“Ask a Priest: Why Did God Delay Sending a Redeemer?”

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Q: I am a former evangelical Christian who is looking into RCIA. For me the historicity of the Church has played a decent role in urging me toward the truth of the Catholic faith. Presupposing a view of creation whereupon humanity has existed (as homo sapiens) for about 200,000 years (predominantly as hunter-gatherers), I find it jarring to consider that formal Christianity has only existed for about 2,000 years, and archaeological evidence of formal Judaism only exists to maybe 3000 B.C. It bothers me to consider that the vast majority of human history, in this view, goes largely unrecorded and undocumented, because records from those earliest time periods have not been preserved. My question, primarily, is what am I to make of this? On the nature of God, how am I to understand his intervention into history as predominantly occurring in the past few thousand years? If we accept an Old Earth, how can we fit the biblical narrative (assuming that we treat it as somewhat historical, and not fully allegory) into a timeline without requiring huge gaps of divine silence — or, if we accept silent periods (such as the period of time between Old and New Testaments), what are we to take from that? Should we expect to see or be looking for evidence of a Judeo-Christian God manifesting himself among the archaeological records of early hunter-gatherer societies? Thank you for considering this question. – D.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is great to hear that you feel drawn to the Catholic faith. I wish you well as you look into the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.

You raise intriguing questions. A full answer could easily fill a book. Perhaps a few brief ideas might help.

First, it’s important to recognize that we are limited in our understanding of the world and salvation history.

It’s good to distinguish between what human reason can discover regarding God (what philosophy might call “natural theology”) and what God chooses to reveal about himself and which can be meditated on and accepted in faith, aided by grace (which theology seeks to understand).

God has left “fingerprints” in his creation, discoverable with the use of reason, and that is why even before the rise of Judaism and Christianity cultures had belief systems to articulate their religious experiences.

The point here is that God was already subtly interacting with mankind for many generations before the coming of Judaism. The Holy Spirit would have enlightened the consciences of people day to day about good and evil. This kind of thing won’t always appear explicitly in the archaeological record.

These early expressions of religion were rough and far from perfect, of course. Due to original sin, man in his rational and moral faculties has been wounded, and this has clouded his ability to perceive God and resulted in religious expressions that the Almighty would later reveal to be erroneous and immoral (human sacrifice, for example).

The divinely propelled rise of Judaism was a preparation for the coming of the Son of God that would culminate in his incarnation in the Jewish people and the establishment of Christianity, which would then go beyond the confines of Judaism to the world of mankind.

The Old Testament, even in the Book of Genesis, shows God at certain points making promises that would be fulfilled in Christ. The Old Testament ends with prophecies regarding the Messiah that only a few centuries later would be fulfilled with the incarnation and saving work of Christ.

There is a part of this process that escapes our rational investigation because God works from eternity and at times “reveals” things to us for our salvation that we would have never discovered on our own (for example, that he is one God in Three Persons, the Most Holy Trinity).

In case it might seem that most of humanity has lost out on a chance at heaven, it is good to recall that Christ came for the redemption of everyone, even those who died before his death on Calvary. That is why Jesus speaks of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob as being at the banquet in the Kingdom (Matthew 8:11).

This means that Jesus’ redemptive suffering can work retroactively and thus would cover the souls in prehistory. In this sense, God need not be in a rush to send a redeemer into the world.

But could there have been another reason for the seemingly long wait for a redeemer?

St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that God could have sent Christ into the world immediately after the Fall. But he didn’t. Why?

Aquinas compares the redemption of Christ as a medicine that is applied to the illness of sin. And sometimes an illness has to run its course before medicine can be applied and bear fruit.

In this case, mankind needed to feel the effects of its sins and thus come to recognize its need for a redeemer. Even then, many people didn’t appreciate the coming of Christ. Many still don’t. (Aquinas’ take on the subject can be found in Part III, Question 1, Article 5 of his Summa Theologiae.)

Thus, we could say that the illness of sin had to run a very long course — maybe hundreds of thousands of years — before the medicine of Christ was applied.

For further reading, see Part I, Section I of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I hope that some of this is helpful.

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  1. That is a DE-EEEEEP answer to an equally DEE-EEEP question. As deep as the oceans which GOD created (as per Genesis) as expansive as the sky, containing the sun, the moon, and the stars which brought LIGHT to the world.

    The HOW as asked in this question would take the writing of a book, which did occur over CENTURIES, and later studied, which is called ‘theology’ (the study of God) and this study continues with ‘answers’ that can only come from HE who is way above ‘our ways’ of seeing. GOD is GOD and GOD is ‘the Alpha and the Omega’ / God is Creator of all things, God is the Redeemer, and GOD is LOVE, stated as being a HOLY SPIRIT.

