Tag Archives: Theology

I Want to See Jesus – Part 1

If we are honest with ourselves, it is a complaint that is often on our hearts: Jesus, if you exist, let me see you.  We are creatures of the senses.  We salivate with delight at the smell of fresh turkey roasting in the oven.  Our being wants to burst with solemnity when we hear a beautiful piece of music.  To be simply touched by someone we love stirs in us a veritable cornucopia of emotions, sentiments, thoughts, desires, etc.  The first sip and scent of a full bodied St Bernardus Abt 12 will sometimes immediately give us a foretaste of heavenly realities with the faint voice of angelic chanting in the background.  The senses are essential to being human, and we are right to emphasize their importance in our lives.

Yet they seem to be a hindrance to our life of faith.  The Father is invisible.  Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father.  The Spirit is among us, but we do not see Him either.  The angels themselves, too, are invisible since they are without bodies.  All that we are told is real cannot be apprehended through our senses.  Thus we believe faith is in some great unknown, we believe it is present to us, but we have never truly experienced it, we simply trust that this invisible and insensible reality is there and attempt to act on the probability that this reality actually exists.  In the end, we customarily see that faith is in something unobservable and thus, thanks to the Kantian overtones of our contemporary world, irrational.  Our hearts cry out to see God, but, deep down, we find Him to be absent, unobservable, and thus unreal.  The desire to see, experience, hear, and encounter God seems to run up against our day to day experience and life.  And we are more apt to trust our senses than some pie in the sky idea like God.  So we go to Church, we say devotions, but, in the end, we don’t truly believe in the reality of God.  Many of us, in the end, are practical atheists.

Yet, there is hope!  If God is real, if we have a desire to see this reality, and, finally, if God created us, then it must mean that if He is real, there must be a way to see Him, for, if our understanding of God is true, then He the desire to see him must be given to us by Him to be truly fulfilled in our lives.  How, then, do we overcome this modern view of faith as something in the invisible and, therefore, unreal?  How is it that God is able to be seen and experienced if He is non-corporeal?  The contemporary demand to see God is one that screams forth from the depths of our being, and thus must be answered in a convincing manner.

The first element that must be proposed – for it is the total basis for everything else we are to say on the matter – is the reality of God’s interaction with the world.  When one studies the Old Testament, especially the Pentateuch, one is able to observe the sensible way God manifests Himself to the people of Israel.  He is manifested through a pillar of fire, the wind, lightning and thunder, booming trumpets, etc.  Even the word for God’s glory – kabod – has a sense that God is sensible: His glory has weight, measure, dimension, visibleness.  The glory of God, the manifestness of God, the visibleness and sensibleness of God culminates when He sends His Son into the world.  Jesus Christ is the Image and Face of the Father.  He who sees Jesus sees the Father.  We have seen His glory (cf: Jn 1:14).  The first letter of John makes this abundantly clear: what we have seen, what we have touched, what we have witnessed, etc.  There is an emphasis that God has manifested Himself fully to us in the Person of His Son, and that we know this through our sensible encounter with Him.  In fact, all of Scripture is a witness to the historical fact that God has manifested Himself through the created realm and that, in fact, the created realm is made for God for when God comes, He does no act of violence over the world, but instead is the One in whom the whole natural realm is fulfilled.  In short: creation is good and God uses it to encounter us, for we are creatures with soul and body and thus, in order to know the truth of things, we must observe it through the sensibleness of our bodies.

“This is all well and good, but that is in the past.  My question still remains: how do I see God now?  Why doesn’t He manifest Himself like He once did?  Jesus may have been visible to his disciples, but if He exists, why doesn’t He make Himself present to us now?”  Thus sayeth the objector.  And it is a strong objection, one we all struggle to give an answer to, because, as we stated at the beginning, a part of us finds such a point to not only be valid, but true.

Having heard the objection and seeing the persuasiveness about it, it is time to begin (and we will continue to investigate this in a future post) our understanding of what faith is.  In order for faith to be in something real and is the response of one’s whole being to a Person Who is real and alive in our lives, we must first shake off the Kantian lens by which we approach the world, for God can only be encountered when we first and foremost understand the sacramental structure of reality, a structure that, when we apply our minds to daily experience, we see to be true and correct.

The first act of developing a new optics, a new vision of the world, is to ask yourself the question: what happens when I see a thing.  If I were to ask any contemporary person “what is a tree”, they would almost instinctively say that a tree is a wooded structure with leaves, bark, that grows vertically, etc.  They would not be entirely wrong in such a description, for these are all aspects of a tree.  But a tree need not be growing, it need not have leaves, etc.  A descriptive view of the tree is insufficient.  Furthermore, each aspect does not account for the totality of the tree itself.  The tree is not its wood – despite the fact that woodiness is so very essential to a tree being a tree.  Nor is the tree its branches, its leaves, its height, depth, weight, etc.  When it comes down to it, we discover that descriptive definitions are good and true, but they are insufficient for accounting for the total reality of the thing.  A tree is more than its branches, leaves, weight, height, etc.  In the end, the sum is always greater than the total of its parts.  Our experience affirms this and, when given sufficient thought, we know this to be true as well: the totality of the thing we call “tree” is greater than all its aspects combined.

