Who do you work for: God or the devil?

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on April 9, 2015 at the monthly breakfast of the Catholic Business and Professionals Group held at the Silver Legacy, Reno, Nevada.

I‘ve given my talk this morning the title “What’s God got to do with it?” which is a slight twist on the title of Tina Turner’s most successful single “What’s Love Got to Do with it”, first released thirty-one years ago in 1984. I chose this particular title for two specific reasons. First, we have all heard it said that “God is Love” which, if we all agree that that is true, then we ought to be able to agree that the titles are in fact identical in substance and therefore interchangeable. The second reason for this title falls closer to its true purpose and gives a clue as to the subject matter that I wish to discuss with you this morning.

God v. Devil

God v. Devil

But before I get to the sum and substance of it, please allow me a slight detour and let me take a walk down memory lane with you. I promise that this will be brief but germane.

A smothering embrace of love

I was born into a deeply religious and loving Catholic family in a small town in Northeast Missouri. I am the oldest of eleven children, twenty-two years older than my youngest sibling, who is six months younger than my oldest daughter.

My mother graduated from high school after 2-1/2 years and attended college for only one year. She was a voracious reader who without fancy degrees taught classes at all levels, including college, at various times throughout her life. She was an award-winning journalist and the author of many children’s stories. All of her writing was done at home on a manual typewriter, through sixteen pregnancies and raising her ever expanding family.

My dad always boasted how he had graduated from high-school fourth in his class; conveniently neglecting to mention that there were only four in his class. But what he could do with his hands was a wonder to behold. He built a walnut china hutch as a wedding present for one of my brothers … starting from the tree.

My parents never put on airs or pretended to be anyone but themselves; God was always present in our lives, everyone was welcome in our home; the doors were never locked, and there was always room for more at the table.

When they were killed in a traffic accident thirty years ago, the wake and funeral were attended by more people than our small town of 3000 could accommodate. Their lives and their actions had touched so many through their simple acts of kindness and generosity, even for some who they had never even met. They gave of themselves freely, never asking for or expecting anything in return and what they gave was always their very, very best.

My parents taught us that we do not live alone, that we can be proud of who we are while never believing that we are entitled or superior to others. They taught us that the world will become a better place when we freely offer our God given gifts to others and that every gift offered is returned, magnified many times by the grace and gifts of others.

The great escape

I used to tell those who asked that when I left home for college “I escaped!” I had grown up in the most loving environment but felt absolutely smothered by the closeness of their love and the love of God. I spent over thirty years running from that claustrophobic feeling, pushing God from my mind and heart, trying to rid myself of what I perceived to be restraints on my right to do as I so desired.

One thing I have discovered is that God never feels the need to rush into things. After all, He is beyond time and place; what will happen is happening and has happened. I have also come to believe that He has a marvelous sense of humor and derives no small amount of enjoyment in observing our feeble attempts to do things on our own without His love and support.

For more than thirty years I refused to have any connection with God and for the most part He patiently obliged. Like a petulant child who stubbornly ignores whoever happens to be the offender of some perceived injustice I saw no need to engage with Him in dialog or even to acknowledge my dependence on Him. Oh, I recognized that He was there and never doubted His presence, I simply found it easier to ignore Him and to do as I pleased without concerning myself with how He might react or what He might think.

But God never leaves us to our own devices no matter how much we might try to push Him away. He reacts to our rejection much like “no-see-ums” or gnats on a sweltering summer’s day; nearly invisible and highly annoying, you cannot resist them, harm them, or catch them and perhaps most frustrating of all you simply cannot ignore them. In general you are reduced to swatting helplessly at them and dashing for some form of cover to elude their insistent distraction.

For the longest time I pushed God from my mind and heart. I had more important matters to consider: family, friends, business, living the good life and enjoying all its pleasures. I simply had no time left for Him. Externally life was good, full of sunshine and laughter, great success and financial rewards, while internally the light within my soul was glowing dimmer and dimmer, slowly but inexorably fading into darkness.

Like an addict each success and every achievement became less satisfying than the one before. Good feelings – joy, peace, love, contentment, happiness – were over time replaced with increased feelings of emptiness, anger, dissatisfaction, rage, resentment, hatred, and unhappiness. I was never satisfied. I continually needed more: more money, more power, more prestige, more things, more, always more. I failed to realize it at the time but I was stuffing my body while starving my soul.

Sadly I believe there are far too many of us who find ourselves gorging at the banquet of life while totally ignoring food for the soul; suffering simultaneously from secular gluttony and spiritual anorexia.

Looking back I realize that while I was chasing success and ignoring my soul God was constantly nagging my conscience like a swarm of no-see-ums reminding me that I was slowly starving to death. He was not going to let go or surrender me to the black hole of emptiness and death.

