Chapter 5 - God Tells Man
WHY God became man we shall consider in the second part of this book, together with certain precisions as to what is meant by the truth that Christ is God and some of the immeasurable things that flow from it. Our present concern is simply with the new way opened to man for the knowledge of God by the sheer fact of the Incarnation, the fact that at a given moment of history God took to Himself a human nature and made it so utterly His own that, remaining God without diminution or dimming of His Divinity, He was still truly man, and remains forever man. To know that Christ is God sheds a great light upon Christ as we shall see; for the moment our concern is with the light it sheds upon God.
Apart from the Incarnation, man could know of God only in God's nature. Man could, for example, know God as Infinite Power, creating the universe from nothing. We have no notion of what is involved in creating something from nothing and only the most shadowy notion, born of reflection and not of experience, of what is meant by being infinite. But to see God being and doing and suffering in OUR nature, is a very different matter. And reading the Gospels that is precisely what we do see? God obeying His mother, God paying taxes, God receiving hospitality, God receiving insults, God tormented by hunger and thirst, God loving, God angry: and these things we can measure, for we have done them all ourselves.
Christ Our Lord gives us a great flood of light by what He has to tell us about God; but with all reverence we may feel that He gives us more light upon God by being than by saying. This, I think, explains something about Our Lord's way of revealing the primary fact about Himself which puzzles many readers of the Gospels. They feel that He made an unnecessary mystery about it: if He was God, it would surely have been simpler for Him to say so in the plainest words at the very outset of His mission. So say, believers in His Divinity as an expression of puzzlement, unbelievers as a challenge to the truth of the doctrine. At any rate, Our Lord's action in this matter was of set policy: He did, quite deliberately, make a certain mystery about Who and What He was. We have the Jews demanding indignantly:
How long wilt thou go on keeping us in suspense?
If thou art the Christ, tell us openly.
But it was not only from His enemies that the full knowledge was long held. Between the Birth in Bethlehem and the Death on Calvary there is probably no single episode of Our Lord's life better known than the scene by the lake at Caesarea Philippi, when Peter answered and said:
Thou art Christ the Son of the Living God;
and Jesus answered him:
Blessed art thou, Simon son of Jona;
it is not flesh and blood,
it is My Father Who is in Heaven that has revealed this to thee.
And I tell thee this in My turn:
that thou art Peter, and it is upon this rock that I will build my Church;
and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
In the splendor of this climax, we tend to see what went before it rather in shadow. If we press our memory a little harder, we remember what question St. Peter was answering: but it may be doubted if many of us see how very startling a question it was. For Our Lord had asked the Apostles: Who do you say that I am? Realize that these were the men who had been His inseparable companions so long: and yet so late in their companionship He could ask them Who they thought He was. Clearly, He had not told them; just as clearly, He had had good reason for not telling them.
The reason why He did not begin by telling either His friends or His enemies that He was God was that they were Jews, and the Jews believed in God. It is only an age deficient in the realization of God's majesty that could be surprised that Christ Jesus should only gradually have led men to the realization of a truth, which such men would find so shattering. I have already spoken of our modern tendency to treat God as an equal, or at any rate to overlook the immeasurable difference between His infinity and our finitude. In such an atmosphere nothing seems more natural than that God should simply introduce Himself, and with the minimum of ceremony.
No Jew of Our Lord's day, however sinful he might have been, would have felt like that for an instant. To men with their awareness of the majesty of God, the truth that Christ was God had to be broken very gradually or it would have broken them. If we read the Gospels with this in mind, we can see how marvelously Our Lord brought the Apostles to realization. His method was not to tell them, but to bring them to a point where they would tell Him. They saw Him doing things and heard Him saying things, things that only God had a right to do (like forgiving sins and supplementing the law God had given on Sinai), things that only God could truthfully say:
"I and the Father are one";
"Before Abraham was made, I am";
"No one knows the Son but the Father and no one knows the Father but the Son";
But with all this advance and recoil, the sum of their movement was advance:
and at last came St. Peter's confession:
Thou art Christ, Son of the Living God,
rewarded so marvelously by Our Lord as we have seen.
Yet as far as the words of Peter go, they contain nothing that has not been said by another Apostle at the very first calling of the Apostles.
For Nathanael had said (John 1:49)
Thou, Master, art the Son of God,
thou art the King of Israel.
What difference did Christ Our Lord see between the confession of Nathanael, and the confession of Peter? Partly, we may suppose, the difference lay in this: that St. Peter's confession was a true act of faith, made under the impulsion of the grace of God?
It is not flesh and blood,
but my Father Who is in Heaven that has revealed this to thee.
Nathanael's confession was an act of human reason. We find all the Apostles reaching out towards a supernatural explanation when Our Lord calmed the storm with a word; and they said one to another:
Who is this, who is obeyed even by the winds and the sea?
But bit by bit their human reason was bringing them to see that there could be only the one explanation was bringing them, to the point where their minds were ready to receive the impulsion of God's grace and make the act of Faith, after which they held the truth not by human reason, but with the sure support of the grace of God. That point Peter reached first. In Peter's words there was a far fuller content of meaning: they look toward that moment when St. Thomas, totally renouncing his too human doubt, cried out to Jesus:
My Lord, and my God.
