I am not a friend of philosophical answers – primarily because I think they run the risk of being nothing more than ideas. The same holds true for problems – philosophical problems are often just that – philosophical and little more. For a variety of reasons, God seems to be an easy subject for philosophical speculation, both as answer and as problem.
I have yet to meet a human being who lived life in general. God did not become man – as St. Theodore the Studite famously put it, “God became a man.” And in this lies all the difference. In St. Theodore’s case it was the reason he said we could make an icon of Christ. You cannot make an icon of man in general (there is no such thing), but it belongs to the characteristic of a man, that you may make a portrait of him. It’s another way of say that Christ is truly human. But I stray slightly from my intended subject.
I believe that it is the nature of things (I hope this does not count as a philosophical statement) that there is nothing “in general.” All generalizations (like this one) are ideas and not truly existent items or persons of interest.
It is interesting to me that Christ never said, “Be loving,” or “Love everyone.” He was quite specific, “Love thy neighbor as Thyself,” and when asked, “Who is my neighbor,” brought the question down to specifics with a very particular story.
There is no teaching of Christ (unlike that of St. Francis) in which poverty is idealized, for there is no ideal poverty, just as there is no ideal prosperity. Economies, like many things we deal with in the aggregate are notorious discussed in the abstract. One hundred thousand people lose their jobs in a particular action and it is reported along with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Cattle Futures. But of course, one hundred thousand people don’t do anything. Things that are done happen one person at a time, regardless of what they may share in common with others. The effect in their lives is specific – just as specific as if it had happened only to them.
I grew up in one of the “Miracle Cities” of the South. In 1964, the Air Force base that had been the foundation of a large part of the economy in the south end of the county was closed. It was not the only base closed that year – it was part of a larger decision. My father’s auto repair business consisted almost entirely of Air Force personnel. Like all civilians in that end of the county, things became very hard. It is a vivid memory for me.
Of course the city fathers correctly predicted a comeback. Twenty-five years later the city was in the midst of a renaissance and an economic boom. Of course, twenty-five years may seem like nothing in the years of a city. For a man in his 40’s, twenty-five years is the rest of his working life. My father never recovered economically from the “general” decision or the “general recovery.”
I think about this every time I hear general stories on the news. That there are no general stories, only people who now face great difficulties or even overwhelming situations. I have thoughts of what this might mean for those who have responsibilities for others – though we now live in an age when responsibility to others usually means stock-holders or “the public good” or other things. I will readily admit the difficulty of making decisions that inevitably effect many people.
Where I come down (as a non-philosopher) is to recognize the specificity of every human situation and of everything in all creation. There is no communion in general, no general confession. There are souls, loved of God and for whom Christ died – not as an aggregate but as unique, unrepeatable images of God. It sets the parameters on love as close as they can be. I know that by God’s grace it is possible to extend those parameters outwards, not by generalization, but through “personalization” if I may use the word in this way. We extend ourselves outwards by specifically reaching out to others, not in general, but in particular. This is the wonder of the great saint. Such a one may be said to “love all of us,” but, like God, he loves each of us, and therein lies all the difference.
I was asked a question in a post as to why we cannot serve God and mammon. Or what is wrong with prosperity? There is nothing wrong with posterity, but you cannot serve mammon, because it is a god, and we may have no other God but One. According to St. Clement of Alexandria, we may indeed be rich (prosperous) but its reason is for us to serve others from the abundance which we have been given. “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”
And the questions become quite clear when they become particular and removed from generalities. I am able to be where I am today only through the generosity of others. My education, my work, much of everything I own, my wife and children, are all gifts to me – not the product of my work. I know that I have an occupation that does not “make money.” Priests live from the offerings of others. But so do we all. Without kindness and generosity there is only the bargaining of starving men.
The world is not perfectly ideal. God is perfectly God but I do not think I would dare call Him “ideal.” He’s more real than that and commands us to become real in the same manner. May God give us all grace to love in particular all those around us, and the abundant grace to extend that love beyond the boundaries that are most easily seen. Glory to God.