Friday, December 10, 2010

God's Hymn for the Universe

Sometimes it may seem like the God who is portrayed in the Old Testament is radically different than the God of Jesus Christ. For instance, how can we reconcile the inspired words of the Prophet Isaiah from today's first reading from Mass, "If you would hearken to my commandments,
 your prosperity would be like a river" (Isaiah 48:18) with Jesus' teaching that we are called to deny ourselves and take up the cross? Some Christian communities in our culture, many with disturbingly large congregations, don't try to attempt any reconciliation whatever. They unashamedly follow a "Gospel of prosperity": the belief that God wants individual persons to prosper and that being a faithful Christian has it's material rewards and privileges in this life. Such a belief is radically out of step with the life, ministry, passion, suffering, crucifixion, and Resurrection of the Lord. Furthermore, it also grossly distorts the kind of prosperity that God actually promises in and through his covenant.

To begin with, when God makes his covenant with Israel he makes his pact with an entire people. Hence, when Isaiah tells his audience in so many words, follow the covenant and you will "live long and prosper" (to quote a famous, pointy-earred Star Trek sage) he is speaking to an entire nation! In other words, the prosperity that God promises is a prosperity intended for every single person, especially those who are the most vulnerable and needy. God never promises personal prosperity to the detriment of others! Furthermore, we know from our history lessons that the Ancient Israelite's were never able to fully realize the just distribution of God's blessings (many of the prophet's railed against the unjust oppression of the poor by the rich) and eventually went into exile. But the promise of prosperity still remains in effect: it's just that now, God has "struck" a different "note", "tune", or "chord" of what this promise means in Jesus.

In and through Jesus' life, ministry, death, and Resurrection, God is conducting the same hymn of promise to the universe, albeit in a slightly different key. If injustice, suffering, and oppression are the dominant reality for most people, than perhaps God has resolved in Jesus to take that reality into himself. However, God doesn't do this to exalt suffering and make it an absolute! Rather, God enters into this experience in order to begin radically overcoming it from deep within! This continues to be the case down to our present day. Consider, for example, all of those Christians and people of good will who have entered into some form of solidarity with the people of Southern Sudan as they seek to be liberated from the oppression of their genocidal government. If this situation is eventually overcome and transformed, it will be precisely through God's presence at work in the those who have entered into the depths and darkness of the distress and suffering that is there and who have resolved to do something about it. God's hymn for the universe is the same that it has always been and always will be: the liberation and prosperity of all people and a total sharing in God's bounty and beauty. Pat, TOR