Sometimes I stop and think about how I got here. Not where I am this very moment, procrastinating from my work (I have to go buy popcorn for a middle school movie social tomorrow—tough gig, I know) but, like… here. Existing. Breathing.
If I stop and think too much about it my head begins to hurt.
I’m here because of my parents and they are here because of their parents, but my grandparents only existed because of their parents… What if that gust of wind didn’t blow the papers out of my great-great-great grandfather’s hands? Then the pretty lady in the pink hat wouldn’t have helped him pick up the papers and they wouldn’t have locked eyes like in the movies (this is what I assume happened) and they wouldn’t have gotten married and then my great-great-grandfather would never have been born and oh dear g*d I wouldn’t exist.
This freaks me out: from where I stand, I'm just the product of many chance-happenings. And if it’s so easy to imagine me not even existing, what does that say about the importance or meaning of my life?
I feel a similar emotion when I think of everything science tells us today about how our human family got here in the first place. All of those mutations are so damn random and each successive species is so ‘naturally’ selected—again, I get a headache. Mathematically speaking, the human race shouldn’t even exist! For many—and for a time in my life, for myself—this simple fact is proof that the human race, and each of us individually, are basically meaningless. Collectively, we’re just the result of many, many mistakes.
The word “Gospel” means “good news”, and in this case the Gospel of Jesus Christ really is good news.
God is eternal. What this means is that he is outside time. If all of Time is a horizontal line, then think of God as a solid hovering above it. From God’s perspective the Big Bang, the dinosaurs, and you reading this right now are all “present” to Him. God doesn’t look back on the dinosaurs thinking, “Man, things were so much cooler back then.” He doesn’t nostalgically daydream about his time with the pterodactyls and that time an orphaned brontosaurus teamed up with other young dinosaurs in order to reunite with their families in a valley.
Rather, all of these moments in time are present to the God who created Time.
So what does this have to do with us? A lot. What this means is that, before the universe itself existed, God knew each of us would exist. The human race, and each of us individually, didn’t catch him by surprise. He knew the twists and turns of evolution would produce humanity, and he knew that our parents’ meeting each other would eventually result in us existing, individually.
This is the reason for that Pope Benedict quote from his first homily as pontiff that you’ve probably seen on the social medias:
"We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."
Regardless of how we came into being, no matter how random or mistaken we may appear to be from our perspective, God knew. Each of us were willed and loved into existence by a God who really, really loves us.
God’s loving us into existence means that he also has a plan for our lives. It means that the very twists and turns of our own lives, even when they seem as random and meaningless as the twists and turns of the evolutionary process, would never happen without God’s willing or permitting them.
So sure, we now understand why it looks like the sun is “setting” and what causes its magnificent display. But the fact that the sunset on this day in my time and place is so ridiculously perfect isn’t merely a coincidence. Sheldon Vanauken presents this perfectly in his A Severe Mercy. Driving to the hospital to see his dying wife, a rainbow breaks through the sky. He didn’t immediately presume that God had placed it there for him and him alone, but he is filled with hope and gratitude because “God would know from the beginning of what we call time that I should be making my prayer and seeing the rainbow.” He grasps that the rainbow is a gift.
The suffering in our lives is stuff that God permits, knowing that he will be able to bring an even greater good out of it as he carries out his ultimate plan for us. As terribly difficult as it is, the Christian is called to tirelessly reaffirm his confidence in the Father’s plan. This confidence in God’s plan, even in the midst of suffering, isn’t simply an intellectual trust in the eternity of God. God personally confirms this confidence in Christ who, though innocent, was permitted to suffer in order for the hope of Resurrection to break into our world.
Gazing upon Christ, we see the most seemingly-meaningless suffering. Trusting in Christ, we grasp the goodness of God’s plan.
God’s ultimate plan for us is for us to know him and love him in eternity. In fact, God created the whole universe for this purpose: that there may be a space where he could communicate his love, and that he may find a response to it. Everything in our lives is aimed towards this one supreme goal, because we were made to be loved by him. Our task is to allow him to manifest this plan to us, and then confidently choose it with our own free will.
It is precisely this goodness of life and certainty of God’s goodness that fuels the Church’s defense of all human life, from the unborn child to those on the brink of death. Because of this confidence in the Father’s plan for each human person, the Church will always publicly speak out against anything that ignores this goodness of each human life.
No matter how unplanned the unborn child appears from our perspective, we know that in permitting the (however terrible and unfortunate) circumstances that result in this person’s existence, God has willed and loved them into being. No matter how utterly meaningless the nearly dead person’s “quality of life” appears to us, we know that God is still at work, still bringing good from this seemingly hopeless situation.
That we cannot see it with our little eyes or grasp it with our finite minds is no reason to distrust the eternal perspective and infinite goodness of the Father.
Article by Greg Hurst, who lives in Boston.