…A reader asks: Dear Father John, why does God chastise us for pride and vanity but demands our absolute adoration? I know that men wrote the Bible. These are vices of the ego. I have studied Carl Jung. Is it possible that our interpretation of God was based on our projection of “power” and our human ego structure? What we thought godlike demands would be? I thought God was ego-less…Why does he want us on our knees?
In part one, we looked at what God wants and the nature of sin. Today we will examine what it means to be rooted in God and what true humility and true reverence are.
Rooted in God
Think of it like this. A tree is growing healthily in the ground. But it sees all the birds flying around, and the squirrels running around. And it starts to get frustrated, because it wants to fly and to run too. So finally it decides to uproot itself from the ground and follow the way of the squirrels and the birds. What will happen? The tree will die. Because the tree is created to thrive by being rooted in the ground. It will fulfill its true purpose only by staying rooted. It is limited, by its very nature. It can’t be what it isn’t meant to be, without losing its own integrity and destroying itself.
Original sin, where the devil deceived our first parents, was a drama in which the tree uprooted itself: Our first parents refused to accept the limits of their human nature. Instead of staying in friendship with God, they turned their back on him and tried to “become gods” themselves (see Genesis 3:5). Every subsequent sin is a repetition, in some way, of that same act of diabolical arrogance and rebellion.
I love how the Catechism puts it:
397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.
398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God,” but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.”
True Humility and True Reverence
So you see, when Catholic spirituality speaks of humility, adoration, reverence towards God, it is actually speaking about things that bring out our true dignity as human beings: Our capacity to recognize and respond to God’s loving call in our lives. This is something that no other material creature can do. Birds and moose and waterfalls can’t gaze in wonder and awe at the amazing works of the Creator, give thanks to him, engage in a dialogue of love with him – only we human beings can do that. But to do that, we have to accept the simple truth that although God calls us to communion with him and gives us his grace, we are not God. If we refuse to acknowledge that, we uproot ourselves from the only soil that will allow us to flourish and enjoy the fruits of lasting happiness – the soil of communion with God, of friendship with God.
This is how we need to interpret the Bible, and this is how the Church does indeed interpret the Bible. When we have this proper understanding of sin, we don’t need to worry about projection theories. If those theories deny the reality of sin, then they also deny the reality of freedom – of authentic human freedom. That’s a danger that psychology often (but certainly not always!) flirts with – Freud did more than flirt with it; Jung only flirted with it.
In other words, when we go down on our knees before God, it’s only so that he can lift us up again and take us in his arms, forever.
Art for this post which asks “What does God really want from us?”: Detail of Saint-Cloud, Eugène Atget, 1924, author’s life plus 80 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Adoration picture of Jesus Christ in monstrance courtesy of Dan Burke, used with permission.