Has anyone else noticed the grim irony about last weekend’s shooting in Pittsburgh?
The Jewish place of worship was called, “The Tree of Life” synagogue. Not only did the “Tree of Life” synagogue turn out to be a Garden of Death, but the allusion to the tragedy of the Garden of Eden is all too obvious.
The Garden of Eden story about the fall of humanity is often interpreted as the entrance of sexual sin into the world. Wrong. Answer. God established marriage at the Garden of Eden and therefore established a beautiful and wholesome sexuality as the basis of human relationships of love.
The Garden of Eden story is about the heart of darkness. What I mean by this is the dark core of all evil in the world. Rene Girard diagnosed it as “mimetic desire” a form of envy in which the person desires not only what the other has, but desires to be like the other. I like Rene Girard’s insights, but I think maybe sometimes he over complicated matters.
The “mimetic desire” he discovered and discussed has a deeper root cause which the church has always called “Pride”. Pride is not simply being arrogant or boastful. Those are shallow symptoms of pride. The deeper, darker pride is the mimetic desire not only to have what the other person has and to be what the other person is, but to have what God has and to be what He is.
So Satan tempts Eve with the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and assures her that she “will be like God.”
Ah. There’s the nub. There’s the baseline. There’s the dark heart of the matter.
We want to be like God.
The problem with this all too common delusion of grandeur is that the world is populated with quite a few other wannabe gods, and our divinity is likely to clash with theirs and our will and their will is going to come into conflict and our divinity is likely to be somewhat frustrated.
In other words, we don’t get what we want and we don’t get to be god after all, and that makes us mad. Things don’t go our way. There are problems we can’t solve. There are fears that won’t go away. Something is wrong so we blame other people.
After all, it can’t be our fault that things are not quite right. It can’t be our fault that things have gone wrong. It can’t be our fault that we are unhappy.
So we blame someone else. It’s my mother’s fault. It’s my father’s fault. It’s the blacks. It’s the whites. It’s the rich. It’s the poor. It’s the Muslims. It’s the Christians. It’s the Germans. It’s the French. It’s the Democrats. It’s the Republicans. It’s Hillary. It’s Trump. It’s the pope. It’s the other pope. It’s my wife, my boss, my husband, my kids, my mother in law.
I know. It’s the Jews!
First I blame them. Then I shame them. Then I marginalize them. Then I persecute them. Then I isolate them. Then I ship them away. Then I lock them up. Then I get my gun.
The shooting in Pittsburgh does not only reveal the heart of darkness within that lone gunman.
It reveals the heart of darkness in the whole human race.
We talk, talk, talk about sin. This is the heart of all the sin–not only the desire to be god, but the original assumption that we are God.
I spit on that. I trample that down. I reject it and exorcise it as the desperate and despicable evil that it is.
What was the result of this evil in the Garden? Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden. They were expelled from harmony with one another. They were expelled from peace. They were expelled from unity with nature. They were expelled from love. They were expelled and alienated forever from the Tree of Life.
And the conflict between all these little gods continues and proliferates and the result is murder, mayhem, war and rumors of war, genocide, abortion and churches and synagogues and innocent worshippers riddled with bullets.
How terrible and tragic, therefore that the synagogue in Pittsburgh was called “Tree of Life.”
Is there an answer? What is the answer?
As a Catholic, all I can do in the face of this killing is proclaim the truth of another Tree of Life.
One person we call the “second Adam” came, and in another garden confronted the heart of darkness.
Jesus Christ said to the human race, “You want to blame someone? Blame me. I’ll take it. I’ve got broad shoulders.”
You might say, “Isn’t the answer to simply stop blaming and take responsibility?”
Yes, but in my experience this only takes us so far. We are helpless to really carry through. We need power beyond ourselves to really change.
We tap into that power as soon as we turn and repent. In that action we take responsibility, but we also accept that shifting the blame is so wired into our humanity that we still demand that the price be paid and that someone else take the blame, and faith in Jesus Christ is just that.
This is a transaction so difficult to describe that shelves of books on the atonement have been written. This is the transaction by which the blame is taken, but the person blaming is set free. In this transaction we call faith the person blaming takes responsibility at the same time that he accepts the gift of someone else taking responsibility.
Within this transcendental transaction a miracle of transference takes place. Access to the Tree of Life is restored through the Tree of Life on that hillside outside Jerusalem two thousand years ago. In that transaction the heart of darkness is illuminated by the light of life.
The beauty of the transaction is that it is summed up in the simplest and humblest of prayers…
…Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.
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