Born That Way
We might imagine Ebenezer Scrooge settling down after the spooking he received over Christmas. He’s benign, no longer is indifferent to injustice. He continues to be frugal, but he’s no longer greedy. He has become a man of justice but does not go beyond the basic demands of justice. So there is no apparent need for any of those ghosts to make a repeat visit.
Perhaps Ebenezer rearranged his priorities with his main goal in life to be modestly self-sufficient. As a competent businessman, he doesn’t need much help and relies on his natural virtues for his success. After checking with his investment adviser he plans to live comfortably for as long as the actuarial tables give him. Does Christ have anything more to require of the new Ebenezer Scrooge, the benign man of justice and of self-sufficiency?
After all, God Himself is completely self-sufficient, in need of no one. St. Philip Neri doesn’t mince words: “God has no need of men.” God is all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present, and doesn’t depend upon his creation for anything. Scriptures reveal his absolute dominion, power, and might. He sends forth his spirit and they are created and He renews the face of the earth. But there is not one shred of evidence in the Old Testament that God needs us. So perhaps the new and improved Ebenezer Scrooge, in his self-reliance and self-sufficiency, adequately reflects the God within?
But before worshipping the God within, we’d better take a second and deeper look at God’s nature so that we do not confuse it with our own. The Scriptures —the Psalms in particular—are replete with revelations of God’s self-disclosure in words and deeds. While God does not need us, God loves us. He wants us to love Him in return. He desires a contrite spirit. He punishes us when we do not follow his directives. But He is merciful when we acknowledge our sins. God is very much active in our day-to-day lives, providing us with his grace and keeping us on the right path. Still He doesn’t need us.
In the Old Testament, God sends forth the Prophets to do his bidding. They prophesy in obedience to his will and carry out other duties as assigned. But after the Incarnation, there is a significant shift in how God chooses and retains his representatives for their apostolic work. Jesus calls forth the Twelve and sends them out to proclaim the Good News. They respond not in servile obedience, but in love. None is like the “reluctant prophet” of old. The Twelve are attracted to Christ and his ministry. Has God changed? Does the coming of Christ demonstrate that He suddenly needs us?
Upon the completion of God’s revelation, we come to know that God is One in three Persons: the Trinity—the Father revealed in the Old Testament, and the Son revealed in the New, with hints of the Holy Spirit throughout, but definitively at Pentecost. Hence, the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father with infinite perfection in union with the Holy Spirit. There is nothing we can do to add to the perfection of God’s love. These final disclosures are conclusive and carry an ironclad logic. God does not need us; Jesus does not need us. Nevertheless, God reveals Himself to us because God’s love is never closed in on itself.
God’s love is expansive. It is creative. Above all, it is sacrificial: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” God suffered and died for us. The Passion of Jesus is truly startling, since He doesn’t need us. But God imprints the same pattern of sacrificial love on every human heart.
G.K. Chesterton was fond of saying that there was nothing more evident than Original Sin and its effects in the world. But we might also observe plainly the many examples of Christian sacrificial love, even by people who are not Christian.
A couple of months ago, I spoke to a kindly doctor, who isn’t a Christian. She is dedicated to her work. Responding to my nosy questions as she delicately sewed up my sliced finger, she said that she spent her annual vacation attending to the medical needs of the poor in Haiti. When I commended her for her generosity, she graciously refused the compliment. She insisted she was humbled by the many expressions of the people’s gratitude.
She loved those in need of her medical care with sacrificial love, and she offered it without an expectation of a reward. But her sacrificial heart discovered another truth. There can be rewards not intended or expected: a sense of accomplishment and goodness accompanied by the touching gratitude of her patients. The doctor didn’t know it, but she was responding to the image of Trinitarian love inscribed by God on her heart.
This provides us with an insight as to why Jesus called his disciples and sent them out to do His work. In calling the Twelve, Jesus conferred a further dignity upon them. He made it possible for them to love the way He loves. And in so doing, in time they would discover the meaning of their humanity and existence, the reason why they were born. So even a benign, just and self-sufficient Ebenezer Scrooge is incomplete. He hasn’t yet lost himself in love and generosity, the pattern of which is already inscribed on his heart. He needs another ghost—the Holy Ghost—to visit him repeatedly. And so do we.
It is indeed a paradox that God does not need us, yet He loves us. Such is the mysterious nature of God. And our souls are branded with the Divine imprint of that dynamic love of the Trinity. The mystery remains, but God’s plan for us is clear. We will not be happy unless we strive to love the way He loves us.
We are born that way. We need to live his Way.
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