Wandering Thoughts Article #2
How do we understand Jesus?
We were always taught when we were children that Jesus came to save us from our sins. This is how we always understand Him. “Why did Jesus become man? To save us from our sins.” The most fundamental understanding of that he took the punishment for sin upon himself. In other words, he served our prison sentence so that we would not have to. This is why God became man.
In the 12th century, St Anselm, who was the archbishop of Canterbury, (I believe that his successor in Canterbury was Thomas Becket, who became a martyr). St Anselm was a brilliant theologian and he proposed a way to understand Jesus. It was a theory called in Latin: “Cur Deus Homo; Why God became man”. According to Anselm, human beings committed this atrocious sin against God and only God could forgive but only a human being could create the conditions for forgiveness. And that is sorrow and a desire to make reparation. So God being the only who could forgive, had to become man because a man was the only one who could create the conditions of forgiveness.
But after that another theologian came along, and stirred the pot up a little bit and confused everybody. His name was Duns Scotus, he was a Franciscan. He had a hypothetical idea: “What if man had never committed sin. Sin was voluntary, it didn’t have to happen.” What if man had never had committed sin? Then would God have become man? I think what Duns Scotus said was: certainly God would have become man. God became man not just to save us but God became man because He loved his sons and daughters so much He wanted to be with them. God became man because He couldn’t keep His hands off us. He loved us that much. This helps us in understanding about God becoming man. God’s becoming man was not a reaction to anything. Man became a sinner and therefore God had to change his plans and save him. God doesn’t operate that way. God does not react – God acts. So God is not waiting for me, O’Leary, to see what I do today and to react to it and forgive me. God acts always of His own will. Why did God become man? Because he wanted to be with us and to touch us because He loved us that much.
In this question of prayer, I think Duns Scotus’ theory of redemption is very very helpful. God did not just serve our prison sentence for us, He came to us because He had a personal love for each one of us as individuals. In the face of God’s love, what is our response? What do we do? How do we pray? How do we enter into intimate relationship with this Father in Heaven, who loves us so much?
Of course the first understanding, of redemption, was formulated by Thomas Aquinas. God had to make reparation for us. It is a kind of intellectual understanding of God. Duns Scotus is more of intuitive understanding. God couldn’t stay away from His beloved creatures, his beloved children. This is the God of Jesus Christ. He revealed this God to us, a God who is simply filled with love for us. I think we have a God who is love. I think we have a God who is also joy. We need to appreciate both. We need to answer God’s call to intimate friendship with Him.
Religion has always said and people have always understood religion as an effort to make its participants good. I think that it sells it short. Our understanding of good is not deep enough.
We say what is the opposite of “good”? We would say “bad”. What is the opposite of “truth”? It would be falsehood. The opposite of a truth could be an even more profound truth. The opposite of good need not be bad. The opposite of good could be wonderful. God does not call me to be a good priest. He calls me to be a superb priest. God does not call a woman to be a good mother. He calls her to be a superb mother. God is not calling us into mediocrity. He is calling us not to be good but to be great. I think that the church has often missed this point. That God is calling anyone to be simply good that is mediocre. He is calling each one of us in an individual way. But He is calling all of us to be close to Him as we possibly can.
How do we love God? If we want to talk about love, we really need to take a look at the poets in our past because they’re the ones that talk about love. I would like to stay with Shakespeare for a few minutes. He wrote the play “Much Ado About Nothing”. The two principle characters in that play were the hero, Benedict and the heroine, Bernice. They hated each other. They were two young people extremely intelligent, who just rubbed each other the wrong way. Every time they got together, it was warfare. And each one was trying to get the better of the other one in this verbal combat. But at one point it got more serious than that. In Shakespeare’s play, Bernice got some bad news, some horrible news, maybe the death in her family. And she was devastated. Benedict tried to come close to her, to console her and to be of help to her. She told him to “get out”, she did not want him anywhere around. Then true feelings came out, in one sentence, and Benedict said to her “In all this world there is nothing that I love so much as you.” And Bernice turned around and the world for her and for Benedict turned upside down. I have currently tried to make it a practice to use that wonderful sentence as a part of my night prayers. I would like to go to sleep with on my mind that sentence. “Oh God, in all this world there is nothing that I love so much as You.” What a way to enter into eternity, to have those words in our minds. Let us think of God’s call, let us remember that He is calling no one just to be good. He is calling all of us to greatness. He is not calling anyone to mediocrity. He has a call like this not to lay a heavy burden on us but because He knows we are going to be a lot happier if we are striving for greatness and just not floating along being good. God wants all of us. And in our prayer life this is the way we go to God. I think God wants every square inch of each one of us. And none of us are there yet. But we need to be striving. This is what reaching into the depth of prayer enables us to do.