Sunday, August 24, 2003

I am currently sick, and therefore my last day at The Museum Company turned out to be yesterday, instead of today like it should have been. As a direct result of being sick, I have slept in for many many hours and am now blogging since I have been meaning to do that for a while and now my energy level is low enough that other things have been pushed down on the priority list.

I'd like to post a bit of errata regarding my last post. I have revised my definition of harm in a way that I think is much more satisfactory, so that it more closely resembles the everyday definition of harm. As my parents argue, God wouldn't bother to heal people if sickness and injury weren't a cause of concern for him. (I was inclined to argue that God healed people - or, conversely, gave them beautiful things - because he likes to delight his children. But Mom and Dad pointed out that that casts God in the role of the bad parent, for a good parent acts out of his or her own beliefs about what is good for a child, not the child's beliefs. And God is not a bad parent; if he were, he wouldn't call himself our father so often.) I still maintain that physical harm is about the least important kind of harm you can suffer: I would say a good man who can look forward to an eternity without death is harmed much less by starving to death than is a bad man who lives in every kind of luxury but has not bothered to attend to the fact that he is an immortal creature. But of course it would be better for the good man not to starve to death. This modification is made possible by the newly recognized distinction between whether or not something is harmful, and whether or not it harms you. For instance, if a man is wearing a bullet-proof vest, a bullet will not harm him (well it might, but bear with me). But that does not mean that the bullet is not harmful.

I think this is something like what it must be like to be one of the "spiritual men" that Paul talks about: what does a humble, obedient, consistently growing man have to fear? But of course most men are not pneumatikoi, and for the rest of us the bullets are very real dangers. And this is something else I like about admitting that even trivial, ephemeral harms are harms nonetheless: it means that God cares very much about what is going on with me right now, down to the smallest detail: even the fact that I am sick right now (and of course I am going to get better, and in a hundred years, or after the resurrection of the dead, what will it matter that I had a cold on August 24, A.D. 2003?) is of supreme importance to God. He cares very much about the people who are starving, and the people who are being blown to bits, and about all those people who are suffering evils which, when compared to the prospect of suffering the second death after the aforementioned resurrection, are really very trivial things. And of course God cares about the states of their souls as well - he cares very much about all of it.

So this all sounds much more like the God that I know than my previous definition of harm did, which makes me happy. It also rather answers my previous question about why we are told to do things like feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for widows who have nobody else to take them in. My previous confusion (for those of you with short memories) was that I couldn't see how that did anybody any good: the physical circumstances are so fleeting, after all, and surely the only harm that was real harm was the harm which echoed through eternity. (Of course if I had been trying to think about it from God's perspective, instead of the perspectives of either the charitable man or the recipient of his charity, I would have immediately spotted a glaring fallacy in this way of thinking: for to God, who is outside of time altogether, there is no such thing as "fleeting." The word doesn't make any sense if you take away the dimension of time. God has all the time in the world for every knee that has ever been scraped.) And so I can now see that when we are told to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, et. al., we are being told to alleviate suffering, to undo harm that has been done. That is answer enough for me - but if I wanted to wax big picture, I might also speculate that since suffering is the result of the brokenness of the world, charity is our resistance movement's small way of combating that: it is sabotage, just as much as intercessory prayer or evangelism. And of course we resistance fighters ought to sabotage the enemy in every way we can.

Now I still have a problem with people who imagine that differences of wealth or power ought to be squashed all the time, for I still fail to see how differences in the distribution of wealth or power cause harm. They may cause harm, of course: and in such cases they ought to be combated. But surely they don't always cause harm: Bill Gates has a great deal more money than I do, but how does that hurt me? And, to be sure, I don't have as much political clout as many rich and powerful businessmen - but am I hurt thereby? I do not think so. And I daresay that a person can have much less money than I have grown up with, and much less political power as well, and still be well beyond the point of actually being harmed. But of course there does come a point at which a person is being truly oppressed (as opposed to inconvenienced), or really starved (as opposed to being forced to eat plain food instead of champagne and caviar), or what have you - and that is another matter altogether.

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