    The phrase DIVINE SILENCE used by the person asking question with regards ‘huge gaps’ in the historical narrative of when God ‘SENT’ the Redeemer to earth, has to basically be understood BY FAITH as God sends HIS GRACE to mankind, who WITH A MUSTARD-SEED OF FAITH in what THE REDEEMER said to do, will come to know, understand, and love God. We will not know everything here on this earth, but NO WORRIES, life is ETERNAL and HE WILL explain it all ‘one day’ if we PERSEVERE in ‘THE WAY, THE TRUTH, THE LIFE’ as God’s ONLY SON taught to do: Be baptized, take and eat of His real presence through SAME BREAD The redeemer broke and said ‘take and eat this bread is my body’ . . . FULL UNDERSTANDING not necessary… nor does one need to be steep in theology. JUST FAITH AND PERSEVERANCE IN DOING AS HE SAID TO DO. (something Eve and Adam did not do, and thus brought SIN to the world)

    FAITH as Mary spoke: ‘With GOD all things are possible.’

    Summed up, briefly, in these paragraphs:

    God created man IN HIS OWN IMAGE, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Gen. 1:27-28, 31).

    From earliest days on the earth, PRE ‘Historic’ it was called… GOD WAS ALWAYS THERE, as was OUR REDEEMER. (seen or unseen) and expressed in these biblical words:

    IN THE BEGINNING was THE WORD, and THE WORD was with God, and THE WORD was God. He was in the beginning with God; ALL THINGS WERE MADE through him, and without him was not anything made that was made (John 1:1-3). GOD INCARNATE… Incarnate being ’embodied in flesh.’

    THERE ARE NO GAPS… except as we, human, see only by natural eyes, only what is below. (earthly historical narratives without connecting all the words aka the dots to THE TRUTH: LIFE IS ETERNAL ‘WITH GOD.’

    As it was IN THE BEGINNING is now and will be LIFE WITHOUT END. ‘KEEP THE FAITH.’

  2. Mankind was given DOMINION over all the earth, because GOD was with them to guide His creation in the doing. There was a GO(O)D order… even if early mankind could not express the how’s and what for.

    The narrative continues that two because of free will ‘broke the good order’ (SIN) and THE DIVINE LIFE of man and God was broken. GOD, Father and Creator, God the Son, and God Holy Spirit (love aka GOD)

    A certain group would attempt to please God (later to be called the Judaic people. GOD was pleased with the effort . . . and so SENT THE WORD that there would come A MESSIAH, a Savior. Thus THE REDEEMER who ALWAYS WAS … came and was born ‘in flesh’ . . . in the person of Mary, who was first redeemed by being created PURE by GOD… ‘as it was in the beginning’ (God never created sin) Adam and Eve were ‘created’ by GOD … and thus CREATED in His spiritual image (sinless) UNITY ‘man and God’ . . . and Mary was the beginning again to this ONE, HOLY, APOSTOLIC ‘human and divine’ BODY of GOD . . . in human terms called the CHRISTian CHURCH. (sinless by the redeemer’s sanctifying grace called Sacrament)

    DEE-EEEEP stuff.

  3. Ancient ‘PRE-historic’ humanity ‘hunters and gatherers’ . . . had no formal education . . . but INTELLECT, which is part of the soul… guided these SOULS. They might not have been able to express it, but HOW do you think they ‘had thought’ to catch the fish in the stream and eat as food? Who told them? How did they understand the wild creatures of the land could be hunted, killed for food. (I’m sure there was a lot of trial and error not having formal education) Yes, it is all primitive living: BASIC and I’m sure such human nature did not have long lives. (relatively speaking) THE EARTH and HUMANITY would be raised up… SLOWLY
    to KNOWLEDGE, UNDERSTANDING, COUNSEL, and WISDOM of THE GOD. (in between, mankind made
    the sun god to explain that object that gave light, the fire god, that brought warmth and ability to cook raw
    food, the rain god that brought drink . . . even these basic primitive ideas speak OF ‘THE GOD’ helping them to consider the things around them. RAISING HUMAN NATURE up … was THE REDEEMER … basically.

    Man differs from the other wild creatures because of INTELLECT which comes from THE GOD who is ‘all knowing’ (Omniscient)

    We humans do nothing WITHOUT HIM. (that is called FAITH which God gave to all his creation, til ‘THE FALL OF MAN’ broke our link with His counsel. (all this understood in spirit truth)

    GOD provides FAITH… man hears with ‘soul’ (intellect) through the generations, the knowledge gets passed
    down one generation to the other … and the blessing of being ‘fruitful and multiplying’ . . . while pre-historic man (hu-man) died young… objectively ‘the kin’ was still there. LIFE ‘IN AND WITH GOD’ continued to evolve.

    GOD ALWAYS IS… all things exist BY GOD: Father, Creator (of soul), God Redeemer, God the Son, who guides the flesh, seen or unseen, and God, Holy Spirit who holds us together in SPIRIT TRUTH that FAITH understands as love. (ONE GOD, no gaps) ALL humanity ‘ONE BODY IN THIS TRIUNE GOD’ . . . by THE WORK OF THE SON who showed Himself ‘in flesh’ to ASSIST the FAITH.

    Don’t think to much about the how, JUST BELIEVE life is eternal and one day HE will explain all the details of what FAITH brings forth.

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