A Brief Essay on the Fear of Death

In times like these, consider well this text from Hebrews:

Since the children have flesh and blood, [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15).

In the past I have written on these verses allegorically, pointing out that “the fear of death” can be understood more broadly as anything that diminishes us, that makes us feel less adequate than others. Maybe we think others are smarter or more popular that we are. Perhaps we do not feel attractive enough; we’re too tall or too short, too fat or too thin. Maybe we resent the fact that others are richer or more powerful. Perhaps we wish we were younger, stronger, and more energetic. Maybe we wish we were older, wiser, and more settled. Perhaps we feel diminished because we think others have a better marriage, a nicer home, or more accomplished children. Maybe we compare ourselves unfavorably to a sibling who has done better financially or socially than we have. Advertisers tap into this wider understanding of the fear of death (diminishment) to create anguish over our inadequacy, selflessly offering us their product, which will remedy the problem for just $19.95 plus shipping and handling.

But in the face of this most recent global panic about a relatively strong virus, we need also to ponder the literal meaning of this text. Whether you are of the view that this is an extreme threat that requires dramatic measures or you think the matter is exaggerated and the measures are too severe, it is clear that the fear of death has seized large numbers throughout the world. The text from Hebrews above should make us ponder the satanic origins of this gripping fear.

What makes the worldwide fear suspiciously satanic is that it is almost wholly focused on physical death and worldly setbacks. Would that we had such fears about our spiritual and moral well-being. There are innumerable threats to our very salvation in the temptations and seductions all about us. These can kill our soul through mortal sin. There are many drives of sin that fester in us like a cancer, hardening our hearts or giving us a “spiritual Alzheimer’s” wherein we forget why we were made and who is our Heavenly Father.

You see, I have a dream that we, as a world, recognize the gravity of our collective spiritual condition. In this dream, the heads of governments insist that we all follow strict protocols to avoid temptation as well as seducing others into sin. There would be 24/7 coverage, with updates on our progress, interviews with priests and religious, proclamation of scripture by moral and biblical experts, and stories of recovery and courage from the lives of the saints related by hagiographers. I dream of many rushing to prepare the test kits of examinations of conscience and an army of priests and bishops deployed to hear confessions around the clock. Well, you get the point.

It is certainly not wrong to look for a cure for the latest virus. I only wish we were as concerned for our spiritual and moral well-being. Jesus says, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28). We do face physical threats in this world, but they are not our worst enemy. Moral plagues and sinful viruses can damage us eternally.

In times like these, when the temptation to fear death is so strong, resist the devil and run to God. Dwell in the shelter of the Most High. Be sheltered by Him from the scourge that lays waste at noon and the plague that prowls in the darkness (cf Ps 91). Make your first goal to stay spiritually alive and flee anything that might lead to mortal sin. If you do this, then even if you were to die, by dying in faith you would receive a maximum promotion (likely through Purgatory) to the heavenly realms. Be strong! Fear not!  The devil is a liar; he wants us to fear lesser things so that we ignore the more serious. Wash your hands, but don’t forget the spiritual version:   Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

The Paradoxical Source of Trust in the Lord

One of the Five Hard Truths that will set us free is this one: “You are not in control.” This unnerves us, even terrifies us at times. We like to be in control, but control is an illusion; things you think you control are resting on things you cannot control such as the next beat of your heart or even the continued existence of the cosmos! No, we are not in control.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).

This is just another way of saying that we are not in control.

The paradox is that accepting this hard, even terrifying truth is what frees us from many fears and anxieties. Uncertainty is not the deepest source of our anxiety, rather it is our desperate clinging to control and our insistence on our own preferred outcomes. We don’t always (or even usually) know what is best for us. Abandoning ourselves to God’s wisdom and leadership is the only path to true peace. C.S. Lewis wrote,

What are we to make of Christ? … [Rather] it is entirely a question of what he intends to make of us …. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved …. Whatever is keeping you from God … whatever it is, throw it away …. And do not be afraid. I have overcome the whole universe (The Business of Heaven, p. 33).

The only solution is to trust God. Now trusting does not mean assuming God will eventually give what you want. No, trusting is believing that you will be just fine with whatever the Lord wants. Notice that trusting doesn’t necessarily mean jumping for joy at what God decides. What He decides may not turn out to align with our preferred outcome. Most of us prefer health to sickness, wealth to poverty. We want God to say yes to our requests, not no or later. Trusting means being serene and “OK” with what God decides. In this is our path to peace.

