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Summary: The Terminator is like a parable about God's creation of humans.

Thursday of Holy Week 2013

Did God Make a Mistake?

I think one of the levels of meaning of the “Terminator” movies incorporates a parable. Think about it. Americans, wary of human beings’ ability to push the nuclear button, create something called “Skynet,” a robotic system with robotic machines to fight our wars for us. Shortly after the system is turned on, it becomes “self-aware,” gets paranoid and starts World War III to destroy the human race. The small number of human beings then use every possible weapon, including time travel and Arnold Schwartznegger, to destroy the machines.

God made humans in His image and likeness, and made us out of love with the intention of bringing us into everlasting union with Himself. Think of it–a participation of the incredible beauty, truth and love of the Trinity. That was our destiny. But we discovered our free will and used it to say “no” to God, thus creating a hell on earth for ourselves. We rebelled, much as the machines of Terminator did. So we ask the question, “did God make a mistake in creating us in the first place?”

The Bible offers two possible solutions to the problem of man’s rebellion, and both are failures. We read the story of Noah, the just man. God got sick of man’s revolt and decided to press reset and start over. He drowned everybody except Noah and his family, and started over. But the story doesn’t get past page two before Noah gets drunk and is abused by his sons. With Abraham, God does start over, and makes for Himself a people. But the people are still weak and rebellious. Moses comes and no sooner has he gotten the Law from God that the people rebel and God threatens to wipe them out and start all over again with Moses. But Moses stands in the breach, as the Bible puts it, and convinces God that such a plan wouldn’t work. Violence and destruction are external threats that never seem to work for long. I’ve found that the threat of a zero on a lab grade works for about forty minutes to keep a class in line. No longer.

So Moses had the Law. Perhaps this external force, the Law, could get people to behave in obedience. Enforce the law on people and they’ll behave. But no matter how tough the Law, how rigid the police force, people who want to will disobey and go their own way. That happened generation after generation with the Jews. Even when the anarchy of the period of the Judges was over, and the Jews had kings, the human heart still rebelled. In fact, the kings themselves, including the model king, David, were rapacious and proud and too weak to resist the temptation to worship false gods with their foreign wives. The few good kings made bad choices. Hezekiah bragged to foreign emissaries about all the cool stuff he had, and a few generations later those foreigners destroyed Jerusalem and carted it off. Josiah believed his own press and went off to battle Pharaoh, and came back dead. In the more modern era, Calvin and his Puritan successors thought you could force people to be good by creating communities like Geneva and the Puritan settlements in America, but they found the truth. You can’t force people to be good, even if you force them to act good.

No, external force has never been able to cure an internal problem. The problem with humans is what in computer terms might be called a corrupt operating system. We are, as Scripture says, prone to evil from our youth. St. Paul called this tendency to corrupt our morals the “flesh.” What we need is a purging and changing of our operating system. We need what Ezekiel calls “a new heart and a new spirit.” We need the Holy Spirit.

God didn’t make a mistake in creating man. He simply refuses to treat us with less respect than we deserve. He refuses to act against our free will–to drag us kicking and screaming into His kingdom. What He does offer is a change of heart, a metanoia. If we turn away from sin and believe in Jesus, through the sacraments we can have a new heart and a new spirit. We can know what is right and have the power to do it; know what is wrong and have the strength to avoid it.

Jesus came as one of us and died as one of us so that His divine power could resurrect His human body and soul and create a kind of bridge to that new way of life, that kingdom. Like dissolves like, we say in chemistry. Because Jesus is truly human, and truly divine, He can make us who are only human into receptacles for his divine life. That’s what we receive in baptism and grow through the other sacraments. God loved us that much, so as to suffer and die as one of us so that we might live and grow as ones like Him.

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