Thursday, July 22, 2010


EDITORIAL NOTE: I offered this view at our Christian-Jewish-Muslim Trialogue this evening; I hope you will think it worthwhile.

In many ways I think the faith of Rabbi Silberman, Mr Ashraf Sayyad and myself is derivative. The rabbi’s belief in Melek ha-Olam is transmitted through Moses. Mr Sayyad’s belief in Allah is the result of the witness of Muhammad. My belief in God is derivative from my belief in the Resurrection of Jesus. My own study leads me to conclude, in the phraseology of John Henry Cardinal Newman, that there is a ‘convergence of probabilities’ that makes an act of faith in Jesus, in virtue of the Resurrection, a reasonable thing to do. This leads me to belief in His being Messiah and Son of God. While Jews and Muslims agree that God must never be represented or imaged, I confess that I hold Jesus as the image of the invisible God, the form of God that I can see, leading me to love of the God I cannot see.
I am aware that this ‘convergence’ doesn’t have to lead to such a belief: the Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide, for example, could accept the historicity of the Resurrection while still rejecting the idea of the Messiahship (to say nothing of the divinity) of Jesus. But I, personally, do come to this conclusion.
It means for me that the proclamation of Jesus is at once eternally a valid insight into the nature of God, and that this insight is into the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whom Jesus called Abba. It is through this lens that I come to my understanding of God.
There is a song popular in Christian “Praise and Worship” circles called Our God Is An Awesome God. Its refrain is: Our God is an awesome God/He reigns from heaven above/With wisdom, power and love/Our God is an awesome God. To be able to sing this with full conviction is surely a joyful, energizing and (if I may say it) triumphalistic celebration of the God of presence.
For me, though, all too often, it seems that “My God is a silent God” (a Deus absconditus, a “hidden God”). Some mystics have glorious visions of the Deity; I am more at home with writings like The Cloud of Unknowing or The Dark Night of the Soul. I resonate with the poetry of St Thomas Aquinas, celebrating the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, when he writes (in the Holy Week hymn Pange, Lingua): Et si sensus deficit/Ad firmandum cor sincerum/Sola fides sufficit… Praestet fides supplementum/ Sensuum defectui [And if senses finally fail us/For to strengthen hearts that trust/Faith alone is what one needs…Faith stands ready to assist us/When our senses fail to see.] And so you can see that slogans like the mediaeval cry Deus vult! [God wills it!] are foreign to my experience—I am simply not so sure I know God’s will for someone else that I am able to lead any Crusades. I only want to bear witness, to “cry the Gospel with my life” (as Bl Charles de Foucauld put it).
And so I am very uncomfortable with those (especially on TV) who seem to have 14 conversations with God every day, when they are told specific things to say or do—quite specific things. This is not my experience.
And yet, I do have (beyond my trust in the Resurrection) what Wordsworth called “Intimations” of God’s presence—the quality of the answer to certain prayers (including those that led me to seminary, or at the times of my Dad’s and my Mom’s deaths) that force nothing yet invite and hint at everything. I trust them; I choose to remember them, I embrace them. It my hope they are (it all is) true.
St Paul (Rom 8:24) tells us that hope is not hope if we in fact already see. My faith, then, my hope, is to be able one day to see, to know even as I am known (I Cor 13:12). What supports and sustains this hope, for me?
Two things lead me to trust in God’s existence and love: to return to the beginning, my trust is in the reality of the Resurrection and the proclamation of God as love, a Father of forgiveness and healing, that Jesus announced as the Good News of the Kingdom. Second is the community of the faithful of which I wish to be a part: the people like Francis of Assisi and Ignatius Loyola; Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Teresa of Avila; Cardinal Newman and Cardinal Bernardin; Bl Pope John XXIII and Bl Charles de Foucauld. These people knew all too intimately themselves the ‘dark night’; all followed Jesus to the cross and (in the words of the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner) looked down from the cross into the abyss of darkness, entering into it with Jesus, trusting that at the bottom they would find Abba-Love. I want to join them in this journey.
The Jews (I defer to Rabbi Silberman) have a story that when a rabbi dies, it is because there is a tremendous debate going on in heaven over some point of Torah, and another voice is needed. I believe that this debate is real, even if I cannot hear the voices and the arguments right now, and I am excited about the possibility of getting the chance to have my say.


  1. Is faith a kind of knowing? Knowing that God transcends our knowing?

  2. Anselm's classic definition of theology is "Fides quaerens intellectum," faith seeking understanding. In this case, then, faith is (I love falling back on Cardinal Newman!) the result of the choice to make an assent, based on some knowledge but not a kind of knowledge in the strict philosophical sense. I would liken it more to a kind of awareness: apprehension, rather than comprehension...

  3. Yes, I was baptized a Roman Catholic; attended a parochial school for eight years (just down the street from my home). For a long time, that was the extent of my learning. When I prayed, I went through holy servants (saints) as intercessors because God was too far above me, too distant to go directly to him. Nuns and priests had their prescribed roles and we were not close or knowledgeable about them personally. However, someone, somewhere, must have been praying for me, because I always believed in the Catholic Church and learned its teaching through attendance at Sunday mass and Holy Days of Obligation. Here, the term Obligation, was the ruling influence on my]formation. Jesus and his fullness as a lover, compassionate and just remained foreign to me. So, as a result, I say, with tongue in cheek, that is probably why so many years have been given me to figure out the whole picture of the "Good News". I am still on that journey, but it is definitely interesting and provides a never-ending panorama of learning about God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit.

  4. Would you clarify briefly why Jews and Muslims agree that God must never be represented or imaged? (Is this how I came to view God as too distant and mighty, so that I would pray to intercessors?)

    It puzzles me that the Jewish scholar, Pinchas Lapide, could accept the historicity of the Resurrection but rejected the idea of Messiahship -- what other human being could come back to life as Jesus did? Did Lapide perhaps believe it was the work of Satan? (Do Jews believe in Satan?)

  5. The 2nd Commandment (Exodus 20:4, Deut. 5:8) forbade the Jews from making of 'graven images,' and this prohibition exists in the Muslim world for the same reason--they accept (in general, anyway) the revelation in Torah.

    Lapide's argument is as follows: some great figures did not die (Enoch--Genesis 5:19-24; Elijah--II Kings 2:9-12); some perhaps did not die (Moses--Deuteronomy 34, as interpreted by the rabbis). So resurrection, as such, is simply God's special approval of a special servant. The task of the Messiah, on the other hand, is to bring in the Messianic kingdom of peace. Do you see this realized yet? No. Ergo: the Messiah has not yet come. Ergo, Jesus (though specially blessed by God) is not the Messiah. In any event, Jews do not have any kind of concept of a dying/rising Messiah.

    Do they believe in "satan"? YES. The name of the chief god of the Philistines was "Baal-ze-baal," or "Lord of lords." Jews "corrupted" it into "Baal-ze-bub," (our "Beelzebub"), or "Lord of the flies." He was "Prince of demons," all of which were responsible for possessions, illness (esp. mental illness), sorrow...

  6. Thank you for this thoughtful and respectful yet powerful apologetic, Fr. It is a joy to read and to know you in the faith.