All of this is easy to say but hard to do. We need to accept our poverty, our inability to relinquish our illusion of control and trust God. We need to beg for greater trust. Say with the ancient disciple, “I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24). Say with the apostles, “Lord, increase our faith” (Lk 17:5).

A Warning About Sloth in a Story from the Old Testament

The Israelites in the Desert, Jean-Léon Gérôme

This week in daily Mass we are presented with a vivid portrait of the sin of sloth and its effects:

A critical moment has arrived for the people of Israel. Having seen the Egyptian army defeated at the Red Sea, they have now crossed the desert in a short period of time, perhaps a matter of months. It is now time to enter the Promised Land and savor its “milk and honey.” This is the Land that God had promised them through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In effect, God says, “It is yours. Go and enter it.”

The LORD said to Moses [in the desert of Paran],
“Send men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan,
which I am giving the children of Israel.
You shall send one man from each ancestral tribe,
all of them princes.”

In response, Moses sends out a party of chosen men to reconnoiter the land. Upon their return, they verify the goodness of the land:

After reconnoitering the land for forty days they returned,
met Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the children of Israel
in the desert of Paran at Kadesh,
made a report to them all,
and showed the fruit of the country
to the whole congregation.
They told Moses: “We went into the land to which you sent us.
It does indeed flow with milk and honey, and here is its fruit.”

But then they spread among the people a discouraging report:

However, the people who are living in the land are fierce,
and the towns are fortified and very strong!
Besides, we saw descendants of the Anakim there ….

We cannot attack these people; they are too strong for us.”
Thus they spread discouraging reports among the children of Israel
about the land they had scouted, saying,
“The land that we explored is a country that consumes its inhabitants.
And all the people we saw there are huge, veritable giants
(the Anakim were a race of giants);
we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them.”

At this, the whole community broke out with loud cries,
and even in the night the people wailed

Caleb, however, summoned the people to faith:

Caleb, however, to quiet the people toward Moses, said,
“We ought to go up and seize the land, for we can certainly do so.”

Note therefore the fear and subsequent sloth among the people. There is no doubt that entering the Promised Land will require effort and sacrifice. There will be obstacles to overcome, but God has already delivered them in a wondrous and miraculous way. He had parted the Red Sea, fed them with bread from Heaven, and supplied water in the desert from its very rocks. Surely the favors of the Lord are not exhausted; His arm is not shortened nor His strength spent!

How quickly they have forgotten the deeds of the Lord! They will not trust Him to deliver them again. This is no rash presumption that they can take the Land; it is based on a promise and a clear directive of the Lord.  As in the Exodus and crossing of the Red Sea and the desert, it will involve effort and trust, but the outcome is promised and they have already seen a foretaste of the fruits of the Land.

Never mind any of this; the people wail. It is too hard, too much effort. They fear the sacrifices, even the war, necessary to make the entrance. They (still) do not trust God to help them with the necessary graces.

Sloth is an oppressive sorrow or an aversion to the good things that God is offering. It is usually rooted in the perception that inheriting these good things involves too much effort or sacrifice. Sometimes we also perceive that it might involve changes we are not willing to make, such as giving up our favorite sins or attachments. In sloth, all this seems oppressive and sorrowful to us.

This story from the Book of Numbers is an image for our spiritual life. God parted the waters for us in our baptism and brought us out of slavery to freedom. Although we are in the desert of this world, He has loosed us from the grip of Satan and now feeds us with His word, the Eucharist, and many graces. The Promised Land of Heaven is just ahead!

Despite the promise of God and the help of His grace, many still consider the effort and sacrifice necessary to inherit Heaven to be too much. Turning away from favorite sins and attachments and engaging in spiritual warfare is all just too much. To many, forsaking apparent goods in order to attain true and lasting goods seems a poor trade-off. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Better the lesser pleasures I have now than the greater ones I can have later, after sacrifice and effort. The trinkets of this world come to be preferred to the treasures of Heaven.

This is sloth: sorrow or aversion to the good things that God is offering.

The sad result of sloth is that we fail to inherit or enjoy the true and lasting good that God is offering us. God will not make us take what He offers. He will not force us to take the journey, to undertake the effort or spiritual battle necessary to attain to the good things of Heaven. We seem perfectly willing to make many sacrifices in order to get worldly trinkets, but if we are unwilling to make sacrifices for heavenly glories, God will not force us to do so. If we don’t want what God is offering, we don’t have to take it.

