Q: In our newspaper’s “letters to the editor” section, we often read letters from people who believe literally what the Bible has to say. They seem so “hidebound” in their beliefs that they refuse to even consider the other side of the argument. The truth of evolution is obvious, but it does seem to me there must be a guiding force behind it all. Doesn’t it seem obvious that both sides should be considered? – P., Ocala, Fla.
A: In the case of creationism vs. evolution, I’ve never understood the nature of the conflict. I believe God probably did use evolution as the mechanism for adapting life to the world He created. I also believe that the brilliance of life in all its forms is the most eloquent evidence of Intelligent Design.
On both sides of the debate, I try to ask sympathetic but probing questions. When talking with evolutionary fundamentalists, I urge them to reflect on the impossibly long odds of mere random selection producing, let us say, Shakespeare. In the case of biblical fundamentalists, I try to remind them that a 7-day creation week could not have been comprised of seven 24-hour days because a day is defined by the sun, and the sun, according to Genesis 1:14-19, was not created until the fourth day.
These two observations have helped me to believe, with Einstein, that our job in both science and religion is to “trace the lines that flow from God.”
Q: We are taught to love all and forgive our enemies. Is it right and possible to not like someone but still love them; to wish them no ill will and to help if they’re in need, but to choose not to be around them because it brings you down emotionally? Can we really forgive but not forget? – G.
A: Let me begin my response by going to the text that’s troubling you from Matthew 5:43-48 (KJV):
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you ... Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
This brilliant and challenging teaching of Jesus is his commentary on Leviticus 19:18, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus’ profound challenge is to go beyond the easy love of those closest to us and those most like us, to love even those who persecute us.
I think Jesus is trying to challenge us to understand that every person is made in the image of God, and that when we despise a person, we are despising God. I agree with Jesus that loving those closest to us is not a big enough love for God. We must stretch our souls to comprehend and embrace those whom we hardly notice and often malign. However, I don’t believe that this love of enemies is the same kind of love we have for our family and friends.
The love Jesus encouraged is more like compassion and forgiveness for those who’ve gone astray into the world of sin. This is, in fact, exactly what God intended in Leviticus in the words just before the commandment to love our neighbor: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge …”
Jesus and Leviticus don’t prevent you from avoiding toxic people whose negative personalities diminish our own ability to see the good in the world and in others. However, the same teachings also should encourage you not to bear grudges or hate them or wish them ill. This attitude toward them is loving, but it is not love.
On a personal note: Father Tom Hartman, my dear friend and former co-author of The God Squad, recently turned 67! Pray for another birthday for Tommy.
Send questions via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.