God Our Father
Friday, Jun. 21, 2019
The Feast of the Holy Trinity and Father’s Day both were celebrated last Sunday, and perhaps not coincidentally I was reading a book dealing with the mystery of God.
Many years ago I heard a homily that suggested our perception of God the Father is derived from how we view our dad: If we grew up in a home with a father who was authoritarian and dictatorial, such would be our image of God; the same if he was kind and loving.
Proof for both models of a father-like God can be found in the Bible: There is God, smiting the Israelites for one transgression or another; yet there he is again, calling them by name, accompanying them as they pass through the waters, promising his steadfast love and providing refuge.
No matter which view, loving or wrathful, of God we cultivate, we almost inevitably fall into the trap of reducing God to man – a man with godlike powers, perhaps, but still a person with human emotions who acts in ways we understand. We tend to forget that God is omnipotent, eternal, infinite, incomprehensible. We conveniently ignore God’s words: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”
In his book “Theology and Sanity,” Frank Sheed notes that by imagining God the Father as “a venerable man with a beard,” we begin to think of him as an equal or even as nonessential. Treat God as an equal and we can begin to feel that we can suggest how he can improve his running of the world; treat him as nonessential and we lose our understanding of creation.
“Omit God from the consideration of anything or everything, and you omit the reason why anything exists and make everything forever unexplainable; and this is not a sound first step toward understanding,” Sheed writes.
A word of caution here. We cannot fully understand God. “If you understood him, it would not be God,” St. Augustine said, for God “does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number,” as the Bible states.
Despite being beyond our comprehension, God has come to meet humankind in many ways: He revealed himself to Adam and Eve and Abraham and others on down through the ages, he spoke to the prophets, he claimed the Israelites as his people and then granted us a new covenant through his Son, Jesus Christ. Because of this, we have some understanding of the triune God.
I must confess that the old bearded man was never my idea of God, despite the famous image on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. No, my God is so powerful, so immense, so utterly beyond ken that he is best kept locked in a tabernacle and worshipped from afar. I cannot conceive of any relationship with him beyond one of reverence and pleading for forgiveness or favors. In the Son of God, however, I can see a kindred soul, for despite his divine nature on this earth as a man he ate and drank, celebrated and suffered, just like me. Nevertheless, there is something about that dusty preacher from Nazareth that I hold at arm’s length, and I’m not sure why.
In the 2016 movie “Risen,” a Roman tribune named Clavius encounters the risen Christ and walks with him and the disciples into the desert. As night falls, Clavius finds himself sitting next to Jesus, apparently unable to think of even one question to ask. I suspect, in a similar situation, my reaction would be the same – what do you say to a man who is fully human and fully divine, who knows your every thought, your every word, your every sin, but loves you anyway?
Because of this, it is with the third Person of the Trinity that I feel most at ease. The Holy Spirit also possesses the divine nature, but he is our advocate, our guide, a gift, the giver of God’s love who, I hope, may one day bring me to the Father who has adopted me as a daughter even if I cannot yet bring myself into his embrace.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. She can be reached at email@example.com.