Tag Archives: Calvin and Hobbes

“I think,” says Fr. John from behind the confessional screen, “that we tend to see our sexuality as a burden, instead of a gift.” He laughs to himself a little, maybe thinking You and me both, buddy; you know as well as I do that celibacy is no joke.

“It feels like a burden because it’s so powerful,” he continues, “and so hard to control. But make this your penance: ask that the grace of this sacrament will help you to see your sexuality in a positive way. As a gift.”

Phew boy, okay. I’ll try. A couple of thoughts flit through my head — about fatherhood as an expression of masculinity and therefore of sexuality, about how all men, even (especially?) the celibate, are called to be fathers in one way or another — but mostly I put the question aside and hope I’ll remember to pray about it.

While Fr. John is still talking, I glance up at the screen. Usually I go face-to-face, because I like Fr. John and he knows all about me and it’s nice to visit with him and confess at the same time. But the screen’s good, too. You can’t see the face of the priest, so it’s a little easier to realize that it is in fact Jesus behind there, and that the kindness and humanity of Fr. John is at least equal to the kindness and humanity of the One he represents and makes present.

More than equal, of course. But I make allowances for my weakness of imagination. When I picture Heaven, I stop short of the Beatific Vision and just picture a place where there are always friends to go exploring1 with. When I imagine Jesus, picturing somebody more or less like Fr. John is a lot easier, and a lot more effective, than trying to conjure up an image of perfect love, and ending up with some saccharine2 unreality.

I’ve been nursing a grudge against the Lord, because I still don’t understand what to make of the hell I went through earlier this year, the hell He didn’t save me from; I’m still trying to learn what trusting Him could mean. But while I imagine Jesus behind the screen, listening to my silly little selfishnesses, the grudge melts for a moment, and I whisper, too soft for Fr. John to hear: How do you put up with this shit?

I don’t mean to swear at the Lord, and I hope he takes it the way I mean it: as a squalid little cri de coeur instead of a sign of irreverence; as a way of saying, I’m confused and angry and grateful and in love all at the same time, and I don’t know what to do with any of it because, like Philip, even after keeping your company all this time, I still don’t know you. I hope he takes it the way he must have taken it when his earthly friends slipped up and let fly with the occasional oath.

They were, after all, a bunch of fishermen and whores.

1 Like this.
2 Like this.

And I said “Help me, help me, help me, help me–
Thank you! I’d no idea that you were there.”1

A few weeks ago, when things were worst, I was having one of those very anguished prayer times where you are yelling so loudly for help that it’s hard to notice when it comes. I finally asked: “Just tell me something, Lord; tell me something I need to hear, and I’ll try to be quiet so I can hear it.”

So he said, “This is not a punishment.”

Which you wouldn’t think he would have to tell somebody like me who (allegedly) believes that God is loving and merciful. But we do sometimes get ourselves all twisted up.

My dear friend R. was telling me recently about something called the “Just World Bias”: we innately believe that the world is fair, so when we see somebody undergoing horrific suffering, if we’re unable to help them, we will often seek comfort by saying to ourselves, consciously or unconsciously: They had it coming, they brought it on themselves.

We do this because it’s easier to swallow the idea that all suffering is some sort of comeuppance than to swallow the idea that inexplicably horrific things happen to innocent people.2

And those of us who are predisposed to self-loathing tend to apply this damning logic to ourselves. We say: God is just, God is loving, and therefore the only conceivable reason I would feel like this way is that I’ve done something horrible. So I must thinkandthinkandthink until I figure out what it is.

But it ain’t so. The mystery of suffering is a mystery because there aren’t simple answers. And it’s important to remember that God is not only merciful (which I tend to think of in very abstract terms), but also very nice (which is much easier to wrap my head around), so he is quite aware of our blindness, even when it is wilful, and doesn’t ask us to put ourselves on the rack.

That is to say: even supposing that God would be quite within His rights to put us on the rack — or on the cross!3 — that is simply not the sort of thing he does.

Like Calvin says to Hobbes after breaking his father’s binoculars: “There’s no situation so bad that it can’t be made worse by adding guilt.” And the converse is true: when you remove the guilt, ordinary pain becomes tolerable.

Because really, there are things much worse than pain.

1 Paul Simon — “Rewrite”, from the surprisingly good (if understated and somewhat mawkishly titled) album So Beautiful Or So What.
2 Conversely, someone else has answered the age-old question (“Why do bad things happen to good people?”) by saying: There are no good people. This is true, strictly speaking (cf. Romans 3:10 and Psalm 14:1), but since it is true in a way that is too high for most of us to understand most of the time, it is not particularly helpful to think about when you are thrashing around in pain. In fact, if you meditate on this truth during such times, you are guaranteed to misunderstand it. So cut it out.
3 Is this, maybe possibly, what the Cross means? Because we really do deserve much worse than we think we deserve, but at the same time we’re incapable of realizing it?