What God is as great as our God?
Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday). Fr Brendan Slevin preaches on the illumination of the mystery of God.
Within each of us there is a longing which draws us beyond ourselves. We reach out to something that calls on us. There is a sense of belonging to something that is greater, something or someone which gives our lives meaning.
In our feeble attempts to identify what it is we crave to belong to we call it God, Jehovah, Allah, Yahweh. We believe that this Divine being created us for a purpose and in some way we are a reflection or image of the Divine. This God is our God and we are his people. We believe in this One God, the Creator of all that is good.
We are fortunate that we have sacred writings, Scriptures, which unfold for us some of the mystery of this God of ours. They tell us something of the relationship between our God and his people. The Scriptures are an indispensable part of our coming to know God.
But these holy books are not simple histories that can be read and understood as we would read the Fall and Rise of the Roman Empire. Mystery is not something that can be made simple; it is not something that can truly be comprehended. And here is where our search for the unknowable God, which we believe in, runs into difficulty.
There is a danger in reading Scripture in a literalistic way that was never intended. The very fact that these holy books were written at a certain point in time places them within a different era of thought than our own. The easiest way to read Scripture is the fundamentalist approach.
I say this approach is easy because it is the unthinking approach to Scripture. It is also the safe way to read Scripture because we thereby limit the mystery of God to something we can comprehend. We confine the infinite within the limitations of the books we hold as holy. But the God we find is a God created in our image, not the God who is, was and will be.
In today’s passage from the Gospel of John we come across a fascinating encounter between two teachers; or at least we come across the end of that encounter. In the preceding verses we eavesdrop on a private conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus.
In the darkness Nicodemus longs to understand what is behind the miracles that Jesus has worked. The darkness hides their conversation from those who would not understand. As a leading Pharisee it would be unwise for him to be seen with Jesus but as a searcher for the truth he takes this risk.
Jesus tries to explain to him the mystery as one teacher to another, but Nicodemus cannot fathom the secrets known only to him who has descended from above. How can he possibly understand that which is not of this world unless be believes in the testimony of the One who does know?
In what follows Jesus contrasts life and light with darkness and evil. It is in the darkness that two men meet but it is in the search for enlightenment that Nicodemus has come. It is by being enlightened by God that we are raised up beyond the confines of our mortal state. It is only then that we can emerge from the darkness of ignorance and the hidden recesses of our lives where evil abounds.
The path we tread leads us from darkness to light, from evil and death to life. It leads us to a knowledge of the God who created us and raises us up from this life to the endless life.
But with this growing knowledge of God comes a growing self-awareness. This is the pain of rebirth as we allow ourselves to be transformed by God. This is the difficult road we are on, the road of uncertainty in the present.
This is the struggle between understanding the God in whose image we are created rather than confining God to the image we want to have of God. It is the difference between the God of the fundamentalist reduced to pages of a Sacred text and the God who raises us up beyond what our eyes can see and our ears can hear.
As we read through the passage from 2 Chronicles, many images may come into our minds in these days. But beware of taking the easy path. For God to be our God, we must first let God be God. Only then can we dare invoke his name and open ourselves up to his merciful judgement