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Archives February 2007

February 2007


“From the soil, the Lord God caused to grow every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2,9).

The presence of evil and of death does not need to be proved; it is one of the things we have to come to terms with early in life. Sacred Scripture describes the origin of evil and of death in the book of Genesis, in order to tell us what God’s original plan was and how it was upset when man wanted to cut himself off from his roots, set out to be self-sufficient and made his own freedom an absolute. The consequences were not long in coming: first the fear of meeting God, then shame at being naked and finally the breakdown in trust between man and woman and the subsequent expulsion from Eden to be followed by Cain killing his brother, and the return of chaos with the flood. With the evocative image of the tree of life planted in the middle of the Garden the Jewish people expressed their conviction that evil and death entered the world when man gave in to the tempting offer of the serpent to become like God and therefore have no law apart from himself.

Accepting life as a gift means than man who is the reference point for creation, in his own turn has as his point of reference the Creator, the origin of all that is true and good. Israel came to this conclusion after it was chosen to be the people of God when Yahvé established with him a Covenant, on fidelity to which life and death would depend. A covenant with clear terms to be respected, or risk the “contract” being revoked. This was the significance of the ten commandments, rightly called “the Ten Words of Life,” to indicate that if they were kept life was guaranteed, whereas on the contrary, if they were broken one entered the realms of death. A text from Deuteronomy expresses this clearly when God puts on the lips of Moses the heartbroken warning: Look today I am offering you life and prosperity, death and disaster … Chose life then so that you and your descendants may live (Dt 30, 15-19b). And the first psalm, in its turn concludes that whoever follows the law of the Lord will be like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters that yields its fruit in due season … not so are the wicked, for they like winnowed chaff shall be driven away by the wind (Psalm 1,3-4).

The law, nowadays considered a limitation to freedom and a threat to happiness is itself also a gift at the service of freedom, of happiness and of life, in the sense that it has a role of support, as Paul says: The law was serving as a slave to look after us to lead us to Christ (Gal 3, 24). Certainly, the law is also a check on our human freedom, since after all, everything depends upon our own personal choices. The profound truth about life is not in man’s own hands, it is a gift which comes from on high and it is our responsibility to preserve, care for and defend it. With every reason the psalmist prays: Show me Lord your way, so that I may walk in your truth (Psalm 86, 11). The law, therefore, is at the service of man, of his complete fulfilment: The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath (Mk 2, 28), Jesus declares, to re-enforce the absolute character of the human person and the functional role of the law. It makes us know from within the good, the true, the beautiful in life.

The problem then is not the law, but the claim to an irresponsible, absolute freedom, which leaves us free from any dependence at all, and makes us lords of ourselves and of others. Someone who takes freedom to this point finishes up by becoming a despot who does not recognise any law other than himself. Freedom is a great gift, of immense value, and yet it is not the gift par excellence.  The highest gift is “the ability to love” which can make us renounce even our own rights in order to foster the growth and maturity of others. “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more; I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1Cor 9,19.22). It is wonderful to know that God is so good that He has made us free, since it is only in freedom that there is love, and therefore the capacity to know love and serve God for ever. This is man’s greatness, called to choose between “good” and “evil”. His life in fact is in his own hands: “each one is the shaper of his own destiny”.

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