Browsing The Northern Cross

David Douglas: Balancing our intentions with obedience

By David Douglas
Guest columnist

Adam and Eve didn’t eat an apple. They ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The name is worth remembering. It’s an unusual name for the fruit of a tree, plus names in the Bible matter.

We know the story. Adam and Eve eat the fruit, realize their nakedness, and come under the curse of original sin. Adam and Eve are our first parents, and we inherit the family curse when we are conceived. Baptism removes original sin, but a weakness of the will, called concupiscence, remains with us.

As we reflect on this story, we might ask: Why would the knowledge of good and evil cause our Fall?

Just before the story of the Fall, Adam names all the animals. Just after the Fall, Adam names Eve. Naming things is man’s forte. Once he’s learned of good and evil, he soon names the world with these categories, too. And this is something we all do, every day.

But we cannot agree about the good. It is even common that one calls good what another calls evil. If there are two candidates for the same promotion, only one will prevail. He will bless his fortune, while the other man curses his luck. This lack of agreement is also in moral considerations, as debates in American society, especially around sexual morality, make clear.

The reality is that, without God, good becomes a synonym for the things we desire. At the point of the Fall, Adam and Eve reject God. Irrational desire is the replacement. In the world of these desires, everyone is in competition with everyone else. We seek power over each other, to secure the survival of our own interests. This animal logic is familiar, but it is not the logic of the Kingdom of God.

When Lucifer cried “non serviam,” he was declaring that he would not place his own desires below the rule of God. When we, likewise, cry out against the facts of our lives or the challenges that we just don’t see the reason for, there can be a note of the old rebellion in it. We do not approve of the things that God has allowed. We resist that they could be good. We struggle to trust. A spirit can enter which speaks of thwarted justice. And if it’s all a bit unjust, the reasoning goes, isn’t it really God who is negligent?

But there is a higher spirit, which responds, “I am the Lord’s handmaiden; may it be unto me according to thy word.” This high Christian spirit makes me renounce the right to name the good for myself. It acknowledges that God’s purposes are the true measure of things and can be trusted.

I can expect that God’s purposes will run sometimes contrary to my desires. As I suffer from concupiscence, my will attaches to what it should not. I sin, which means I create and must live through scenarios for which I do not wish to take responsibility. I remember, too, that the Father’s purposes could run contrary even to what Jesus, in his perfect humanity, desired. Our Lord prayed in the garden that the cup of his Passion would pass from him.

Even so, in the final event, Jesus chose obedience and trust, and I must follow him. I too must be willing to lay down my plans when God ordains it, in faith that God’s good is being accomplished in my trials as well as my triumphs. And so, Christians are taught to balance our prayer intentions with the “fiat voluntas tua,” the motto of our shepherd, Bishop Paul Sirba, the words of the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ: “thy will be done.”

David Douglas is principal of Queen of Peace School in Cloquet.