Today it is almost a distinguishing mark of Catholics that they see a real function for the Apostle. They meant something very important to Our Lord?
You have not chosen Me,
I have chosen you.
For these were the men who knew Christ before they knew He was God. Had they known from the beginning, they might simply have feared Him, and fear would have made a bar to any progress in intimacy. But by the time they knew He was God, they had come to know that He was love. If they had known that Christ was God first, then they would have applied their idea of God to Christ; as it was, they were able to apply their knowledge of Christ to God. The principal fruit for them and for us of their three years of companionship with Him was the unshakeable certainty of His love for men.
We may ask why the Jews did not know this already, for God had shown them His love often enough, and in the Old Testament. The truth is that love arises and abides most easily and naturally where there is community of nature, and until God took our nature and became man that way did not exist: God-made-man could love us with human love, and this, though a lesser thing than divine love, can be very comforting to our weakness. Nowhere in the Old Testament did it occur to anyone to call God what they were to call God-made-man, " the friend of sinners". The Jews knew that God had spoken to man and done great things for man, but He had not BEEN man.
The moral for us is simple: in our approach to God we are helped enormously by seeing Him in our nature; and for the mind this means a continual study of Christ whereby the Apostles' experience of Him becomes our own personal experience, their intimacy becomes our intimacy. You do not learn intimacy, or reap the fruit of someone else's. You grow into it. In the Gospels one really can grow into this intimacy with Our Lord, precisely because the evangelists do not obtrude their own personalities. There is no other way to full knowledge of God, Christ has said so. In other words, we have to vivify all that hard thinking about the Infinite by the closest companionship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. By both, the mind grows towards the knowledge of God, which is its health. We can think with ease and joy about Christ Our Lord and can exercise our minds with no ease at all and precious little joy upon the Infinite, but our problem is to realize the two as one God. The solution is as before, to use our mind with all its might upon both, and bit by bit we shall begin to find that one sheds light upon the other. We begin, at least in glimpses, to see that it is but the one light.
It is to be recommended that the user of this book will accompany all the rest of his reading and thinking by a steady reading of the Gospels, steadily reminding himself at each incident and each phrase of Our Lord that He Who said this and did this is God Himself, Infinite Existence. One result of this reading of the Gospels will be to find what Our Lord showed us about God by being God. Another will be to find what Our Lord shows us about God by what He has to say of God. Most of them, naturally, treat of God in His dealings with and judgments of the human race. Save perhaps in the proportion of statements about God's love to statements about His justice, it would be hard to find among these anything that has not already been told us in the Old Testament. There is a new atmosphere, but if one happens to know the Old Testament at all well: everything makes us realize how vast a communication about Himself God had already given His chosen people.
It is a vast reassurance to the mind to have God as it were ratifying the words with which human language has tried to utter Him. It is true that no word of human speech, no concept of the human mind, is adequate; but word and concept are not therefore useless, for God has used them. We may have precious little notion of what they mean in an infinite nature, but the little is precious. They do not give all light, but light giving they are. Our Lord uses them: God had already used them: for not here either do we find anything that is not in the Old Testament. But there is a third sort of statement, which does constitute a new element in God's revelation of Himself to men. As we read what Our Lord tells us of God, we are bound to become conscious of two elements constantly recurring, and recurring in combination - the element of ONENESS and the element of PLURALITY.
In the first chapter of Genesis, God says (verse 26)
Let us make man to our image and likeness,
and in the next verse we read,
And God made man to his image and likeness:
the plural words "us" and "our" seem to suggest that there were several persons; the singular word "his" that they were somehow one. I do not mean that the human writer of Genesis knew how apt to the reality of God were the words he wrote: but God Who inspired him knew it. To us again there is something fascinating in the fact that the word for God, "Elohim" is plural: yet it takes a verb in the singular and, if an adjective goes with it, that is in the singular too.
Our Lord did not stop at a hint. As I have said, He insists on an element of plurality, returning to it again and again. This combination of oneness and plurality is most evident in Our Lord's discourse to the Apostles at the Last Supper. The whole of this discourse, from the fourteenth chapter of St. John to the seventeenth, should be read and read again: everything is in it. But for the moment our concern is with these two elements in what Our Lord has to tell us of the Godhead. In this discourse the special note is what can only be called a certain interchangeability. What I mean by this will appear from some examples. In the fourteenth chapter we find Philip the Apostle saying to Our Lord:
Let us see the Father,
and Our Lord answering him:
Whoever has seen Me, has seen the Father.
Of the sending of the Holy Spirit, He had said (John 14:16)
I will ask the Father and He shall give you another Paraclete,
that He may abide with you forever.
Thus, the Father is to send the Holy Spirit.
But a little later (John 16:7) Our Lord says: "If I go, I will send the Paraclete to you."
We have just heard Our Lord saying that the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, is to abide with us forever; but a few verses later, in answer to a question of St. Jude, Our Lord says:
If anyone love Me
He will keep My word
and my Father will love him
and We will come to him
and will make our abode with him.
Heaven knows what His hearers made of all this as they heard the words come from His lips. What He was revealing was the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. He revealed it because He wanted us to know it. We must try.