While I refused to listen to what He was saying He made sure I knew He was there. Small insistent voices, silent yet often so loud they hurt, would speak to me telling me to turn away from the darkness and open myself to His light. And as quickly as they were born I silenced them, refusing to allow them to break free and grow. But God is persistent and He kept at it for over thirty years. As hard as I tried I could neither find cover nor silence the voices.

A knock to the head

I distinctly remember the day and the hour, the place and the circumstances when God made it known to me in a very emphatic way that He had had enough of my stubborn recalcitrance. It was an unusually pleasant Saturday in early January nearing noon in Reno. In the process of moving and starting a new business I was temporarily on my own. My wife had yet to make the move choosing to remain in our previous home until it had sold.

Shortly before noon that day I left my apartment with the intention of doing some necessary shopping. As I neared the exit to the store I found myself unable to make the turn. It was as if a force far stronger than I was in control. Invisible hands were at the wheel and I could do nothing but surrender to it. I vividly recall experiencing a tremendous pain at the back of my head as if it had been hammered by a baseball bat and I heard a voice – and yes I distinctly heard a voice which I am absolutely convinced was Jesus – telling me “Go to church, you fool!

Somehow I found myself in the parking lot of a nearby church. It was midday Saturday and the parking lot was completely empty so I had every intention of simply driving through. But God had other ideas. After parking outside the parish office I approached the entrance fully expecting to find a locked door. Instead to my complete surprise I found the door wide-open and as I entered I was met by an elderly, white-haired, portly gentleman wearing what appeared to be rather worn work clothes. I assumed that he was either the maintenance man or the janitor.

He asked if he could assist me and I responded that I wasn’t quite sure why I was there, that as ridiculous as it might sound, “God made me do it!” I know that God had compelled me to come and had driven me to this spot.

We sat and talked for quite some time, several hours as it turned out to be. I told him of my distant and strained relationship with God, of my disillusionment with His church, of the feeling of emptiness in my life that I had been experiencing, and of a growing compulsion to rekindle my relationship with God. And while I spoke he listened. Occasionally he would offer a few words of quiet encouragement or a simple nod of disagreement or acceptance.

As the afternoon wore on he suddenly glanced at the clock on the wall and hurriedly excused himself stating that he was late for an appointment. I left with him and as I drove away I recalled that he had told me that confessions were scheduled for three o’clock with Mass at four.

Incredible as it might sound I once again felt God forcing me to park and find the confessional. I found myself entering a church for the first time in many, many years. When it was my turn I entered the confessional and as I knelt I realized that the man behind the curtain was the same person with whom I had spent the past few hours in conversation. He was neither the maintenance man nor the janitor but a priest and the pastor no less.

Afterwards, as I knelt before the tabernacle offering penance to God I experienced an overwhelming feeling of joy and relief. Just before leaving the confessional the priest had asked, “It feels pretty good, doesn’t it?” And it did. It felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted away, so much so that if I did not hold onto something solid I would simply float away.

The joy I felt was greater than one experiences when reunited with a loved one after a long absence, greater than seeing a loved one whom you thought you would never see again. I felt His loving embrace surrounding me, holding me, gently wiping away my tears, believe me there were tears. I heard his voice echoing in my mind telling me, “All is forgiven” and “I have always loved you and will love you always.” As sinful as I had been and though a sinner I would continue to be I knew I had been unconditionally forgiven and with great love welcomed home.

I remained there for a long time and attended the Mass that followed during which I experienced an almost overwhelming sensation of God’s love and forgiveness. The Eucharistic celebration was  exhilarating and so unlike what I remembered from my youth. Every word, every song, every action only served to increase my deepest sorrow for the years of loss and yet I felt renewed, filled with so much of God’s love and His divine mercy.

As the priest held the host above the chalice and invited us to express our unworthiness and ask for His forgiveness with the words, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” my body physically shook with terrible emotion. With full awareness and absolute clarity I was overcome with agape’, the unconditional love that God has for each of us and all I could do was tremble at the thought that my soul would be healed if only I should ask. That sensation remains with me to this very day.

We are social creatures

You may be wondering at this juncture what the reason is in telling you my story, my desert story as I like to call it. My purpose in doing so is quite simply to lend credence, as Paul Harvey used to say, to “the rest of the story.”

We are by nature social creatures, never meant to live in isolation. We know that because as we read in Genesis: “The Lord God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.’”[1] We, by our nature, are compelled to form social structures. It is what we do. And throughout history two characteristics of virtually all societies have been consistently present: a belief system and a moral code. That is not to say that what every society has believed is the truth or that its moral code has been good and just, far from it.

