Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

The Word Became Flesh

This post is written with my anonymous agnostic poster in mind. The rest of you may listen in as well, and I am happy for the feedback you might provide.

Jesus is the Word of God - not mere words spoken by men - but the Word become a Man.

That's the point that Fr. Johnson and I lost you, right? You wrote:

Up until that, Father Johnson's points were fairly clear and encouraging. Then, however, out comes a statement which makes no sense. What exactly do you mean? How can a word transform into a person? I'd have an easier time of it if it was worded like 'God magically created a humanoid embodiment of His defining characteristics and called it Jesus'. At least then I know that there's an indescribable plot device involved.

OK, so first, let's look at what we mean by a word. A word is a bit of sound, but it's sound intentionally formed to convey a meaning. Now, as Christians, we believe that everything is for a purpose because God, when making everything, had a purpose in mind. Everything that's happened since has had a bit of that purpose. The purpose of words and of language is to convey meaning, but not just any meaning. They are meant to convey truth, that is, reality as sincerely understood in the mind. I might be mistaken, but yet speak truthfully, if I speak what I truly believe to be real, true. We can call this communication. We could also call it something similar in meaning: sharing. The purpose of me doing so is to take what is in my mind and put it, by means of my mouth, voice, and your ears, into your mind.

But if I deliberately speak not truth, but falsehood - saying not what is true, but merely what will get me what I want, then I deceive and twist. Now God does not speak falsehood. It would be contrary to his nature. That's a separate conversation that we can go into later, but now, suffice it to say that he cannot lie. He knows the universe because he made it and permeates it, exists outside of it and everywhere inside of it.

It is at this point that we enter into a mystery. A mystery is not, for a Christian, a whodunnit to be solved. Rather, it is the result of contact with the divine. God is so freaking big, infinite, that we can never understand him - except little bits here and there. It's like laying on your back and looking up at the clear blue sky - we can never see the whole thing at once, but only parts of it. Have you ever noticed that? It's because we're finite. So when we encounter God, it always leaves us feeling a sense of being small, but in a good way, or of him being big, but not in a bad way. Encountering him is like standing at the base of a Rocky Mountain and looking up at it.

So here is the mystery. God, who needs nothing and is complete in himself, decided to share himself, to communicate himself, with us who rely on him for our daily bread, our every breath, whether we realize it or not. Infinite him wanted to put something of himself into finite us. He does so first by speaking into the hearts and minds of the prophets. Now, he is a pure spirit, so even referring to him as he is selling him short. But in English, it is only worse. For other reasons, we tend to stick with he, but it's nothing we need to get stuck on right now. The point is that as a pure spirit, God doesn't communicate with soundwaves from a mouth, but by inserting thoughts and evoking feelings - "Heart speaks to heart," a very wise Englishman once wrote. We see something like this phenomenon between people who know each other very, very well. A simple glance across a crowded room is enough to let one spouse know the other's heart. They sometimes anticipate each other's thoughts while physically absent from each other. In ancient times, God spoke to the prophets in this way. The quality of their lives opened them up very deeply to receive whatever he might want to share with them, and he shared with them so that they could speak aloud to people whose ears worked, but whose hearts were harder. This belief is shared by Christians and Jews, and we call those ancients the prophets, because the Greek word means one who speaks on behalf.

Now, God employed the prophets to teach people his will, the way of life that he designed to bring them optimal happiness. And he taught them successively deeper lessons. They started simply, "There's one God, who saved you from slavery and will provide for your needs. That's me." The messages to the prophets became more intense, but never really got much more complex. He started adding hints of a deeper message though, but it was a hard one to believe. The message he started to add was, "And I love you."

That's the hard one. In a world broken by violence so badly that even families are broken by violence, it can be hard to believe that the Mind-Behind-Everything cares about a little individual old me, can't it. Atheists try to make it out like believing in God is some big leap of faith. But, my dear Agnostic Reader, you and I know that it's almost commonsense. God virtually screams at us, "HERE I AM!" everywhere in nature. The leap of faith isn't that Someone made all the stuff that couldn't have happened by accident or chance. The leap of faith is that Someone loves us.

So the Christian belief is that God made the leap of faith for us. In the most fabric-of-the-universe-shredding leap possible, he himself became a human being, just like the rest of us, so he could show us in terms that we'd understand that he loves us. When we say the "Word became flesh," or the "Word became man," we mean a lot of things. For now, it is enough to say that God took what he knows of himself, his own self-knowledge, and using the same infinite power that created the universe, made it into a man who was conceived in a woman, born as a baby, and grew up to be known as Jesus, a man of Nazareth.

This belief is lunatic and weird, and insane, and how it can be other than "God is all-powerful," I cannot understand. But it is exactly what Christians believe happened in a particular town in a particular country at a particular time and place. So this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was both fully a human being who bled if cut, had feelings, had to grow up, learn to tie his sandals, and all of it - and yet was also every bit as much God. He was God revealing himself, communicating himself, wording himself to us, if you will. He was God sharing himself with us.

And he did it because he loves us. He wanted to show us how much he loves us. Everything that happened to him afterward flows from that.  Jesus of Nazareth lived and worked among particular people and built up a following of people who are in part intrigued by his interpretation of their moral laws, and in part eager to experience one of the wonders that he had been said to perform.  He did not let them down, either, but worked numerous miracles without ever seeming chiefly interested in them.  He began to intimate to his followers that he was God, or the Son of God, or one with God.  It must have been hard for them to tell exactly what he was driving at because they don't seem to have understood for some time.  His teachings became more radical and he directly challenged the religious leaders of his day because of their hypocrisy.  They conspired against him and had him executed.  But on the third day he rose from the dead, his body transformed and his mannerisms wholly different.  For a bit over a month he walked among them again, but never stayed with them for very long.  At this point, he seems to have been mainly interested in them knowing that it really was him, and that the one who had been slain had been raised.  Then, in a last supernatural feat, he was taken bodily to heaven, which is weird, because heaven is not at the moment a bodily place.  But taken he was.

Now we Christians believe that 2000 years later, he is still speaking to any who will listen.  He can do this because he is not dead, but is risen, because his human body is not rotting but is raised and transcends mere physicality.  He does this as he as spoke to the prophets, by provoking his message to arise in our hearts and minds.  If we are too busy racing around doing stuff, his message will only occur to us as some sort of irritating or unanswered twitch in the back of our mind, or some sort of unease in our heart, an unexamined stirring of our conscience.  But it will not get through to us very easily unless we take time out to attend to it.

Now, I don't believe that this is all mumbo-jumbo, because I have experienced it.  I believe that on a number of occasions God has given me clear instructions while I prayed, and has also consoled me by changing my heart in ways I could not do myself.  But I also know myself somewhat, and know that I am more than capable of making up mumbo-jumbo.  It is entirely possible for me to think, "Oh, God told me X," when in reality I merely have indigestion, a short temper, or a bad night's sleep.  It is important for me not to take too seriously the things I think that God has said until I arrive at some sort of verification that is more objective.

So, dear anonymous reader, I hope that this response addresses your concerns, even if - I am sure - it doesn't exactly clear them all up.  Keep seeking God.

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