By Father Mieczysław Piotrowski TChr,
“Think of the Lord with uprightness, and seek him with sincerity of heart” (Wis 1:1).
Homage paid to human freedom
Although God revealed Himself most fully in the person of Jesus Christ, He remains an eternal mystery to us. The words of the prophet Isaiah hold true: “Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Is 45:15). Since God wants every one of us to be united with Him in love and attain perfect happiness in heaven, our encounter with Him may not be forced or constrained; it must be freely willed. The Creator calls us into existence, but He remains a hidden God so as not to overwhelm us by the awesome power of His truth and beauty. Consequently, it is we who decide to declare ourselves for or against Him. God’s love is meek and defenseless, since we can scorn and reject it. It becomes an all-powerful force only when we freely accept it.
Christianity is the only religion founded on the belief that God came into this world as a real man – a man, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, who suffered, died on the cross in Jerusalem, and rose on the third day. That God, who revealed Himself fully in Jesus Christ, should remain a hidden God is a central truth of the Christian faith. Once again, let us stress that God remains “hidden” from us, “inaccessible” to our senses and reason (i.e. He does not force Himself upon us or compel us to accept His existence) precisely because of His abiding respect for the gift of freedom which He bestowed upon us. God wants to enjoy a loving relationship with us, but He can only do this when we are free. Thus, in revealing Himself while at the same time remaining hidden, God not only demonstrates His love for us but also pays homage to our human freedom.
A phenomenon without equal
The Christian faith stands alone among world religions for the fact that prophets had been promising and looking forward to the Messiah twenty centuries before His birth in Bethlehem. No other founder of a religion (e.g. Mohammed, Buddha or Confucius) had been so promised and anticipated. Jesus Christ was that promised Messiah – the pivotal figure of the Old and New Testament. Anticipated since the dawn of history, He is honored as the God-Man and Savior even to this day. Forty centuries of evolving Messianic devotion! The phenomenon is without equal in the history of world religions.
All through its history, the tiny, despised nation of Israel never lost sight of the great mission entrusted to it by God. The Israelites remained convinced that out of their own midst would arise the promised Messiah; they pinned all their hopes on the fulfillment of this prophecy. It is indeed a striking circumstance – one that never ceases to astound religious historians – that from their very beginnings as a people the Hebrews should have held a belief in one God at a time when all the other ancient religions were worshipping many gods. The nations that gave rise to the cultures and civilizations of the ancient world surpassed the Hebrews in virtually every area of life, including art, philosophy and technology. Only in the area of religion did the Israelites enjoy an infinitely more superior concept of God. To them God was the One, Holy and Righteous Lord of the created world. The only way of accounting for this astounding fact is to accept what Holy Scripture tells us: that God Himself chose the tiny nation of Israel and revealed to it the truth about Himself.
God created the universe. Therefore Nature is not God but a creature. Moreover, God-Yahweh created man in His own image and likeness, endowing him with reason, freedom and an aptitude for love. Thus man also stands apart from nature. As a creature endowed with freewill, he is free to reject his Creator. By contrast, all ancient religions portrayed Nature as a reality in the thrall of magic forces, teeming with deities, which included the stars and the moon. For the simple Hebrew people, the sun, the stars, the planets – indeed everything that existed – was the handiwork of the One God. They read no magic into nature. The First Commandment of the Decalogue forbade them to have any other gods, or to worship nature or any other created thing. Yahweh was the Lord of the universe and, as the One Righteous and Holy One, He called on man to be holy: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2).
Only Judaism and Christianity see man as God’s fellow-worker – a creature of free will who can choose to cooperate with his Maker. That Israel should be the only nation to have survived into our times having preserved intact its belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a truly astonishing fact of history. The Romans did not survive; neither did the Greeks, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Phoenicians, the Etruscans, the Carthaginians or the Macedonians. Unlike the Hebrews, all of these were powerful nations with advanced cultures and civilizations.
Christ: the code and cipher
The fact that the Old and New Testaments are bound by a single overarching theme is also striking. The entire history of salvation as recorded in the books of the Old Testament is a preparation for the central event of human history, which is the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Messiah, the God-Man – Jesus Christ. Clearly, this points to a single, principal Author: “God, the inspirer and author of the books of both Testaments, in his wisdom has so brought it about that the New should be hidden in the Old and that the Old should be made manifest in the New. For, although Christ founded the New Covenant in his blood (cf. Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), still the books of the Old Testament, all of them caught up into the Gospel message, attain and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament (cf. Mt. 5:17; Lk. 24:27; Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Cor. 3:14-16) and, in their turn, shed light on it and explain it” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, IV, 16).
As Eugenio Zolli, the chief rabbi of Rome who converted to Catholicism in 1945, put it: “The entire Old Testament is like a coded telegram from God to the human race. Christ is both the code and cipher; in the light of Him the messianic prophecies and messages found in the books of the Old Testament attain their full meaning.”
The truth of the hidden God
For the sake of our salvation God became a real man in the person of Jesus Christ. For us He took upon Himself the sins of the world, suffered the terrible pains of sin, died a real death, then conquered death and sin by rising from the dead. Thus we are all able to share in His victory over death, Satan and sin. And yet God honors our freedom to the very end; He saves no one against his will. That is why He remains a hidden God. We are free to accept or reject Him. “God wished to hide Himself,” wrote Blaise Pascal. “Since God hid Himself in this manner, any religion that does not say that God is hidden, is not a true religion.” Only Judaism and Christianity hold this truth.
In order to know the true God that Jesus revealed to us, it is not enough to recognize His existence and greatness. That is how other religions, such as Islam, know Him. Jesus shows us the face of a God, whose chief attributes are love and mercy. We see His omnipotence not only in the fact of His being Creator of the universe but also in the meekness of His love, in His willingness to be our servant, who washes our feet (Jn 13:8), who takes upon Himself our sins, experiences the terrible “wages of sin”, including death itself – a death suffered on behalf of us all so as to blot out our sins and open up for us the way to heaven. He is One God and yet has three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We may know Him only by “faith working through love” (Ga 5:6).
Faith enables us to see the true divinity of Jesus in His humanity. Christ Himself tells us: “He who sees me sees him who sent me” (Jn 12:45);“I and the Father are one”(Jn 10:30); “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt 11:27). Jesus Christ is the first and only human being to have passed from death to life. This proves His divinity.
Christianity, then, is no mere philosophical-ethical system; nor is it just a beautiful idea. It is first and foremost an encounter with the living person of Jesus Christ. It arose out of the historical truth of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Christianity is the living person of the Risen One, Who desires in His Church to embrace all sinners that He may forgive their sins and bring them, by way of faith, to the joy of eternal life in heaven. “For now [by way of faith]” writes Saint Paul, “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood” (1 Cor 13:12).
In His meek and defenseless love, God beseeches us never to lose heart or tire of living our faith every day: “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually!” (Ps 105:4); “Think of the Lord with uprightness, and seek him with sincerity of heart” (Wis 1:1); “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart” (Ps 119:2).
To the person of faith, the paradox of God’s full revelation in Jesus Christ and His “hidden-ness” presents no insuperable obstacle. Indeed, to a man like Blaise Pascal, both “the passion of God’s seekers” and “the blindness of those who do not seek Him” constitute proof of His existence.
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010