Geoffrey’s recent posts on the nature of God, and our several reflections on heaven and hell and love, prompt some further thoughts on what can be known about the ineffable – that is God and his nature.
We have to begin by acknowledging that the moment we think we have captured that nature, whatever it is we have captured is not God; St Paul was right about seeing through a glass darkly. But from Scripture, and most of all from the self-revelation we get through the Incarnation, we can put together some thoughts.
Every now and then someone on a newspaper blog or an Internet site will weigh in with the ‘your God is a monster’ assertion. This will be followed by various Old Testament verses designed to show God is a vengeful tribal god who wants his enemies slaughtered and who rewards his people with victory and spoil. It must be admitted that there are times when some of the OT writers seem to have seen him as such – but the record does not suggest that that is what he is – the fate of the Jews, and indeed of the Christians over the centuries does not suggest a one on one correlation between believing in God and prosperity.
There are certainly Christians who will advance the idea that since God can punish us, we should worship him – a form of preemptive cringe. But there is no sign that that is what God wants from us, and if he did, it becomes impossible to imagine why he should have sent Christ into the world as he did; it becomes equally difficult to account for Christ’s mission if fear were sufficient to win us for God.
In all of this there is something about the individual reading of Scripture which is off-kilter. It is almost possible to understand why, in the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, catechumens were not allowed to read the Sacred Texts. This was not, as some people would have it, because priests were trying to keep knowledge from the people, but rather the result of the belief that, read without proper catechesis, people would misunderstand what they were reading;it is hard in the age of the Internet not to thik they had a point.
The Old Testament must be read in the light of the New Testament. If we take it purely in its own terms, we read it as faithful Jews might. But we are not devotees of Judaism, we are Christians and, oddly enough, we are able to distinguish between what the Jews of old believed about God with the self-revelation offered in the NT. So, whilst it was natural for those Jews to see the Father as a vengeful tribal God, that reflected their own limitations, not those of God. Only in the Christian revelation do we see something more of His True Nature.
Christ did not save us by coming in Power and smiting His enemies, but by being the suffering servant who took on Himself our sins. That is the Christian God, and that is why we believe in Him, love Him, and worship Him.