When the LORD saw how great was man's wickedness on earth, and how no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil, he regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved.
Although we know the end of this story, we should ponder its beginning. God regretted that he had made man on the earth and his heart was grieved.
There are many moments when troubles mount and hope seems faint and we would Amen this sorry assessment. But this story describes a distant, all-powerful deity who has experimented with a creature made in his own image and likeness and been disappointed. He dwells, like many of us, above the fray and in relative comfort. From that distance it’s not hard to throw up one’s hands and say, “To hell with it.”
During the first chapters of Genesis we hear the history of sin, from Adam to the Tower of Babel. Despite God’s interventions – his counsel to Adam and Cain and his purging the land by flood – sin continues unabated. Confusing the languages of Babel wasn’t even intended to improve matters, though it might have made the situation less bad. Clearly the strategy of distant observation with occasional, unwelcome catastrophes has failed.
Human sin demands divine investment and intervention. Grace must do more than occasionally meddle in human affairs. We need God’s abiding presence and a very personal, direct relationship with God. That story will begin with Abraham, in chapter 12.
It is easy to watch television or scan the Internet and pronounce judgment on other people’s affairs. “There oughta be a law!” we say, or “How can people act like that? Have they no morals?” It’s not so easy to pronounce judgment when we’re actually involved.
The Lord will step into human history when he befriends Abraham. His old ways of ruthless punishment persist, apparently over Abraham’s objections, when he rains burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah. As Abraham watched the mushroom cloud billowing over the “cities of the plain” we can imagine his resolution to prevent its happening again, if at all possible.
The challenge of our time is to remain engaged. Pope Francis calls this engagement "mercy." Even terrorism – as dreadful and senseless as it is – reminds us there is no escaping our duty of merciful participation. The threat that an American shooter or Arab jihadist might invade our lives looms over our cell phones, personal computers and home entertainment systems. There are no “green zones” like the failed experiment in Baghdad.
Genesis 1-11 tells us God could not keep a safe distance from human affairs if he wanted to hear “Hallowed Be Thy Name.” The New Testament tells us how God surrendered entirely to that impulse of love. The Mass tells us, “Go in peace,” not to return to our comfort zones but to bring peace to this uncertain, perilous world we call home.