Does God care if we sin? How does He look at and treat sinful human beings? I started to think and pray about that, pondering the effects of sin on the soul, God’s involvement in our lives, and what people think and say about sinfulness. So I first thought of my perception of Him. I love Him and trust Him. I know He loves me. He loves everything He created. Then I thought about the reality of sin, its effect on the soul, and what people say.
God as Father
The rationalist will deem God a far-away “energy,” not very involved with our day-to-day lives. The scrupulous faithful may feel that God is waiting and watching us, always ready to jot down what we did wrong. And the non-denominational might say that one will be saved if one only believes in the Lord Jesus. I like to think that that my reading of Scripture, my experiences with our loving God, and my parents’ great example of unconditional love for me and my brother give me a glimpse of what our God is like.
Sin pushes us away from God, but that doesn’t mean that He stops loving us. So maybe everyone is a little bit right. The rationalist assuming God is not all that involved may be right in that God allows us free will. He permits us to do evil, not because He is indifferent or remote, but because He wants us to choose goodness, to choose Him, freely. A pure, generous choice would be meaningless if no evil actions were possible.
The non-denominational are right, too, that we need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. Jesus said it and I believe it. However, the Church affirms that those who do not know Jesus can be saved too. That is an essay for another day.
Those who understand God as ever attentive to our daily lives and doings are also right in that, but wrong if they think of Him as a policeman or supervisor waiting to “catch” us in wrongdoing. I think my understanding of God as a loving parent, who will love me unconditionally but discipline me when He sees fit, is also a facet of our great God. “God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? . . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12: 7-10).
The Dirty Pond
Recently, another image from my life has also helped me understand our souls’ need for purification. I have a Koi pond in my yard. I have had the same fish in it for about 15 years or more. It started off as a pre-fab black plastic pond and gradually I expanded it. Now the pond is over 1,000 gallons and contains many large Koi and Comets as well as one large bull frog that I raised from a tadpole a few years back.
The pond is usually very murky come spring, but clears up after I set up the filters and attach the UV light that kills the algae. It becomes crystal clear and you can see everything living in the pond. I put a net over it to protect the fish from predators and feed them a varied diet.
Maintaining the pond has taught me that God, too, is like a pond keeper. He works to purify us, as I clean the murky water. He provides us with necessities of life, protection from the enemies of our souls, and, of course, nourishment.
On the other hand, because He has given us free will, we too are keepers of the ponds of our souls, responsible for keeping them clean and healthy with the aid of His grace. Sometimes we need prompting and guidance in this area. The following story brought this truth home to me.
This year, the water in the pond was crystal clear until mid-July. It suddenly got green and murky. I figured the UV light bulb needed to be changed. I changed the bulb, and it was lit but the pond did not clear. My wife advised that the UV mechanism must be broken. I could see that the UV light was lit, so I disagreed with her and continued to wait for the pond to clear. I did a partial water change, power washed the filter media and waited.
As of the date of this writing, it is still green. I finally decided to check the UV mechanism and sure enough, even though the bulb was lit, the UV mechanism was broken; the bulb was cold. My wife was correct. I ordered a new mechanism.
Our Responsibility: What Should We Do?
All this got me thinking about the soul. Many people think they are on solid ground, but not all have the same standards. Talk to people about sin. If they are arrogant or uninformed they will judge their spiritual state by what they deem the worst possible sin. They retort that they can’t be that bad because they did not kill anyone. Yet Scripture warns that a soul could wind up in hell for an omission of good works. Think about Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham and the rich man suffering in what appears to be a level of hell because he ignored poor Lazarus in life (Luke 16:19-31).
Sometimes our souls are like my pond, murky. We know the pretty Koi are swimming just beneath the surface. Our souls, too, have beauty in them, but sometimes life causes algae growth in our souls. Often we cannot see the reasons for the spiritual murkiness.
First, then, we must always pray for the grace to know ourselves and to improve—a prayer that God will never refuse. In addition, many resources can help us to know ourselves better. Frequent, prayerful reading of the Scriptures can illuminate our minds and hearts. God speaks to us through His Word. We can also learn by familiarizing ourselves with the Church’s teaching and by reading good books, especially about the saints, our great role models and spiritual big brothers and sisters.
Sometimes, too, we need someone looking into our souls with fresh eyes, like my wife advising me that the algae growth was occurring because the UV light was not working. I saw the glow of the bulb every night, yet my wife figured out very simply what I refused to believe. Likewise, in the spiritual life, we can benefit from the examples and advice of good friends, and especially the guidance of spiritual directors. If they are prayerful and pure, God will shine a UV light on the algae in your soul by using the spiritual director to identify what needs adjustment or purification in our souls. We just need to listen with open hearts. A good spiritual director is hard to come by; so pray to your guardian angel to lead you to a Holy Spirit-filled spiritual director.
I will install that new UV light when it gets delivered. I have no doubt the pond will be crystal clear in two weeks. I am also searching for a good spiritual director. I’m sure God will send one in good time. As our loving Father, and the great pond-keeper of our souls, He will provide everyone seeking Him with whatever they need to become holy. Pax et bonum.