Faith’s new way of seeing things is centered on Christ. Faith in Christ brings salvation because in him our lives become radically open to a love that precedes us, a love that transforms us from within, acting in us and through us. This is clearly seen in Saint Paul’s exegesis of a text from Deuteronomy, an exegesis consonant with the heart of the Old Testament message. Moses tells the people that God’s command is neither too high nor too far away. There is no need to say: "Who will go up for us to heaven and bring it to us?" or "Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us?" (Dt 30:11-14).
Paul interprets this nearness of God’s word in terms of Christ’s presence in the Christian. "Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)" (Rom 10:6-7). Christ came down to earth and rose from the dead; by his incarnation and resurrection, the Son of God embraced the whole of human life and history, and now dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Faith knows that God has drawn close to us, that Christ has been given to us as a great gift which inwardly transforms us, dwells within us and thus bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and the end of life.
Lumen Fidei 20
Reflection – One of my favorite new authors, Heather King, wrote that it is precisely this which drew her to Christianity after a long time journeying in the wilderness of alcoholism and despair. Namely, that the Christian God had drawn that close to humanity, had come down to us, had met us where we are. She writes in her memoir Redeemed that by the time she came to know her need for some kind of faith in her life, nothing less would have done for her. God had to know what it was like to be brought as low as she had been brought right then.
This is genuinely the unique quality of Christianity. God as understood in both Judaism and Islam is indeed a God of love and mercy, and I firmly believe we all worship the same God, but in their understanding He certainly did not come to share our human lot with all its genuine poverty, suffering, lowliness.
This is specifically Christian, this idea of the God become man for love of us, to raise us up to His divine state. If it is true, it changes everything, doesn’t it? That’s what the Pope means here by faith giving us an entirely new way of seeing things. God is just not ‘up there’ in some distant divine realm to which we must labor and struggle somehow. God is not even just pouring down graces upon us from that divine realm like some fairy godfather giving magic beans or cups or cloaks to his charges that will get them through our quest.
God came down—this is the central and fundamental proclamation of Christianity—and shouldered the burden of humanity upon his own divinity.
God sweated in the heat and shivered in the cold of the night. God wept, and laughed too. God bled, and when he stubbed his toe, it hurt. God was surprised (a most novel experience if you’re God, I guess!), and upset, and angry, and sad, and amused. Not one of these things is proper to the divine nature; all of this flows from humanity, from finitude, from the physical and temporal limitations and conditions of a spiritual being living a material life.
And of course, God died, and it was all for love of us, and God’s love for us is so strong that it proves itself to be stronger than death, so He rose from the dead, and because of that you and I and every other human being we can mention has a hope of defeating death and escaping the trap of futility and defeat.
We need to meditate long and hard on this essential Christian proclamation. It does factually change everything: our sense of who God is, what a human being is, what life is about, the whole calculus of risks and benefits, our whole sorting out of how we are to live and move in the world. As the Misfit, the depraved serial killer in Flannery O’Connor’s story A Good Man is Hard to Find, put it (I quote from memory, and thus badly), “He shouldn’t have done it. He upset the balance. If it’s true, there’s nothing to do but leave everything and follow Him. If it ain’t true, there’s nothing to do but get whatever fun you can killing people.”
Except for the killing people part, I wholly endorse that statement. And (ahem) I do believe it to be true, and God-help-me am trying each day to leave everything to follow Jesus. It’s such a wonderful religion! It’s such a wonderful life! Believing this does change everything. Faith is an extraordinary thing, like having the lights of the universe all turned on at once—a bit dazzling, but oh what a view!
Well, that’s quite enough for one day. I’m heading into Ottawa today for a book launch for I-Choice, so prayers are gratefully received for that (and attendance, if you’re in the Ottawa area). Blessings to you all, meantime.