I was having a conversation the other day about some “liberal versus conservative” issue when I found myself quoting something Jesus did, as if I knew his mind perfectly. That got me to thinking — how much do I really understand the mind of Jesus? Or better yet, how much can human beings understand the depths of God’s mind and motivations? Some Christians say that the Bible contains what God teaches us about his way of thinking; other Christians add tradition. But both groups imply that, somehow we Christians know the mind of God. Our Jewish ancestors in faith never believed that. So when did we become so well informed about how God thinks?
The simple answer is, by observing Jesus and informed by the Holy Spirit, we have come to understand God’s mind about some aspects of life in God’s presence. Over 2000 years, we have discussed and pondered Jesus’s teachings and example and, since he told us (and Philip) “if you see me, you see the Father” we see God’s actions and understand what they signify for us. That is enough, for now. We are on a journey to full understanding but will never reach that fullness until we are face to face with God in heaven.
So far so good. We understand the basics but there are mysteries in the depths of God that elude us. What are the implications of this?
- There are certain things that we can assert that brook very little contradiction. One of these is “God is love.” We may not understand the depths of God’s love but it’s certainly very clear that God commands us to love each other as he loves us. Working that command out in our daily living is certainly connected with what it means to be Christian.
- There are other things that are mysterious by their very nature. One example is the balance between God’s justice and God’s mercy. Since God is perfect, his justice must be perfect at the same time that his mercy is perfect. God’s mercy and justice are only concepts until we apply them to people. What about a terrible criminal who repents on the gallows? Worse yet, what about the same criminal if he doesn’t repent? It’s too simple to say, one is saved and the other isn’t. Such dichotomies and judgments are human not divine. In the depths of God and the human soul, no one, not even the criminal himself can be perfectly confident in his understanding of God’s justice and mercy as it will be encountered at the Last Judgment.
- Then there is how God understands human choices and success/failure. By our nature we are fallen, inclined to sin. As St Paul said, “Why do I do the things I don’t want to do yet not do the things I want?” Human freedom and sin and God’s view of human freedom and sin is an unfathomable mystery because God is infinite and our human soul, being God-like, is also beyond our grasp. Yes, each person has a basic sense of right and wrong built in, and there are clear commandments from God. But — and I think every adult has experienced this — when one makes moral choices, the execution often is flawed and falls far short of what we wish we could achieve. I have often said to myself that, if it wasn’t for God’s mercy, I’d give up. My hope that God’s mercy is there to balance his justice is what keeps me going many times.
All this is meant to point to one thing. When we Christians proclaim we know God’s mind in discussions or arguments, we are going a step too far. The other person may have an equally clear (to them) idea about what God is thinking and we may both be wrong. Lesson: It is better to be humble than proud when it comes to understanding God.