All good societies however can be shown to have had a strong belief system, a faith in a higher power, and a belief that mankind was given life by that higher power. In addition, those good societies had a moral code which held that all life was a gift bestowed and by its nature and its source was of incalculable value and should be carefully nurtured and protected. Man is quite clearly and succinctly but a creature created by one far greater than any individual human being or social group. All good societies understand and acknowledge that man has no rights but those granted by their Creator.

On the other hand, all bad societies hold to a belief system that denies or diminishes the necessity for a higher power. Such a belief system must by its very nature reduce life to nothing more than an accident or an evolutionary coincidence, and man to little more than an animal who acts and reacts by instinct alone. Moral codes are determined by the Darwinian maxim “Survival of the fittest” and little value is placed on those who have no power and or control. Their moral code calculates little or no difference in value between a rock and a human being. In fact, their moral code may actually place a higher value on the rock for it requires no resources to maintain it.

Our nation was the first created on the principle that we, the people, were created by God and endowed with certain inalienable rights—a belief system and a moral code. Our social structure was founded and centered on a belief in God. We were a Christian nation and a God-fearing people who believed that everyone who lived in our great nation had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And for over two centuries we actually believed that. And that brings us to the mid-twentieth century, where I would argue things began to go to hell in a hand basket.

A tectonic shift

So let us return to where I began, and reflect on the question evoked by the title “What’s God got to do with it?” If you remember the song by Tina Turner, you will surely recall the lyrics—which I will recite for you now since singing is not one of my better talents: “You must understand, though the touch of your hand makes my pulse react, that it’s only the thrill of boy meeting girl. Opposites attract. It’s physical, only logical. You must try to ignore that it means more than that. What’s love got to do with it? What’s love but a second hand emotion? What’s love got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”

These lyrics, written three decades ago, should serve as a siren call, an alarm to wake us up, and a slap in the face to warn us of the slow, methodical, and determined metamorphosis that has been occurring within our society for much of the past half-century. Over the past fifty years our society has literally been transformed. We are no longer “One nation under God, with liberty and justice for all” but today a nation of egoistic amoralists seeking happiness for me, myself, and I.

In all actuality, these societal and moral changes are nothing new; such tectonic shifts have been occurring since the very beginning. Adam and Eve chose to determine for themselves whether what God had forbidden was really evil or whether he was simply playing them for suckers. What is important to understand is that the fall did not occur because they discovered the meaning of evil; the fall occurred because they did evil, they disobeyed God. They came to know evil by experiencing evil and becoming evil. And so it began … and so it continues today.

Underlying the fall is this question: “Why would man, created by God and happy in the Garden of Eden, wish to commit such a flagrant act of disobedience?” Even one so universally revered as Saint Augustine had difficulty in providing an adequate response to that question. Saint Anselm however did provide at least one reasoned explanation in his dialogue “On the Fall of the Devil” where he argues that angels, like humans have two motivations for doing anything.[2]

The first motivation is self-interest or happiness which basically means doing what benefits you, what makes you happy. The second motivation is justice or morality which means doing what God wants you to do. It is difficult to conceive of any action or decision that we might make that is not motivated in some way by either the desire to be happy or the desire to do what is right.

It is imperative that we occasionally remind ourselves that the God who created us chose to give us Free Will which means that we are free to choose what is moral and right, that is, what God wants us to do, or to choose what we believe will make us happy. I am free to choose my way or God’s way and if I choose my way I can rest assured that God will do nothing to prevent me from doing whatever I desire. Choosing self-interest or happiness over justice or morality requires—to paraphrase and skewer John the Baptist—for God to decrease while I increase.

As we diminish our reliance on God and ignore our relationship with our Creator, we find ourselves in the devil’s embrace, desiring only that which serves our own self-interest. We become addicted to achieving happiness and like any addict achieving that “happiness high” becomes all that matters. Nothing else, no one and certainly no God matters or holds any greater value.

The elevation of man

While there are countless examples to prove the point I can think of nothing that exemplifies this dichotomy of choice better than the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Roe v. Wade. That decision resulted in the demand that it was “a woman’s right to choose,” a battle cry which has subsequently resulted in the genocidal tsunami that has murdered sixty-million innocent unborn lives over the past forty-two years in the U.S. alone.

What is most significant, aside from the horrific carnage that has resulted from that decision, is the subsequent social transformation that has occurred, from a society whose interests lay focused on achieving justice to a society increasingly focused on individual self-interest.

In retrospect, this social transformation actually began with three earlier decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the 1962 the court held in Engel v Vitale that the promulgation of an official state-school prayer stood in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause while a year later the court held in Abington School District v Schempp that Bible readings and other (state) school-sponsored religious activities were prohibited. The 1971 court’s decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman established the Lemon test for religious activities within schools. The Lemon test states that in order to be constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment any practice sponsored within state run schools (or other public, state sponsored activities) must adhere to the following three criteria:

  • Have a secular purpose;
  • Must neither advance nor inhibit religion; and
  • Must not result in an excessive entanglement between government and religion.