The next question then arises: how do we define the nature of a thing?  If it is not descriptive, then what means do we have for defining the nature of a tree when we are so asked to define it?  This we shall answer in our next post in the following day or two.  You may think me crazy for asking such blatantly philosophical questions; what has Athens to do with Jerusalem anyways?  But these are very important for answering that desire of our heart to see Jesus.  The method to my madness is simple: if God has taken on our humanity, He has also taken on the totality of creation to dwell in the infinite exchange of love that is Trinitarian life.  Thus, in order to ascend to the heights of God’s life, we must start from the bottom wrung of the latter of divine ascent.  We must ask these fundamental questions because it is only by answering them that we will see not only that the created realm is made for God Himself, but that the Catholic vision of things will open us up to really see God, to taste, touch, and hear Him.  But this is only possible if we understand the fundamental way we relate to the world and that all things, ultimately, are signs and that we see the world in a mediated way.  All this is important and, when properly unpacked, can help us answer the desirous cry of our heart: “I want to see Jesus!”.

in Christ

-Harrison

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I Don’t Believe in God Either – Part II

Well, I must admit: I am a little overwhelmed by the sudden overflow of traffic to my post “I Don’t Believe in God Either“.  It brought a lot of comments, as I expected, because a 1000 word post is insufficient to deal with such a large topic with all the necessary nuances needed.  I would like to engage with some of the comments on the blog and on Facebook so as to further engage and continue the conversation.

The first is the misrepresentation of my appeal to Pascal.  I appealed to him as a sort of “rebuff” to dilettantism: the idea that “you have to try everything once.”  First, I don’t agree with dilettantism: it has all sorts of internal inconsistencies both logically and ethically.  All I was doing in appealing to Pascal was his idea of “living as if God existed” as important for the dilettante to take seriously if they are going to live by such a standard.  I agree with one friend – to an extent – that Pascal ought not to be used apologetically for the existence of God. I would put forth, however, that Pascal has been grossly misrepresented in his wager as being an argument purely for the assent of the mind.  If one wants a strong critique of that interpretation, read Blondel’s “L’Action”.

In reference to Tom’s comment, I would put forth that really this is a misunderstanding of what I was putting forth.  He is treating the transcendental as part of this world alone still.  I am arguing differently: man’s experience of the transcendent is one aspect, but my argument is that God is not only experienced as transcendent, but that He is, by nature, transcendent to ALL nature.  This is not the nature of the Norse gods or the Flying Spaghetti Monster: their natures are by definition non-transcendent to the natural realm.  By definition the Norse gods etc do not fulfill the demands of the experience of transcendence.  Here is a diagram to emphasize my point:

Tom’s version of reality could be described as this:

________________________

Transcendental Being(s)  \
|                                          \ -> The one reality
\/                                       /
The universe                        /

 

OR another way:

God->Universe->Human Beings

My claim:

God (Total Transcendence)

_____________________________  > Infinite gulf between God and created realm

{The created realm (including angels, demons, etc. according to a Catholic cosmology).}

 

In short, for Thor to be Thor, he cannot be equated to the God of Christianity.  By definition the transcendence is of an infinite stature.  It is also, by virtue of the utter transcendence that God can be entirely present to the world He created: because He is completely Other and completely Greater.  He cannot do this if He is equated to the gods of Norse Mythology.  We are talking about two different orders.  The categories used by the former diagram are the god that I don’t believe in either.  But the issue of my article – and this is where I find that it was either ignored or that I, at least, didn’t make myself sufficiently clear – is that the Norse gods cannot be equated to the transcendent mystery of Christian theism.  If an atheist is attempting to debunk the very mystery of the Christian God, they need to start speaking the theistic terms that we are speaking, but they are consistently being ignored.  This is why the discussion is always at a stop: we are speaking of two entirely different realities.  Until the atheist is willing to speak of the realm of completely other, there is no discussion happening.  In short: what I wrote was not a polemic against atheists, but an invitation to dialogue about the reality as it is believed by Christians and other theists.  People like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. are attacking a straw man: the god that they define is not the God of Christianity (or Israel: Islam, it is a little different).  Until they are willing to accept the Christian claim as it stands for the Christian, then no conversation will actually happen.  I cannot remember where I read it, but I recall Hitchens once saying that the problem of transcendence is the greatest issue for the atheist to reconcile with his position.

