Brief Encounter …
In the modern world where communication and the internet has brought the world inside our homes, it is impossible not to be aware of the different views that people have about God. In all the confusion and uncertainty that such vast amounts of unstructured knowledge can bring us, some people say that the division is with people and not with God and that what is important is that we worship God and not get caught up in the different views about God that we have. That view however makes me ask a question about whether or not we would then end up worshipping something of our own devising, worshipping only our own notion of who or what God is. You might say that ultimately God is infinite and vastly beyond our understanding, but at the same time the majority of religions claim that God has revealed himself in some way to people. Knowledge of God comes not just from what we can imagine God to be like, but from what God has told us he is like.
So is it important to know who God is? If you believe, it is not sufficient simply to believe there is a God. It matters what we believe about him because we want to know more about him. It’s a natural impulse. We might as well ask ‘Does it matter who anyone is?’ Does it make a difference to us who someone else is? I suppose walking past someone on the street that you do not know, and that you will never see again, it’s not that important that you know who he or she is. It only becomes important when you start to interact with them. It’s only important when you have more than a fleeting encounter with them. Does it matter who God is: does it matter if we say he is a Trinity of persons but one God, or if we say something else? It matters only if you have more than a fleeting encounter with him.
Christ tells us to Baptise in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, because he at least is looking for something more than a brief encounter. He is looking for something lasting. And when you want more than a brief encounter, when you are looking for something lasting, you want to know everything about the other person. You want to know the truth about them because it also impacts on you. If you don’t want to know the other person as they are, it surely suggests you are not really interested in them for themselves, but only what you can get out of them for yourself, and if you are not getting anything out of them what’s the point of keeping up with them. And if you are not really interested in them, what can you really expect to get from them in return?
It is important to know God as he is, because he is inviting us to a personal encounter with him as he is, not as we might imagine him to be, not as we would perhaps like him to be and one thing that Christ has revealed to us, is that God is not as we have expected him to be. That is important not only because of who he is, but also because it means that we who are made in his image and likeness might not be as we think we are. If we are confused about God, no wonder we are confused about ourselves. What it means to be human is a hugely important question for our confused society right now. If we want to know who we are, then we will also find answers to that question inunderstanding God better.
Top picture: Cathedral of St Jerome in Lisbon and St Patrick’s parishioners on holiday in Portugal. Picture by Bill Heaney