Freedom, Sin, and Predilection:
the Pedigree of our
“I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus
comes to us in today's reading and it is simplicity itself
The first part of the question pertains to God:
Why did God choose to lead the Jews
out of slavery ... and
subsequently out of sin? What motivated Him to do this?
The second part of the question pertains to man, and
is this: why did the Jews
and why do we
despite the manifest predilection of God, long to return to
slavery, to sin, once we are delivered from it? Why
would we ever wish to go back?
We are perplexed on both counts. Implicit in the first question is yet
another: why did God choose the Jews among the many people
in Egypt at the time under the yoke of slavery? Why not the Nubians,
the Canaanites? Why?
Once freed, why did so many of God’s chosen people yearn to
return to Egypt during their sojourn in the desert, disdaining even
the Manna from Heaven itself that God gave them each morning to sustain
them when they had nothing else to eat? Why do we so often wistfully
look back and yearn for the sin that subdued us in misery – even as
we ourselves receive the Bread of Angels in the Most Holy Eucharist?
Even as we ponder this terrible incongruity, yet another question arises
that is latent in both: having been delivered from bondage in Egypt,
and knowing the misery and humiliation of slavery, why did Israel perpetuate
the obscenity of slavery itself?... much as we ourselves perpetuate
slavery to sin after our emancipation from it?
Having been a people delivered by a merciful God from the degradation
why did they not abolish from their midst that from which they themselves
prayed for deliverance? Why do we not among ourselves? It is
not unlike like the Parable Jesus gives us where a debtor, freed of
his obligation by the mercy of his master, immediately sets about to
throttle one indebted to him and for far less? (St. Matthew 18.23-34
Why do we cherish what we abhor? ... subject ourselves to that from
which we had erstwhile sought deliverance? What is this madness?
We cry out to God for deliverance ... and once delivered, return, as
St. Peter tells us like a dog to its own vomit? (2 St. Peter 2.22
). We cry out to be free, and then clamor again for the yoke of slavery,
and what is more, in our freedom immediately purpose to subjugate
others. We deplore the mercilessness of our former masters
and then exceed them in lack of pity toward those we have taken in bondage
Let us attempt to answer the first question.
Why did God choose the Jews and not the
It is that simple.
We are ever seeking to constrain the freedom of God, seeking one way
or another to make it more acceptable, more pleasing, in a word, more
amenable to us, to bend it to our own will
and failing that, indict God as unjust or unfair because it is our
freedom that is constrained, when we would constrain God’s
We look in vain for reasons, justifications, warrants, that would validate
the choice, disclose its justification to us – completely failing to
understand that anything which compels a choice, in some way
diminishes the freedom of that choice. The reason for the choice lies
outside the choice itself.
It is the way of men. But God's ways are not our ways.
We do not know unfettered freedom. Ours is a freedom that is always
either a freedom “to” or a freedom “from”, and we do not understand
it apart from things extraneous to the unconditioned notion of pure
freedom itself. Our most arbitrary choices are always understood in
terms outside of the freedom by which they are chosen. We are ever lacking
in some way, and all our choices are invariably choices that purpose
to supplement what we lack.
The most deliberately “arbitrary” choice to prove, to validate, our
freedom, is itself a choice intended to authenticate the very freedom
we presume ourselves to possess. It is a choice that is motivated by
something we understand to be necessary to authenticating it – which
is to say that it is not a totally free choice at all.
God lacks nothing. He is deficient in no way. He wants for nothing.
To such a Being, every “choice” is radically free, unconditioned, and
stands in need of no explanation for no explanation is possible. There
are no other “ends” that could possibly motivate a choice in God.
“I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it
shall please me”
(“Miserebor cui voluero, et clemens ero in quem mihi placuerit.")
The people who would later become the nation did not merit, warrant,
earn, or deserve their deliverance. A cursory reading of the Book of
Exodus gives us ample evidence of the spiritual turpitude of this people.
They were not chosen for any reason apart from, outside of, God's perfect
free will. He choose them. Why? Because He chose to.
Why Abel and not Cain? Why Jacob and not Esau? Why Joseph and not Reuben?
The list is endless.
We rebel against this free will of God – a will that is perfectly, indefeasibly
good – and despite what it chooses, which is invariably our own good,
we lay out a path for ourselves, and if it diverges from the path that
God has set before us, well, all the worse for God. “We will choose
what we will choose ...”
It is not only Caligula in his madness who apotheosized himself into
the pantheon of gods. He was simply less subversive about it than we
are, less ... subtle ...
Our second question was this – why, once delivered
from slavery to sin – do we return to it? We leave Egypt ... and then
long for it, throw off the yoke of the slave and then yearn for it.
Do you seek a clever answer? You will find none. St. Paul himself lamented,
“the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that
(Romans 7.13-24). It is the mystery of sin. But take heart. It is also
the mystery of salvation.
We are no less stiff-necked than Israel wandering in the desert. They,
too, made gods for themselves, even as we make gods of
ourselves. But that same freedom by which God chose Israel, and by which
He chooses us – and against which both have rebelled – brought this
people, despite themselves, to the Promised Land from bondage
... and it will bring us, too, to the freedom that only exists in sanctity
from the slavery that only exists in sin.
Deus vult. God wills it. God chooses it. Despite the countless
reasons we can enumerate why He ought not.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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