Monday, November 29, 2010

A God Who Stacks the Deck in the Direction of Salvation

Up until the latter half of the last century, Christian spirituality and theology for centuries had a tendency to make a strict separation between the "natural" world and the "supernatural." The natural world was the fallen realm, largely "alienated" from God's solicitude and totally dependent on God's merciful, "external" outreach for any hope of realizing good or being saved. The supernatural world was the locus of God's presence and "storehouse" of God's grace that God would dispense upon creation "from above." This view of "natural" versus "supernatural" made it at times seem that the "deck" was stacked in the direction of the world largely being destined for God's wrath and judgment!

The last sixty years or so have brought a tremendous change and transformation in this regard. One example of this is the pervasive influence of the theology of the Catholic Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner. His name and theology can be found in nearly every introductory or serious book on Catholic theology. His take on the world, and especially the human person, began fueling a much different idea concerning how God "stacks the deck."

According to Rahner, the human person is "spirit in the world" and "hearer of the word." What this means is that God fashioned humanity in such a way that the human spirit would be "at home" in the natural world and that true spirituality can only be formed in and through a dynamic and integral relationship to this world. Additionally, humans are by nature open and receptive to receiving communication from others, and, above all, from God. This makes humans, "hearers of the word" at the ground and core of truly human being. By describing humans as "spirit in the world" and "hearers of the word", Rahner was indicating that authentic human being is also human becoming - meaning, persons are intended to constantly grow in their spirituality and their ability to receive and respond to God's self-communication. The height of this process of growth of the entire human family is reached in and through the Incarnation of God's word in the person of Jesus Christ. In and through the life of Jesus, human spirituality reaches it's summit and the human capacity for hearing the word reaches fullness of comprehension and acceptance. What is the message from God received by Christ and communicated through him as unparalleled Good News?

The very basic message sent to us by God in Jesus is that God is fully with us and fully for us. There are no heights nor depths that we can go to that God will not be there in order to speak a word of presence, participation, transformation, and salvation. In today's Gospel from Mass, Jesus tells his disciples that, "many will come from the east and west and recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph at the banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven." Rahner's profound insights into the human condition and this Gospel teaching witness to the definitive truth that our God is a God who "stacks the deck" in the direction of salvation. Pat, TOR