Public revelation was officially closed with the death of John the Apostle. This does not preclude, from time to time, God raising up prophets, fashioned in the mold of the Jeremiah, Isaiah and Elijah, to help the People of God apply the contents of that revelation to their current times. History is rife with them—St. Athanasius, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Faustina to name a few. The Spirit of Prophecy is a key component in the Mystical Body of Christ even in our own day. Unfortunately, like the days of Israel of old, the spirit of false prophecy is always lurking at the door. There will always be those who claim to speak on behalf of God and yet are lending their voices to the enemies of humanity. It is to one of those groups that I address this post today—the self-styled prophets who claim “God does not care if…”
This spirit of false prophecy is ubiquitous, especially in our “YOLO” culture. Who among us has not met one of these prophets? They are quick to tell us, “God does not care if we go to Mass.” Or, “God does not care if we call Him the right name.” They proclaim, “God does not care how we worship Him.” And even remind us that “God does not care if you eat meat on Fridays.” And “God does not care if you smoke weed.” These are but a few of their prophetic utterances, but you get the point. These Bizarro John the Baptists repeatedly reassure us that God loves us as long as we are good people and enable us all to relax a little bit, if for no other reason that we have found out that God has sanctioned our drug habit. They are great prophets of, well, not exactly peace, but at least of “chilling out.”
God’s New Name
Just as Jonah was stopped in his tracks when his message was received, these luminous prophets are often thrown off when they are asked “how do you know God doesn’t care?’ Probing, you find that what they really mean is that if they were God, then they wouldn’t care. God is really their prophet. But it is not the audacity of their message that is the most distressing element, but instead the image of God that emerges if we are to worship “I CARE NOT” rather than “I AM WHO AM”.
All of us tend to chill out in our old age, and “I CARE NOT” is no different. Given all the time of dealing with humanity, He has chilled. At least that is what our prophets would have us believe. But the image this God invokes is actually just as scary as the so-called “fire and brimstone” God they are trying to extinguish. Their God may be laid back, but He is still merely a Divine Auditor concerned only with tallying up our actions. He may not put as many things in the left-hand side of the ledger, but he still has his ledger. Presenting him as mellow does nothing to remove this image. It is a scarier image because we have no way, other than by listening to these prophets, to actually know which belongs in which column. If “God doesn’t care” does that mean these are good actions then? Or do we now have an indifferent column? If he is mostly indifferent about what I do, then how do I even know he cares about me? Most people will take the God who hates over the God who is indifferent—at least the former also loves. Indifference and love, bumper stickers to the contrary, cannot coexist. In trying to avoid sterile moralism, the Prophet of Indifference manages to castrate God Himself.
Why God Cares
These prophets can still challenge us however, even if it is by way of an end around. They force us to ask the question why God even cares what we do. As we probe we find that St. Thomas Aquinas asked the same question, framing it in terms of sin as an offense against God. In Book 3 of the Summa Contra Gentiles, the Angelic Doctor says that “God is offended by us only because we act contrary to our own good.” In other words, God cares so deeply about each one of us that He takes offense only when we do something that ultimately harms us. And what are those things? We call them sins, but they are essentially things that move us off the path that our nature and our supernatural calling has put us on. There are some things that help us to advance towards this goal (we call these good), some things that stop us (venial sins) and some things that knock us off the path entirely so that we need His help to get back on the path (mortal sins). In short, God not only cares what we do and don’t do, He says that He does so as a jealous lover. He knows that giving ourselves to any other lover than Him ultimately ends in frustration that could be eternal. But choosing Him as our love, we can love all those other things in Him. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt 6:33). This is not to trivialize just how bad sin is—it is still an offense against Almighty God—but to place it within the context of a filial relationship rather than as Judge and defendant. God, in all eternity, is Father but only with respect to creation is He judge. It is of His nature to be Father and not to be Judge. See, He does care what we call Him.
In his sermon entitled “Jewish Zeal, A Pattern to Christians,” Blessed John Henry Newman reminds us of the best weapon with which to combat these false prophets. He says that Christians should not be taking up the sword in the manner of Elijah when he encountered the false prophets of his day, but instead to capture the spirit of mind that animated his actions. Zeal, Newman says,
“consists in a strict attention to His commands—a scrupulousness, vigilance, heartiness, and punctuality, which bears with no reasoning or questioning about them—an intense thirst for the advancement of His glory—a shrinking from the pollution of sin and sinners—an indignation, nay impatience, at witnessing His honour insulted—a quickness of feeling when His name is mentioned, and a jealousy how it is mentioned—a fullness of purpose, an heroic determination to yield Him service at whatever sacrifice of personal feeling—an energetic resolve to push through all difficulties, were they as mountains, when His eye or hand but gives the sign—a carelessness of obloquy, or reproach, or persecution, a forgetfulness of friend and relative, nay, a hatred (so to say) of all that is naturally dear to us, when He says, ‘Follow me.’”
Let us go forth in this same spirit.