God will encourage us through the “Calebs” of our time. He will continue to inspire preachers and teachers who will summon us to faith, trust, and zeal so that we both desire Heaven and become willing to engage in battle for it.

Finally, here is the sad ending of the passage from Numbers:

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:
“How long will this wicked assembly grumble against me?
I have heard the grumblings of the children of Israel against me.
Tell them: By my life, says the LORD,
I will do to you just what I have heard you say.
Here in the desert shall your dead bodies fall.
Forty days you spent in scouting the land;
forty years shall you suffer for your crimes:
one year for each day.
Thus you will realize what it means to oppose me.
I, the LORD, have sworn to do this
to all this wicked assembly that conspired against me:
here in the desert they shall die to the last man.”

Indeed, that sinful and slothful generation would never see the Promised Land. They don’t want it (at least not at the cost prescribed), and so it will not be forced upon them. If they want the desert they can have the it—until it claims their dead bodies. For the Nation of Israel, this would be a kind of forty-year purgation. For the sinful and slothful individuals, there would be no Promised Land. That generation would die inheriting what they wanted: the desert.

So, too, for us. Heaven is promised to us but it is not required. We have a decision to make: Will we engage in the spiritual battle with the help of God’s grace, receiving the Promised Land of Heaven, or not? The Day of Judgment is not about what God wants (He wants to save us); it is about what we want. The judgment to be made is this: did you and do you want the Kingdom God is offering, with all it values and its citizens or not?

Pray for zeal and joy, two virtues that are necessary in order to combat sloth. Pray to desire what God wants to give!

What Does It Mean to Trust God? Maybe Not What You Think

We are often told to trust in God, and many of us have counseled others who are anxious or downcast to do so. But what does that mean?

In some cases, when people give this counsel they mean this: Don’t worry, God will eventually give you what want. God will come around to your way of thinking at some point. Hang in there and wait for God to answer (your way). He’ll take care of things (in a way that pleases you).

This is not trust.

To trust is to move to the stable conviction that whatever God decides to do is the right thing. It means being at peace with what He does, what He decides. It is to accept that God often acts in paradoxical ways, in ways that are different from, or even contrary to, our notions of what is best. God often permits evils for some greater good, even if this greater good is hidden from us.

At the foot of the cross, we realize that even a total disaster can produce immense good. We call that terrible day “Good Friday” for a reason. The apparent “total loss” of that day ushered in the New Covenant and made more than enough grace and mercy available to save the entire human race—if we but ask.

Many of us have experienced difficulties that were quite devastating to us at the time. In some cases, we have subsequently come to understand why God permitted them. We can see how we grew from the experience or how new opportunities were opened to us that, while not our preference at the time, were in fact best. In other cases, however, what went through still make little sense to us. But if we have learned to trust God, we can be at peace with His apparent “No” to our desired outcome. Trust says, “It is well with my soul.”

An old hymn with that title says,

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul

That is trust: the ability to say, “Whatever my lot, it is well with my soul.” It is not wrong to present our wants and wishes to God, but trusting Him means being at peace with His answer, not resenting it.

We are forever asking God to bless what we are doing, but when do we ever seek what God is blessing and then do that?

Trusting God doesn’t mean thinking that He’ll eventually give me what I want. Trusting God means being at peace with whatever He wants; knowing that He wants it is enough for me; there is peace and it is well with my soul.

On Trust and Foolishness as Seen in the Exodus

In daily Masses this week we are reading largely from the Book of Exodus, specifically the familiar story of the parting of the Red Sea by God, working through Moses. Unfortunately, Tuesday’s Feast of the St. James, good though it is, interrupts the story and we miss the critical passage in which the water is parted and the people of Israel escape through the sea, dry-shod.

Let’s review the passage:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left (Exodus 14:21-22).

When a story is so familiar to us it is easy to overlook the details. Note that the sea is standing up like a wall on both sides. Though the height is not mentioned, let’s just imagine that the walls of water are thirty feet high.

Imagine the courage of the people entering into the midst of sea while the water is being miraculously held back! If you saw walls of water like that, would you have ventured out into the middle? While it may have “helped” that they had an army pursing them from behind, do not minimize the fear they must have felt and the courage and trust it took for them to go forward in faith.

