“The Spirit of truth…will guide you to all truth. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason, I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” John 16, 12-15
I find the selection of readings for today fascinating and challenging at the same time. While we human beings all know and accept that we will never depth the mystery of who God is, our lived experience reveals that we look for answers to everything that we don’t understand. We accept in faith that God is personal and free, yet we continue to grapple with the notion of God as Trinity - Father Son and Spirit. Our best efforts to understand God as such lead us to the conclusion that God is relational. The earliest chapters of Genesis assure us that we are made in the image of that God - free, good and loving, and that last quality means that we are made for love. And loving cannot occur unless we are relational.
Over the centuries, human beings have come to see themselves at the top of the evolutionary tree, because of their ability to think, reason and reflect on themselves thinking and reasoning. Genesis affirmed us in our self-importance: “God said: Let us make man (sic) in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild animals and the creatures that creep along the ground. God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1, 26-27).
Many years ago, in what seems like another life-time, my hesitant excursions into philosophy revealed something of humankind’s delusions of grandeur. Kant reinforced these delusions by suggestions that we created reality for ourselves with our minds and then proceeded to make rules about what is good and what is evil. Earlier, the French philosopher, Descartes, confidently posited the belief that human beings were the centre of the universe, and, as such, were the source of all that was subsequently worthwhile: “I think, therefore I am”, he stated, without qualification.
Just a passing reflection on our contemporary world uncovers the prevalence of individualism and self-interest. Uppermost in the thinking of many are “my rights, my possessions, my personal fulfilment, my opinions, my self-care, my needs and the like”. The ego is king. And the competition between egos and challenges to self-interest, led Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) to declare: “Hell is other people.” While there might be times when we are inclined to agree with him, the very notion of God as Trinity proclaims that love is born of God, of the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit. And, remember, we are made in God’s image, made to relate and to love. In our love for one another, we mirror the love that exists in the Trinity, and we know that we can relate back to God in love. We know and experience intimacy with those we love, and in that way, too, we reflect something of the intimacy of God’s love for us.
Today’s first reading from Proverbs presents us with a poetic, female personification of God’s wisdom. Depending on how one translates the Greek, Wisdom is presented as either a foreman or master-craftsman standing beside God and assisting with the work of creation. Alternatively, the Greek word for God’s assistant can be translated as “nursling” or “little child”. This interpretation fits more comfortably with the birth imagery surrounding it. So, rather than God’s being assisted by someone with tools of trade, God is accompanied by little Wisdom, held by one hand and, with the other, getting on with the work of creation. The reading goes on to say that Wisdom’s delight is in humanity. Is this not another way of saying that God’s way of being in the world is marked by delight and play? Underneath all this is an image of God nursing all of creation, including humanity (“the sons of men”). That’s a long way from the traditional image of God as a decrepit, bearded, passionless patriarch.
Psalm 8, which follows, is a hymn of praise for creation and its creator God. In recent weeks we have been treated to breath-taking pictures of the “black hole”. In advance of those photographs, NASA scientists reported that they had detected gravitational waves emanating from the collision of two black holes, which created such forces of gravity that even light could not escape. That discovery was the result of collaborative research by scientists across a hundred years, triggered by Einstein (1879-1955) and his theories. Mathematical genius though he was, Einstein’s wisdom and sensitivity were such that he once stated: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”
While the writer of Psalm 8 celebrates creation and its creator, whose hands made the moon and stars and whose glory is even “above the heavens”, he proceeds to marvel at the role human beings have in creation: “You have made them a little lower than God.” To that status is attached the responsibility of stewardship.
Paralleling Einstein, contemporary theologians and cosmologists point out that the marvel of the universe is not how the earth is, but that it is. The persistent, patient, rigorous and collaborative manner in which mathematicians and physicists have explored both the world and the universe continues to be a truly admirable way of celebrating those realities. In their own way, these scientists, consciously or not, truly affirm the psalmist’s words: “O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”
In today’s second reading from Romans, we hear how Paul called his community to have confidence in an outcome they could not see. He wrote: “It is through Jesus Christ, by faith, that we have been admitted into God’s favour, in which we are living, and look forward boastfully to God’s glory” (Romans 5, 2). I don’t know what the Romans thought of boasting, but what Paul wrote sounds a little like counting one’s chickens before they’re hatched. Yet, he is adamant that that those who place their faith and hope in God are assured of the outcome he describes. We tend to believe that boasting and over-confidence are indications of an impending fall from grace. But, according to Paul, Christians need to base their boasting not on their own achievements but on God’s. In Paul’s view, the resurrection of Jesus provides all the confidence Christians require.
Paul adds that this brand of faith and hope is produced through the sufferings we endure, and the character-building they produce. In Jesus Christ, God has given us every reason for confidence. The former President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel put it this way: “Hope is an orientation of the spirit...It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” It comes from knowing that even though we have the responsibility of “calling the shots”, ultimately it is with God’s help that we make them.