This brings me to another comment on the blog found here.  I would first like to say that to an extent, every debate will have an “us vs. them” mentality.  I have one position, another side has another position.  By the fact of the nature of dialogue and debate, polemics are a necessary element.  It is not necessarily to be taken as an all out war, but we must acknowledge that for debate/dialogue to occur, we must necessarily have differing positions.  And again, I do not find the claim that an atheist ought to take a life of theism seriously to be  unrealistic if they are of the opinion that “you need to try something before you decide for or against it.”  If they don’t hold that position about life, then yes, we ought to be going another direction.  It is simply a statement, as I said above, that there is an inconsistency that I find disconcerting.  If you expect something of others, you ought to live it yourself.

This brings me to my final point with regards to this.  I did not write the article as an apologetic against the atheist, nor did I write it as an argument for theism.  I wrote it simply as an appeal to dialogue: an appeal to the clarification of terms which I find so very lacking in the discussion/debate of God’s existence.  I actually do not think that logical argumentation is the absolute way to go for a variety of reasons.  Ultimately, for the Christian, joy and holiness are the ultimate apologetic for the existence of God and the saving power of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is there that Christians should be beginning.  The initial post was simply to be a reflection on what I found lacking in the discussion about God between theists and atheists.  However, I must admit, it has spurred me on to want to write more articles about it as a series.  That way I can have the nuances I need.  I especially desire to speak about this in regards to Pascal’s Wager.  Though it ought not to be, per se, used as an apologetic, I think it is far too often misunderstood in the contemporary discussions.  I think Pascal is offering something far more challenging than what is presented in most intro to Philosophy classes, or most people’s interpretations of it.  So keep your eyes open.

in Christ

-Harrison

 

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The Cloud of the Ascension

As I have been reflecting on the readings for this Sunday, something suddenly burst forth in my mind when I read the following passage from the Acts of the Apostles:

When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

I don’t know about you, but I know that when I have read this in the past, I have always thought of some white fluffy cloud either taking Jesus out of sight, or Jesus being lifted up on some fluffy cloud.  Don’t ask me why, but I think part of it is because we only tend to think of clouds that way.  So, when we see the word, we immediately associate that concept of the cloud to the passage.

Yet, what hit me was that, perhaps my concept of cloud is not what is meant in this passage.  You see, the image of the cloud has a rich history both in the Old Testament and in the Gospels.  This site has a good overview of the various passages in Scripture that use the image of the cloud.

The images that use a cloud, however, that were most prominent in my mind were the image of the cloud that descended on Mt Sinai and the Mount of the Transfiguration.  In Exodus 19:19, the Lord God says to Moses that he will descend upon him in a thick cloud.  In Luke’s Gospel, we find that a cloud overshadowed Jesus and the disciples, with a voice speaking from the midst of the cloud “this is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”

Thus, when I heard the reading from Acts, it dawned upon me that the cloud by which Jesus disappears is not a cloud as we understand it.  It is the cloud of the presence of God: the Father has come to bring the Son back to His rightful place in Heaven.

The descent of the cloud is a sign of the presence of God.  It is a mysterious cloud.  Many Church Fathers see the cloud, for example, as the mysterious presence of God, a presence that creates a darkness in the minds, for we are unable to comprehend God.  It is a sign of God, too, enacting a new promise with His chosen people.

The cloud “took Jesus from their sight”.  It does say that Jesus was taken up, and we do call it the Ascension.  Yet we cannot look at it in spatial terms.  We must look, rather, at the Ascension as Jesus’ ascent to His throne in Heaven, which is not a spatial event, but rather relational and greater than the three dimensional world we live in.  Jesus was taken from the sight of the disciples in the clouds.  What was clear has now passed over into the liturgical, scriptural, and sacramental life of the Church (what St Leo the Great calls the Mysteries).  Jesus is removed from our sight, but not from our hearts.  What was seen, is now seen by faith.  What was known through the senses is now known by the soul.  What was heard from the lips of Jesus now comes to us through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church.  The cloud darkens the heart because it is lifting the heart of the disciples into a more intense, more intimate relationship with the Lord, a relationship that is realized at Pentacost.  The darkness of the cloud is really the light of faith acting in our lives.

When you then begin to think about it, you begin to realize that the darkness that is experienced in faith (not the darkness of suffering, but the darkness of insight, the darkness of not being able to grasp God and His inner life) is really only the start of the spiritual life.  Just as the disciples receive this darkness just prior to their mission of preaching, so we as disciples of Jesus, through the darkness of not seeing Jesus in our prayer, in our inability to grasp God despite our intense desire to do so is not an abomination of faith, but rather the fulfillment of faith.  We see that we are not on the wrong path, but on the right path, because we become purified, like the disciples.  Just as they mistakingly looked up and were corrected by the angels, so too does God correct us in our darkness about our desire to grasp Him.  Our darkness reminds us that we are unable to grasp God, and once we accept that in our lives we are able to receive the Holy Spirit fully in our hearts, thus being able to be moved to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world.

As we can see, the event of the Ascension is very important to us as Christians.

in Christ

-Harrison

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