St. Paul would later say that the passage through the Red Sea is an image of baptism: They were all baptized into Moses (1 Cor 10:2). Note how faith and baptism are joined. Though the Sacrament of Baptism confers the theological virtue of faith, there is (at least in adult baptism) a kind of prevenient faith wherein one is prompted to trust God and what He has revealed. In receiving people into the faith, I have been amazed by the courage shown by many of them. There have been those who faced the dismay of and even persecution by their family members. Others overcame personal obstacles, doubts, and uncertainties. They stepped forth in faith and went through the waters.

Even after baptism, all of us are asked to continue living its implications. The increasing scorn and derision of our faith and the teachings of our Lord by the world may seem like walls of water that we must, in trust, ignore. We must continue in the renewal of our baptismal promises and journey through to the other side. We must also journey, trusting the Lord’s promise to deliver us from the pursuing army of the prince of this world.

Yes, living our baptism requires courage.

You might object to my calling the people of Israel courageous, saying that the Egyptian army also pushed forward into the middle of the parted walls of water. Yes, but their doing so was not the result of courage. Rather, it was the excess of courage we call rashness, folly, or foolhardiness. Why? Because they did not have the promises of God. It is virtuous to step out in faith, trusting the promises of God, but prideful to go forth trusting in one’s own strength. The prideful cannot stand before God, only the humble can.

The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and cast a glance and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:23-25).

Faith delivers. Pride brings only destruction. A simple glance from the Lord destroys pride and all its foolish dreams.

Let’s Pretend We Know What We’re Talking About – As Seen in a Commercial

blog10-23In life we don’t always have answers. There are just times when the best answer is, “I don’t know.” This is especially the case with the deeper mysteries of life such as the problem of evil, the “why” of suffering, and the reason why things sometimes don’t make sense.

As a younger priest I felt a lot of pressure to “have the answers” when tragedies occurred or when people experienced persistent setbacks in their lives. In more recent years I’ve learned to say less and to be more willing to sit quietly with people in their pain. To be sure, we have some answers, but explanations are poor substitutes for understanding and acceptance. Whatever explanations I can offer still leave even more things unexplained.

In life we sometimes must make decisions even though we don’t have all the information we’d like. Sometimes we simply have to guess at what’s best. At other times we have information and lots of (often-conflicting) advice, yet still remain uncertain as to what to do. We have to decide to trust God, remaining humbly open to His providence.

All of this is hard for us, especially these days, because we’ve cultivated such a high sense of being in control. But control, in anything but a limited sense, is an illusion. While you may have plans for tomorrow, tomorrow isn’t promised; you’re not even guaranteed the next beat of your heart. Your control of little things is based on myriad other things you can’t control.

Enjoy the video below, which humorously reminds us that we aren’t always certain what the best answer is even when the whole world is waiting for us to decide. Sometimes the best we can do is to decide and then accept the consequences of that decision. Hypocrisy—in this case pretending that the decision is all wise and fully informed—has a way of bringing scorn upon us that is far worse that what simple humility offers. Sometimes it’s OK to say, “I’m not sure,” or to accept that our decisions may be flawed.

Divine revelation is certain, but human decisions are flawed and uncertain.

What is at the Core of Original Sin?

Sometimes Original Sin gets simplified into the eating of an apple. But the core of the apple is not the “core” I speak of in the title. Actually an apple is not mentioned. It is fruit surely but what fruit we do not know. But what’s the big deal about eating an apple or piece of fruit? OK, maybe they shouldn’t have eaten it. But really, did an apple lead to all the pain and grief we experience today?

As you may have guessed, No, it was not an apple or fruit  per se that led to all this. What was the Original Sin, what did it consist of? Consider that Original Sin was actually of cluster of sins: pride, disobedience, ingratitude, lack of trust, and a complete disregard for the wisdom and love of God. I am struck by how the Catechism describes Original Sin:

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of.  All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness. In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God…Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God” (CCC #s 397-398)

Notice the cascading effect that begins with a lack of trust. How did Adam and Eve (and all of us) fail to trust God? Simply in this, God had warned them of a certain tree, the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Pure and simple he warned they stay away from it for it would bring death to their souls. Now to “know” in the Bible always means more than intellectual knowing. To ”know” in the Bible means to have deep intimate and personal experience of the the thing or person known. Hence it is clear that God did not want Adam and Eve ever to have to experience the horrible reality of evil. He sought to protect them from its devastating effects. So God’s forbidding was made in protective love. We were called simply to trust God that evil is dreadful and we shouldn’t insist on knowing  that for ourselves, just trust God.