The inevitable slide down the values-free staircase thus began.  Today any mention of God in our public school systems has been completely excised from all textbooks and instruction. Since the sixties our children have been indoctrinated  with the secular, relativist screed that man is the master of his domain and that self-interest and individual happiness are the only motivations they should seek in life.

God is dead, long live me.

The true nature of this social transformation is most often hidden under the guise of goodness, sugar-coated if you will, with full intention to deceive. Make no mistake, it is the devil at work here, and it would appear that he is ahead in the game and fast approaching the finish line.

It began in the 1960s with the baby-boom generation, my generation. For many, it was a time “to escape” from the stultifying confines of orthodoxy and taboos and to “express oneself”, or as Timothy Leary so famously quipped, “turn on, tune in, and drop out.

The parents of the boomer generation had lived through the Great Depression and World War II, both experiences that left them deeply rooted in their faith in God and reliance on the good-will of others. They knew and believed firsthand the goodness and providence of God and placed him first in their lives. They had experienced hardships and deprivations far greater than previous generations and were determined to provide a better life for those who followed. And for the most part I believe, they would agree they accomplished all that they intended.

Their progeny however understood nothing of the hardships and deprivations their parents had experienced. They simply wanted to be free! Free from mom and dad and their confining rules. Free from the constraints imposed upon them by organized religion and an invisible God. Free to be and do whatever they wanted, whatever would make them happy, and whatever was in their self-interest. God became an after-thought, dismissed as irrelevant, and thus the ascendant primacy of man began.

A proliferation of rights

Since the sixties, we have seen the steady proliferation of rights as defined by man and the casual dismissal of those rights heretofore granted only by our Creator. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have given way to the right to choose, the right to work, the right to a living wage, the right to own a home, the right to a college education, the right to healthcare, the right to a same-sex marriage, the right to kill oneself, the right to be happy, and so on and on and on. These so-called rights all have a few things in common: they are creations of man and therefore transitory and subject to the whims of their creators, they elevate the few at the expense of the many, and they enthrone man as master of his domain.

Sadly, few are entirely immune to this paradigm shift; it is simply a matter of the degree upon which we find ourselves tilting. So many, like me, escaped from the supposed confines of a world created and ruled by God so as to live as gods in a world ruled by men. And we are now reaping exactly what we have sowed.

The value of a single life has plummeted from the lofty heights of beyond measure to the abyssal depths of nothingness. The unborn, the old, the infirm, the weak, the disabled, the nonconforming, and the unwanted are considered fodder for the flames, dismissed as burdens, their elimination for the greater good. All that matters is what is in my self-interest, what makes me happy, nothing more.

Your choices

Now before you dismiss this as over-the-top lunacy, consider for a moment how often in your own life you have chosen something that benefited you or made you happy rather than doing what was right. Let’s use a simple example, something as simple as attending Mass on Sunday. The third commandment commands us to keep holy the Lord’s day and this obligation is made perfectly clear in canon 1247 of the Code of Canon Law which reads, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.”

Has there ever been any time, just one time in your life, when you chose to do something else over your obligation to attend Mass? Legitimate reasons aside, have you ever missed Mass simply because you were just too tired, you were up late the night before and had a few too many, you had an event such as a kids soccer game you just had to attend, you simply forgot, or a friend suddenly dropped by?

Adam and Eve disobeyed God and consequently lost their intimate relationship with God, the happiness they had enjoyed, and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. All for simply eating the fruit from the tree which God had forbidden them to eat. They chose to do what they wanted rather than what God wanted. So what of our own transgressions? Are they any less an offense? Should we not suffer the same or worse consequences for our sins? I would offer that we should and we are.

The battle for our souls

The devil is a cunning creature who knows our weaknesses and our faults. He strokes our egos and entices us with all manner of delights; and he is winning.

We can fight against abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, co-habitation, divorce, poverty, and any other injustice or moral wrong but we will not win the war against the devil until we take up the fight in defense of God. As long as we believe in the primacy of man, the devil wins and we lose. It is far past time for the devil to lose and for God to win. We need to return God to his rightful place above all his creation and for us to step down from our self-deluded pedestal and kneel before his feet with great humility.

We know how to do this because Jesus told us exactly what we must do. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[3]

And so I close with where I began, by asking the question, “What’s God got to do with it?” My answer is simply this: EVERYTHING!

 


[1] Gn 2:18.
[2] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About God: A Reasonable Defense of the Goodness of God in a World Filled with Suffering, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., September 2013.
[3] Mt 22:37-39.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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