Peeking into Paradise – God’s Plan Pt II

Tony Aquilino

One of the most troubling reasons people give to deny the existence of God is “why does God let bad things happen to good people?” Why war? Why the Holocaust? Why cancer? Why abusive parents, teachers, preachers, cops, national leaders, and spouses? Why babies with massive birth defects?

My starting point to answer that question is the idea that God is not the kind of parent who believes in spoiling the child. Nor does God punish. God lets each of us work through the perils, pitfalls and blessings of our own life. God is an equal opportunity deity. The rich, beautiful, talented, athletic, well-born and perfect in every physical way among us have as many problems as the rest of us who are not rich, beautiful, endowed with genius intelligent quotients and maybe have a physical problem or two.

The reason the opportunities God provides everyone are misinterpreted, overlooked or ignored by most is simple. Each, whether benign or harsh, is an opportunity or option left for us to decide how to respond in order to become a good and decent person.
john aquilino and friends
The idea behind the above interpretation of God’s relation to human life isn’t new or unique. In fact, it begins with conception and birth. Life, every aspect from the time the fastest swimming sperm cell enters the egg to life’s last breath, is a crap shoot. We don’t know from one moment or one day to the next what’s in store for us to encounter and decide how to respond whether it will be something to be enjoyed, feared or conquered. There are no guarantees. No set of instructions on how to deal with each: birth, disease, the journey to adulthood, or death. What happens and how we deal with it is the measure of whom we are.

A gift from my son, Tommy, provides a decent starting point or background against what I’m about to try and say. It’s a very simple, short, clearly written and thought-provoking book by Sebastian Junger called “Tribe.”

Towards the latter third, Junger explains the difference between people who correctly understand the way we best fit into the universe and those who wander about in a state of self-absorbed idiocy. Somewhat counterintuitively, Junger uses the bonds formed by civilians and military enduring the real dangers of being in the midst of combat to illustrate the finer qualities of life.

He describes life during the London Blitz of World War II and the more recent genocidal Bosnian War. The daily reality of random death from a bomb or sniper’s bullet, the lack of safe shelter, sufficient food and water did not lead to cultural chaos. Depression and suicide were not the n norm for individuals. Looting, raping and thievery did not characterize societal behavior. Quite the opposite. The awful burden of war brought people together. They helped each other and shared what little they had. War, as horrific as it is, brought the values of tribe to the fore.
When peace and prosperity returned, society descended to the depths of depravity. People forgot the bond of the tribe and became self-absorbed, greed driven individuals. Depression and suicide rates rose. Those who lived through the war years yearned for the time when they laughed more and were their happiest.

Once done with his wartime examples, Junger’s prose slides onto the subject of “litter.” Those who toss a cigarette butt or candy wrapper or plastic water bottle to the ground are clueless about why we inhabit the earth. They think only of themselves. They have no connection with others, with humanity, with nature. Those who don’t ignore others or community or nature, who pick up the trash strewn about by others do connect. They understand that we are part of a “tribe” in the broadest sense of the term. They strive, without seeking honor or praise, to live as decent, caring humans…as God hoped we would.

Fishing

I don’t know what it is about bodies of water but I love them. I especially love rivers, bay and oceans. Saltwater being my favorite locale of all. It started off just being a place for fishing but it is also a place I talk to God every opportunity I get.

The Atlantic ocean off of Virginia Beach was probably the first place where the water was overwhelming. It is said you can drown in less than a foot of water but I am not afraid of drowning. My father and his brother in law, took me out when I was young on a rented 15-foot boat and a outboard motor to fish in Virginia Beach. Now that I am an adult I would never do that. That boat was too small. The fishing however was spectacular. It left an indelible mark on me where I wanted to fish ever since. I used to ride my bike to any creek or stream in the area that looked like it might have fish in it. I never caught anything during my high school era fishing this way. After I got a car I would drive fifty plus miles to reservoirs and rivers with the same bad luck. But I loved fishing still. After I got my first “good government job” I met some retirees that had been fishing together for twenty years with a charter boat captain our of Solomon’s Island, Maryland named Robbie. It changed my fishing status instantly. On this old 60 foot converted crabbing trolley we fished the Patuxent river and the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay with ridiculous success. After years of hitting and missing with fishing, for the first time I was catching fish by the buckets full. We were bottom fishing for spot, croaker, perch, flounder and the occasional sport fishes like trout, striped bass, bluefish and mackerel.

I was a supernumerary on the fishing party and became a full time member after the death of one of the regulars. The fishing crew consisted of five retired African Americans that worked in the intelligence fields during the early years. They had stories of surviving Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era and filled me in on parts of history that escaped most books. I used the time onboard to learn, listen and pray. I found a peace onboard the boat that was unlike anything I had had before except maybe on my motorcycle. On back of the boat, or aft, with my back to the conversations about jazz music, the blues, and current events I faced the shore or open water. There I saw where the horizon touched the sky. Where clouds hung so low you could touch them in your mind. I watched sea birds like the osprey and eagle hunt and effortless sail across the clear blue canvas of sky.

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 4:11

It is easy to pray here. There is a droning sound of a diesel as the boat moves from position to position. The charter captain spoiled us with knowing from data points favorite feeding grounds of the fish we are after. On more than one occasion he admonished me to get my hook in the water while I was marveling at Gods handiwork.

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Psalm 19:1

In 2014, I lost the last of my five fishing partners. The original member that invited me went home to be with the Lord. The captain himself is fighting illness. Now I am the old guy, and I hope to keep the traditional alive by getting some new anglers to go with me regularly, once a month from June till September to fish, pray and enjoy the beauty of God.

One of the few reasons I don’t move away from this high traffic and taxing, cosmopolitan area is that not too far away are places like this where I can pray, praise and fish.

Now I prefer saltwater fishing to freshwater. I prefer being on a beach surfcasting, or on a boat in waters too deep to reach from casting from shore. I plan to get some video footage and preach from these spots this year, Lord willing. I am hoping you will join me. If you like fishing, I would love to get the invite to fish with you. Jesus likes fisherman, you know?

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. – Matthew 4:18-22