allowed us to decide whether to love Him back, or not.
“When He invited us to return His love for us, He did so with no coercion whatsoever from His part. Love given freely by Him, and returned freely by us; but only if we want to.
“Hence our free will to choose.
“We are free to decide what we do with our lives. To love and obey Him, or to go our own way.
“Yet having said so, there are instances in the Bible where God does lead, or encourage, certain people in some direction. Look at the way he nudged Paul on the way to Damascus for instance.”
The audience laughed.
“You may well laugh,” continued Father Ignatius, “but God may have seen some good qualities in Paul which could come useful in furthering God’s Word on earth. And how right He was!
“After all, why should the devil have all the good talent?”
The audience laughed again.
“So …,” went on the priest after they had settled down, “whilst on the face of it there is some evidence, in our eyes, that God does lead us in some direction it is somewhat presumptuous on our part to try to analyze when this is pre-destination and when it is free will.
“But this so-called evidence is in our eyes only. Because we try to understand God in human terms. Something we should not do, in my opinion, because we are humans and He is not.
“By analyzing Him in human terms we bring Him down to our level. And this is wrong.
“God does not want us to understand Him and analyze His motives. He wants us to love Him and to dare to obey Him, in blind Faith, in the sure knowledge that He knows what He is doing.
“Can we do that? Dare to obey Him without question?
“And not want to serve God in an advisory capacity. But as obedient children, trusting His every word and action.”
The priest stopped for a second and sipped his coffee.
“Let Him be God and let us be humans. And let us always be willing to listen to Him when He leads us in a certain direction” continued Father Ignatius.
“I really cannot tell you whether Judas was pre-programmed, as you put it, or not. But I trust God to know the answer to that question and to have dealt with it with compassion, fairness and love.
“Finally, I wish to say this.
“I did not fall out of bed one morning and decide to become a priest. At the time, I felt led by God to follow the path to priesthood. It was a gradual process, it took time and it took a lot of thinking and praying … and eventually, I knew that He was calling me.
“God may well be calling some of you these days. Not necessarily into the priesthood, but to listen to Him and His will for you.
“I pray that you’d be listening when He calls you to do whatever He asks of you in this life.”