Culture at the Crossroads
Who's on First? The Only Begotten Son of God
In an analogous way, Jesus enables God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all that is visible and invisible, to write the story of creation. What the Son does is make every atom testify to the work of the Father, rendering the whole world sacramental. Belief in the Only Begotten Son of God thereby opens a world of meaning, which different peoples have discerned over the ages. We perceive competition among different religious groups; God sees ever-partial (and often false) attempts to give language to the reality that the Incarnation unfolds.
Was Jesus that Son? Here is where we confront the radicality of our faith: we must choose to accept the testimony of the disciples and see what fruit it bears. There have been many others who have claimed to be a son of God (a fascinating 19th-century example in China here), but the testimonies to Jesus—and the two millennia of faith that have followed him—offer a compelling testimony. Even these are not enough, though: for if God is God, and if God has become incarnate in Jesus, then that touchstone of history cannot of itself be the final story. No: if the Incarnation is real, if God has indeed entered human history as a character in the drama, then the whole of history is transformed. To be human, in the words of Augustine, is to be "capable of God"—to be capable of knowing God directly, in one's own flesh and blood, imagination and passion, desire and hope, terror and suffering.
And it is precisely that capacity for God that underlies the great spiritual traditions of Christianity. The one I have studied and practiced most assiduously over my adult life is the Ignatian tradition, following Ignatius of Loyola's petition to Mary, the mother of God: "place me with your son." When we pray, we are capable of encountering Jesus in our imagination and conversing with him, allowing him (as the only begotten Son of God) to lead us to the Father. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus comprise the stories by which Jesus leads us more and more deeply into communion with the Father, more deeply into lives of transparent love.