Back & forth

One looks back to look forward. This is a paradox, to be sure, but on several levels, among which Cardinal Newman (soon to be canonized) captured the main thrust by his notion of walking to Heaven backwards. He explained this, easily. We “progress,” we finally succeed, through error. It is as if Heaven were always behind us, and we approach through what seems like moving backwards.

But more, through his Parochial and Plain Sermon (on “The State of Innocence”):

“There is a very much closer connexion between the state of Adam in Paradise and our state in childhood, than may at first be thought.”

For we are “surveying Eden” when we do this. To look back upon this state of innocence is also to look forward, as it were, to our unworldly return, when all things are passed, and all works and trials have been accomplished. For the time, however, we are wrapped, and constrained, through our own Fall. And yet through the squalor of a sinful world, and our sinful selves, we are “aiming to be children again.”

This is the condition of being a Christian, as we proceed along our dangerous pilgrimage: to keep our minds fixed on futurity, in recollection of a past that returns to our Creation. And we look back through error.

Often we are compelled to look back in sorrow, rather than in joy. But either is the opposite of “looking back in anger,” which, I would say, is what the Devil wants: fear, not of God, and an essentially hopeless anger. Atheism may be proclaimed, but insincerely, for I have often heard atheists cussing at their Maker, and the Fate they imagine He has in store for them. The divine is not something that can be avoided.

Let me venture into theology. God is not petty. He does not settle scores. That is a very human perception, of vengeance and retaliation. The first thing to know about God, in Christ, is that He needs no power. He is not the schoolyard bully, or a trial lawyer. He does not punish men. By their disobedience, they only punish themselves; cannot break the law but only break themselves upon the law. We can see this ourselves, looking back, in love not in anger.

God made us for His own. He made none of us expendable, as we may sometimes glimpse in this backward glance, to Eden. Our circumstances may be complex, and grow in their complexity as we age. Misery, even in childhood, and more often than not human-caused — even by our own parents — obscures the backward vision. Yet in moments it is clear.

Our task is to recover this clarity; to see what has become invisible to us, because we have ignored it; to confess and be absolved; to suffer, even to suffer injustice; and then, unburdened, to approach the Altar. This, anyway, is what I have been thinking:

That from the beginning to the end, and through the miracle of our freedom, Christ has been waiting for us to come home.