But the Devil tempted us in this sort of way:

“You can’t trust God! He is hold something back from you. Sure he gave this nice garden and all but that is just to placate you. He knows that if you eat that fruit you will become like gods and begin to rival him. No! God is trying to keep you from your true destiny, to rule and even to tell him what to do! Do not trust Him or what he is telling you. it is only to keep you down, he isn’t really good at all. Listen to me. I promise you will not die, you will become like gods!

So there it is Adam and Eve. Who are you going to trust? God who gave you everything or the Devil who has given you nothing but promises something on the other side of the sin? Who will it be?

Sadly, you know the rest of the story. And Adam and Eve’s temptation is repeated in every sin we are tempted to commit.

 ”Come on” says the Devil, “God is trying to limit your freedom, keep you down and doesn’t want you to be happy! His demands are unreasonable, he is trying to take away your fun and fulfillment. Sin will make you happy. God’s way is restrictive. Do as you please. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do!”

And so often we buy into it. And are we happy? Maybe for a moment, but the misery of sin is too clear to be denied. The Devil is a liar. But what do we do when we sin? We trust him over God. In so doing the Catechism says we abuse our freedom. How? Because freedom for a Christian is “the capacity to obey God.” We are free when are able to carry out what God says. Now the world and the Devil say that freedom is about doing whatever you please. No, not if it is sin because sin never leads to freedom, it leads to bondage. Jesus says, “Whoever sins is a slave to sin.” (Jn 8:34)  Look at the world today and try to tell me that sin leads to freedom. Look at the addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, anger, revenge and greed and tell me that sin leads to freedom. No, sin is never freedom, it is bondage and many get so stuck in destructive behaviors that they don’t know how to stop. The video below powerfully illustrates the horror and bondage of sin, it shows its awful reality. It is not freedom at all, it is sorrow, bondage and humiliation.

In sin, we choose ourselves over God as the text from the Catechism says. We think we will become like gods, but in reality we sink lower than the animals and do things to each other and ourselves that even animals don’t do. God wants to raise us to share in his nature to be sure but we insist that we can do it ourselves. We cannot. Look at our grandiose attempts and tell me if you think we have been successful.

The following video does a pretty good job of depicting where Satan’s promises to Adam and Eve led. Watch it if you dare and remember that the Devil is a liar. And God is still calling you!

Of Plenty, Population, and Trust: A Further Reflection on the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes

blog7-24The multiplication of the loaves and fishes that we read about at Sunday Mass this week was a miracle so astonishing that it is recounted in all four Gospels. And a second, similar instance is recorded in another Gospel. In other words, this sort of miracle by Jesus is recounted five times within the four Gospels.

There are many theological reasons for this. Clearly, Jesus was fulfilling the promise of Moses: that after him a greater One would arise who would also feed the people mysteriously with bread. There are also many Eucharistic and spiritual dimensions to the miracle.

But in this reflection I would like to ponder the notion that this miracle of satisfying our physical hunger is one writ large in our times. While many wish that the astounding miracles of the Scriptures were more evident today, I would like to argue that the miracle of the loaves and fishes and God’s promise to care for His people is right before our very eyes.

And while there is hunger in the world today, it is not due to God, but to human struggles and human sinfulness.

More on the question of hunger in a moment. But first, let’s ponder the work of God to feed us and see how He has multiplied our loaves and fishes.

In the Book of Genesis, God blessed Adam and Eve and said to them,

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant-yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit-yielding seed; it shall be food for you …” (Gen 1:28-29)

God would repeat a similar blessing and instruction to Noah, adding meat to the diet as well.

So note that God wanted the human family to grow and promised to supply food for us. Even after the fall of Original Sin, although God told Adam that his harvesting would come “by the sweat of your brow,” there would be a harvest.

In the first reading from Sunday’s Mass, Elisha said, “For thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’”  And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the LORD had said (2 Kings 4:43-44).

So God did establish the general truth that the earth would provide adequate food for His people. And while there might be local famines or droughts, on the whole, the earth would provide.

