And Jesus said, “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”- Luke 18:7-8
I want to start with Boethius. No, it’s not a name of a teenager in the streets. He was a philosopher from the sixth century. I always begin my reflection with an encounter in the streets. Today, I want to take a step back. I am going to someone furthest away from our reality. Boethius is from a time and culture completely different from our reality. Yet, I believe that he has something relevant to say to us and even our children living in the streets.
I encountered Boethius for first time in his book, the Consolation of Philosophy. It was an involuntary introduction. It was required reading for Medieval Philosophy. Recently, I had a reunion with him. I purchased his book again. It wasn’t for any particular reason except for the fact that it was on sale. Capitalism helped me revisit Boethius and I am glad for it.
The book is not an academic treatise on philosophy. It is a reflection of a man who was faced with an uncertain future. It was a question of life and death. He was imprisoned unjustly and his fate depended on the whims of an unreliable and corrupt king. His life until this point had been quite stable and prosperous and now everything dissipated with the looming possibility of a painful and humiliating death. Boethius needed to find solace in this chaos. This book is the result. Strangely, as I was reading the parable of the unjust judge quoted above, this book came to my mind. Jesus said that God answered prayers swiftly. God answered Boethius’ prayer for justice swiftly but in the way many would not have hoped.
Boethius was trying to understand the question of evil and good, God’s timing and his timing, fate and destiny, and why bad things happen to good people. Questions that drown our hearts and minds when we are faced with an existential crisis. He did not resort to simple religious formulas. He faced difficult issues boldly. He was persistent to discover the Truth or God’s justice in this case, just like the old woman in the parable when she confronted the unjust judge. Perhaps, the major difference was that Boethius did not believe that he had to keeping insisting on an answer. He wasn’t questioning a corrupt judge. He was having a dialogue with Lady Wisdom. He was confident that he would receive the answers at the right time. He did and perhaps they helped to face his imminent death with tranquility.
Boethius was executed immediately after the completion of this work. His death was slow and painful. Many would say that he never received the swift justice that Jesus promised in the quote above. However, we need faith to understand God’s justice. For many in the world, God was silent in Boethius’ case. It is because they have a concept of justice which is superficial and worldly. Boethius has been gone for more than thousand years and yet he is remembered. His greatest work was the one he produced in the last moments of his life. The people who played a role in this unjust trial are nothing but names today. No one remembers them. Their lives have no influence today. Boethius, on the other, still speaks to us today. A boy in the streets once asked us about life and death and suffering. I remember talking about Boethius and his concept of eternity. What he had to say about the subject were simple but it’s profundity is still discussed today. The young man I spoke to was able to grasp what I shared about eternity. It brought it some comfort to his soul. He had just a lost a dear friend when he asked this question.
The most powerful words of the parable from Luke are the final ones. Jesus ended the parable with a question; will the Son of Man find faith in this world when He returns? I have heard and read this parable since I was a young lad. I had always focused on the judge. I missed the point. I confused God with the judge. I thought that it was necessary to keep insisting with God until He gave in and answered my prayers. I am not alone in this. There are churches that have built their theology of prayer based on this. We treat God as if he is an unreasonable bureaucrat who will only answer our request when we dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Jesus was representing a different picture. He was teaching via negativa. God is nothing like the judge or us for that matter.
This is more consistent with the other teachings on prayers;
“..your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”-Matthew 6:8
On one occasion, Jesus taught;
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”- Luke 11:11-16
If anything, Jesus reveals to us that we do not need to twist God’s arm to attend to our prayers. He is always willing and swift to answer our prayers. The problem lies not in God but whether we are able to discern God’s response. Sometimes we ask the wrong things from God and we don’t get the answer we want. Job wanted God to give him a satisfactory answer to the perennial question,“why do bad things happen to good people?” The story ends with a different answer, one more pertinent to the nature of God. We often ask God for something contrary to His nature and we don’t get an answer.
Our children in the streets beg all the time. In theory, they beg because they need money for food but in reality, they want to buy drugs. They can get food for free whereas drugs cost money. They never beg from us. Even if they do, it is usually done in jest. They know our answer. They know that we know how they use their money. Most importantly, they know that we have a different kind of relationship. Occasionally, a new arrival to the streets will ask us for some spare change. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that they will receive nothing from us in terms of money. Some will close themselves to us and our relationship will end there and then. There are others that will figure out that our refusal to succumb to their pecuniary demands is due to the fact that we are willing to offer something more valuable and enduring. If they are willing to wait around and get to know us, they will discover what we want to give to them.
Boethius wrote the Consolation of Philosophy when he knew that he could be facing a slow torturous death. I am sure that he prayed for justice. God answered his prayer. He did not allow Boethius’ enemies get what they wanted. They wanted the memory of his life to be completely erased. Instead, his imprisonment contributed to his name being remembered till today. Our fears are mostly based on being forgotten. The greatest injustice is being treated as if one does not exist. We don’t want to be forgotten and considered irrelevant. Sickness and death are the inevitable things in life that threaten our very existence. Most of our desperate prayers stem out of these situations. The widow in the parable refused to be forgotten and the corrupt judge conceded to her pleas. God is nothing like the unjust judge. He does not forget us. The problem is whether we trust Him enough to know that He will remember us.
The parable tells us that the woman got what she wanted because she was willing to wait. In our relationship with God, we don’t have to convince God to do what is just. We just have to wait. Waiting is trusting. We don’t wait for justice because of the eloquence of our prayers. We wait for justice because our God is a good God. However, God’s justice is not to be confused with giving us what we want. His justice is giving what is really and truly important to us.
Justice was given to Boethius even though he died. The world would say that he had based on his life on a false hope. They have eyes but they do not see and ears but they do not hear. They think of justice purely on materialistic principles. Our faith should help us to understand reality in terms of eternity. It is something that only could be understood by faith. It is no wonder that the major truss of the Consolation of Philosophy is on the concept of eternity. God answers our prayers swiftly. The response is understood in terms of eternity. We need faith to see this. This why Jesus asked the question, will He find faith on earth when He returns?