Essay / Theology

The Pursuit of Happiness

John Mark Reynolds, 2005.

Virgil forces the reader to visit the place of the dead. Homer did the same. Dante begins his trip that ends in Paradise with a journey through Hell. Plato begins and ends the Republic with visions of a downward journey, the last to the place of the dead.

Why do so many great writers take us to Hell? They do so, because it is in the place of the dead that the scales of justice are righted. No one will be sent to Hell for the evil done to them. Everyone in Hell will have chosen to be there. It will be their response to the offer of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth. Humanity is such that we know some men will choose to keep their pain, which is at least theirs, than to lose it in the face of God. We know some men will be in Hell, though we wish them to be few.

By God’s grace, though we might deserve it, we trust to avoid that fate. We release the pain done to us and pray God’s pardon for the pain we have caused. For the pain we caused others, there is a price both in this life and that which is to come, but for finite actions against the finite there is, thank God, only finite retribution. As Plato notes in his Republic, even unpunished crime is punished in the soul of the man who did it. How true this is! How great is our need for forgiveness and mercy! For our crimes against the Divine, infinite and great, we are blessed to have sinned against a being full of mercy.

Pain cannot be ignored and it cannot be wished away. With our minds, we must acknowledge the true limits of human reason. Where our passions are concerned, we must admit the folly they so often generate in even the highest emotions. And every human being must own up to the fact that even his best intentions can lead to evil. Head, heart, and hand we are are imperfect. We cause pain to ourselves and must devastatingly to others.

How can we live? That is the good news. We can live because we can be forgiven. We can give up our desires that we gnaw at like Gollum over his lost ring. We can give up our misery that we sometimes wear proudly. We can be born again, fresh and innocent as any child. We can begin again without sin. God’s grace is daily available to fill us. When we bow at the alter to receive His Body and Blood, when we are made clean in the waters of Baptism, when we pray the simple prayer of the sinner, when we hear the reading of His Word, we we can receive a cure for our suffering.God does not take away our pain, but He heals it. He does not serve as apirin, but as the cure. God can make our pain meaningful, even the pain He would not have wished on us caused by the evil of this present Age. The evil that comes to us is not His will, but it is His opportunity. He can, if we allow it, make even our self-inflicted scars beautiful.

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