People endlessly wrestle with questions about the existence of God and of what God is like.
The Bible thinks that only the ‘fool says in his heart there is no God above’. But calling the atheist a fool doesn’t help the discussion today. The importance of believing in God today is not that we avoid being burned at the stake in a theocratic tyranny but so that we remember the equally important questions about human existence and meaning. Without a connection with the living symbol of transcendence we cannot fulfil our human-ness.
The first reading uses the familiar metaphor of God’s wrath descending on those who are unfaithful to the Covenant. It is still a metaphor that many take seriously because it offers an easy explanation for the mystery of suffering and gives the believer a sense of superiority over those he condemns for disobeying God. If we don’t decode the metaphor we end up with the Taliban.
The second reading helps to deconstruct this by stating – shockingly to anyone at that time – that we do an injustice to ourselves by thinking of God in this punitive way. We can only know anything about God through the self-knowledge which at source is God’s love for us. The text says that we, the human, ‘are God’s work of art’. And, that we receive salvation – the potential to come to fullness of being in union with God – through faith and as a ‘gift from God. The question of God is always a question about ourselves. The way we believe in God reveals what we really think about ourselves. Are we a miserable guilty sinner or a glorious work of art. If the work of art, then God must look on us as an artist looks at his masterpiece, not as an art object with a price tag but as an extension of himself.
As always, the gospel condenses all these ideas into the single, simple question of Jesus and of his meaning for us. In him we see that God loves us, his creation, so much that he is incapable of being cruel to it. On the contrary, he humiliates himself as a passionate lover does, discarding dignity and rights, loving the incomplete work into perfection. If we can see ourselves as his work of art, receiving the gift of his continuously creative attention, we have stumbled upon what human perfection really means.
The artist stands back from her work and contemplates it. She intervenes but does not interfere with its emerging identity. While it is still imperfect, she falls in love with it. While still working on it she knows that its beauty, its truth, is her own. What a Sabbath rest when it is finished. What a perfect work when it looks back at the divine artist and says thank you for making me.