Saturday, February 26, 2011

How Lucky am I?

In the current issue of Commonweal, John Garvey writes a brief essay on a huge topic: Am I lucky or blessed?

People of faith generally prefer or are expected to be blessed when good things happen rather than merely lucky, merely the recipient of the whims of Lady Luck. But what if a tree falls on, and kills, my neighbor and not me, is God responsible?

Garvey is more comfortable being lucky than blessed, he confesses, opening up an issue that demands fuller treatment than he or I can give it. I think first of Boethius, the 6th century Roman thinker whose work greatly influenced the Christian Middle Ages. He contended that God is superior to fortune, which exists in time, whereas God is outside time. Fortune or luck operates in human time beyond acts of the will, including God's. The divine mind, then, cannot be held responsible for everyday events, despite some fundamentalist claims to the contrary.

I cannot, as a guy in the movies might, shout to the heavens, "Thank you, God!" for making the traffic light change just in time for a driver to make it to the nearest Starbucks to meet the girl of his dreams before she runs off....

Yet if we see God as Being itself (not a being who controls us, much less micro-manages our lives), God may be ultimately responsible for everthing that exists but only indirectly for what happens. His presence and reality in and with us do not preclude the existence of chance and accidents, which have nothing to do with the divine will, nor do they affect human free will.

So God has nothing to do with making the tree fall on my neighbor and not on me. Nothing to do with awful choices I might make. Bad things happen to good people, many of whom are unlucky and often stupid.

To be blessed implies, says Garvey, a relationship with someone who can bestow or withhold favors. This would seem to imply a fairly primitive, simplistic idea of God as a heavenly Santa Claus. My God is beyond all such random acts, yet I thank God for the people who perform random acts of kindness. I am grateful to God for the reflections of his love in our world.

So I, too, am mainly lucky; as a person of faith, however, there are times when I want to believe that God's will and my needs coincide, when God does indeed answer my prayers and cause good things to happen. How else could I be grateful?

I can't be grateful to Lady Luck. So I guess, in some things at least, I am blessed.

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