Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Our Understanding God Continually Evolves from Genesis to Revelation and Beyond

When I was studying scripture as a seminarian, I distinctly remember a very important principle that was taught to me by one of my professors: Jesus the Christ (and all that is revealed about him) is the ultimate norm or interpretive "key" in discerning the truth claims of any area of the Bible. The reason why this principle was taught to us is because the Bible is not exactly consistent in what it reveals about God and there are times when the "truths" being communicated are at odds with each other. Such is the case with today's daily Mass reading from the book of Genesis about the story of Noah and the Great Flood.

At the beginning of the story God is lamenting having created the world as a result of all the "wickedness of man on the earth." Consequently, God decides not only to wipe humanity off of the face of the earth, but every single living creature as well! Just as God is about to wipe the slate clean (and perhaps even pitch the slate out), Noah finds favor with him and God decides to spare Noah, his family, and two of every kind of animal species that exists. At first glance there doesn't seem to be any problem with the "truth claims" about God in this story. When faced with the prospect that God almost destroyed all of creation, one can take two obvious tacts to avoid a problem. First, God can do whatever God chooses to do. The alternative approach is that God, in fact, didn't destroy creation so God gets a passing grade. The problem with the first response is that God, in fact, CANNOT do whatever God pleases. If God is all good and nothing but Good, than God CANNOT choose to arbitrarily wipe all life off of the face of the earth. Even if humans deserved it, what the heck did the poor animals do? To arbitrarily erase life without just cause would, in fact, be indifferent at best and evil at worst. The problem with the second line of reasoning is that, even though God didn't in fact wipe all life out with one fail swoop, he intended to nevertheless. That implies that God COULD have done it and demonstrates ill will on the part of God. The simple fact of the matter is that God in this story is depicted as a bit impetuous and even a little schizophrenic (if my blog entry ends abruptly here you'll know I've been incinerated by a lightning bolt and you can just go ahead and forget all of the above!!)

(Whew! Ok, I'm still here! Let's move on!) If we go back to the principle I started with, namely, that Jesus is the ultimate criterion for evaluating the accuracy of truth claims about God, it seems as though we must draw the conclusion that something is off kilter here. The God of Jesus Christ is neither impetuous nor schizophrenic. The God of Jesus Christ wills life to the full for every creature and especially every person and has never ceased willing this from the moment God said "Let there be Light." So what do we do with these images of God handed down to us from Genesis (and other images that depict God as vengeful, bloodthirsty, etc....). Instead of "throwing them out" or "dismissing them out of hand" we may want to examine them more carefully - not to learn something about God - but to learn something about ourselves. You see, revelation and images of God don't simply "drop out of the sky", they issue forth from very human and fallible individuals who saw reality in a very limited, and sometimes even biased, way. What this suggests is that our understanding God is meant to continuously evolve, from Genesis to Revelation and even beyond! Bernard Lonergan, a great theologian of the last century put it this way, "God is the inexhaustibly comprehensible." What this means is that God can, in fact, be understood, but NEVER fully! And you know what is so exciting about this prospect? Just as we contemplate and learn to "fall in love" with God in the here-and-now, so we likely will for all of eternity! Such will be the ecstasy of eternity: "falling" gently into the unending depths of the divine abyss of God's truth, goodness, and beauty, and the corresponding depths of our own mystery and that of all creation. Pat, TOR