In more recent times, as the world’s population has continued to grow, some have cast doubt on the capacity of the earth to supply food for us. In 1798, Thomas Malthus wrote an influential essay in which he predicted that our population was approaching a critical stage and that it would soon outdistance the food supply, bringing on mass starvation. Since that time many others have posited similar doomsday scenarios, and though the projected date of the crisis varied, they predicted that the scenario would surely come.

But although the world’s population is now more than 7 billion people, there remains a remarkably stable, even increasing, food supply.  So abundant is agriculture here in the U.S. that the government actually encourages, through subsidies, farmers NOT to plant certain crops. We even burn a lot of corn for fuel. I do not report these things because I necessarily approve of them, but only to show that basic foods are produced by this earth in abundance.

Now there are some who will want to dispute the claim that our earth is producing in abundance. They will point to declines in arable land, desertification, etc. But for centuries now, one doomsday scenario after another has failed to materialize. The population continues to grow, and yet there is still food in relative abundance.

And though many (perhaps understandably) like Phillip and the Apostles cry out, “How can we ever get food to feed this multitude?” the Lord and His earth continue to provide for us. In a way, the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is writ large by modern agriculture.

Surely, though, just as the Lord used the five loaves and two fishes in the lakeside miracle, He involves us in the solution to feeding the planet today. The miracle of multiplied food sources comes from God, but interacts with human ingenuity. Consider the human role:

  1. Agricultural technology, soil management, insect control, etc. have all increased the yield of crops many times over. God has given us intellects and blessed our capacity to learn what works to increase the harvest.
  2. There is the emergence of a worldwide economy and the transportation to be able to harvest crops from all over the world. Localized droughts and even just the change of the seasons no longer have the impact on the food supply that they once did. Trouble in one area can be mitigated by supply from another area. Winter in one area can be covered for by summer in another.
  3. Animal husbandry, fisheries, and other technologies also foster a great increase in meats, fishes, and dairy products.

So our five loaves and two fishes do matter!

Granted, some of these technologies are controversial from an environmental point of view. If we can make the desert bloom, should we? Should we genetically modify things, and if so, how much and how often? What pesticides are OK to use and what are their side effects?  How much water can and should be used for agriculture? Is building dams helpful or harmful?

This is not a blog to debate such matters. But without suggesting either blanket approval or blanket condemnation of such technologies, the fact remains that the earth continues to provide abundant food. And it does so in a way that the ancient world, or even more recently Thomas Malthus, would consider astonishing (and I would say, miraculous). As atomic physics has shown, even tiny amounts of matter contain enormous energy locked within them.

God’s promise to provide food for the human family, whom He told to “multiply to fill the earth,” remains stubbornly true, despite the doubters and the doomsday predictions of recent centuries.

But what of hunger? Clearly there is not an even distribution of food on our planet. There are areas where people go relatively hungry. Often, the poor do not have adequate access to good food supply. As food sometimes rots in American silos, is burned for fuel, or is even deliberately not planted, other regions struggle. As many Americans blithely cast food into the trash after meals, others would pine for the scraps from our tables.

Yet note that this is not a lack on the part of God. The earth supplies what we need, but that does not preclude human sinfulness or other factors from allowing hunger to continue. Consider that hunger in the modern world is often caused by things like

  1. war,
  2. local corruption that blocks food from reaching the poor,
  3. poor infrastructure (e.g., roads, landing strips) to bring food in, and
  4. greed and hoarding.

How to best address these factors is a matter of controversy, and is beyond the scope of this blog post and my blog as a whole.

But the point I wish to emphasize is that the miracle of the loaves and fishes, even from the standpoint of merely physical food sources, is writ large today. It is a miracle the way this earth, as God has given it, supplies our needs even as we “fill the earth.” God did not command what He could not provide for. If He told us to multiply, fill, and subdue the earth, then He also asks us to trust Him. Bringing the loaves and fishes of our minds and our ingenuity to the table, with God’s grace and the earth He has given us, we have partnered to produce an abundant harvest!

Are there hungry people? Yes. And this is a disgrace rooted not in God, but in us. God Himself counsels us not merely to build bigger barns so as to hoard our excess food. Rather, He advises that we should “store” it in the stomachs of the poor and needy (cf Luke 12:13-21).

God is faithful and true to His promise. The earth has yielded its fruit, God our God has blessed us (Ps 67:6).

An even more widespread problem today is spiritual starvation. I’ll address that topic in tomorrow post.