In one of his whimsical novels, the American author Kurt Vonnegut speaks of the Utterly Indifferent God. This God creates humanity and then walks away, leaving us to our own devices.
Vonnegut leaves us with a despairing picture of the human condition. It is worth noting that Vonnegut's outlook was shaped by his experiences as a prisoner-of-war held in Dresden, Germany. He saw the unspeakable horrors which befell that city when the Allied Forces fire-bombed it in 1945.
The future novelist perhaps asked himself how a loving God could allow such devastation and suffering to occur. This is a crucial question, one which we will focus on more directly in a later article in this series. But to Vonnegut, we need to make a different response. Our response is that the horrors he saw were the work of humanity, not of God. The puzzle for the Christian believer is why God remains faithful to us in the face of our repeated and abominable sins.
The answer given by the Jewish and Christian Scriptures is that God, far from being indifferent, has freely bound himself to his people in a covenant relationship. He will love us and be gracious to us, no matter what we do.
When the first humans fell into sin, God washed them away in a great flood. He saved only Noah and his clan and started anew. But this time, God made a covenant with all creation, promising never again to bring down such destruction, He would be faithful no matter how much we turned away from him.
This unconditional love is the hallmark of the covenant. In a contract, one is bound only to the extent that the other party fulfills their end of the deal. Once that party has violated the pact, the other is freed from his or her obligations. A contract protects two parties from abuse by each other. But a covenant is a promise, not a form of protection.
The most common human experience of a covenant is the marital bond between a man and a woman. Marriages inevitably break down when they are seen as contracts in which one party need only uphold their end of the bargain to the extent that the other party does. Marriage is rooted in forgiveness, in throwing the other's sins into the sea of forgetfulness. Marriage needs more than justice, it needs mercy.
Again and again, the Old Testament compares God's relationship to his people with that of a bridegroom to his bride. One of the most poignant testimonies in the Hebrew Scriptures is that of Hosea, the man who remains faithful even though his wife deserts him. Hosea's love is a symbol of God's love. That love remains steadfast and punishes the unfaithful one only in order to bring her back. Eventually, that goal is accomplished.
This is not an indifferent God; it is a God who suffers and weeps because of the unfaithfulness of his people. Never does he turn his back on them as they do to him.
Moreover, God promises that he will show us a way out of our constant infidelity. "The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the people of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which will include all the nations" (Catechism, 64).
This salvation takes place through a person, Jesus Christ. In and through Christ, God shows us, in as a complete a way as is possible, that he is close to us. God shares all the trials of our humanity — he accepts abuse and a horrible death. And he does this while being deserted by his closest friends and followers.
Is this the action of an Utterly Indifferent God?
It is not possible for God to be in any greater solidarity with us than he was in the person of Jesus Christ. God smashes the hold that sin has on our lives. He also gives us the ultimate example of how to live.
The new covenant which God offers through Christ's death and resurrection is the most God can offer us . It reveals everything. It contains everything. There is no point in looking for some meaning beyond Jesus because there is nothing more to be found. To be fulfilled, we need only accept the share in divine life which Jesus offers us through baptism and to live out that baptism by walking in Jesus' footsteps.
This is the covenant God offers us. What will be our response?
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