“For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world” (verse 4).
I’m with Jesus’ brothers on this one, although not for the same reasons. God wants people to come to know Him, and yet He seems to operate so silently. God is glorious and bigger than the world, and yet He makes Himself invisible.
I wrote on John 6 concerning the nature of the Word and the Sacrament and the ways God gives himself to us. It all seemed so clear when I wrote it, and through John 6 and my meditations, God stirred up my faith.
But I’ve slept since then and yesterday’s manna has evaporated. And what shall I do? Shall I demand of God an encore?
I wrote about how God comes so clearly through His Word and Sacrament. But today I see something else about the way God reveals Himself to us: nothing. What I mean is that today I see how I can’t really see God. I’m not talking about my lack of faith: I mean on a physical, literal level, on which we so often demand that God live, I can’t see God. Not in this life.
Surely God reveals Himself to those who have faith. Surely He comes through His Word and His world, through His Sacrament and through His Body, as well as in other ways. His children truly come to know Him.
But none of this is God. I can’t see Him. And yet I do.
What I am describing is what we theologians (notice how I deftly include myself amongst this lofty company?) apophatic theology or the via negativa (as opposed to cataphatic theology). I don’t fully understand the apophatic way and am, frankly, somewhat suspicious of it (especially how some have used it). But I must allow God to speak however He chooses, even in silence.
God is not the words of my Bible that I described in yesterday’s meditation on John 6, and He is not the Sacrament. He is not even the Church, the Body of Christ.
And yet He truly comes through all these things, invisibly uniting Himself to them so that He may really unite Himself to me.
God is beyond the categories that we use to make sense of a world to which we are wed. God created the world and its parameters, but He is beyond them all. He is beyond existence and nonexistence, for He simply IS. He is simple and One, and yet He is not simply One but also Three. He is in time and yet being before and after time and the Creator of time, He is also outside of it and above it. He is above and below and everywhere – and no where. He is in the world and yet not of it.
If I saw God in a burning bush – it wouldn’t really be God Himself, would it? If I saw a miracle, the miracle wouldn’t really be God. And yet surely God would be showing Himself to me through these.
And so it is in this adumbrated world that nothing in this world is God, and yet God chooses to use this world to faithfully communicate Himself to us.
Regardless of how obviously or inconspicuously God comes to us, faith is required to see God today and every day. Some may say that He doesn’t come as dramatically as He used to. Where are all the miracles we were promised (or so we thought)? And yet even if we had seen the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 it would have done us no good if by it we did not see God. Have you ever noticed how many people in the Bible saw the miracles of God and yet still didn’t believe or how many believed for a short time and quickly forgot?
Maybe God is angling for something more substantial and special than even miracles.
Maybe He’s after a heart filled with faith and love, and to do this He hides Himself in the very things He uses to reveal Himself.
Martin Luther wrote that the spiritual man alone “can distinguish the position from the Word, the divine mask from God Himself and the work of God. Until now we have dealt only with the veiled God, for in this life we cannot deal with God face to face. Now the whole creation is a face or mask of God. But here we need the wisdom that distinguishes God from His mask. The world does not have this wisdom. There it cannot distinguish God from His mask. When a greedy man, who worships his belly, hears that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God” he eats the bread but fails to see God in the bread; for he sees, admires, and adores only the mask. He does the same with gold and with other creatures. He puts his trust in them as long as he has them; but when they forsake him, he despairs” (Commentary on Galatians).
Do you really want to see God? Why? Your honest answer to this question will point you to understanding yourself, and then God. And if your honest answer is also a faithful answer, then the God who hides Himself will reveal Himself to you.
The problem comes when we seek God on our terms. Do we want to see Him so that our bellies can be filled or He can wave His magic wand and all our stressors go away?
What if, instead, we simply sought God wherever He told us He could be found?
God offered Himself to Naaman in such a simply way. Might Naaman expected that God would do something dramatic, befitting a man of Naaman’s position. Instead, all he had to do was wash.
And so baptism seems like just a little water over a person’s head, accompanied by some mumbo jumbo words (and the Eucharist is just bread and water accompanied by some hocus pocus words).
And our lives seem like just a planet 24,000 miles around filled with brown earth and green grass and brown and green trees and 7 billion people.
Maybe I’ve seen so much of God’s glory in this world and yet refused to acknowledge it that God needs to prune my life. This is where apophatic theology may be of use to me. I must clear my mind of what I think I know but don’t. As St. Cyril said: “For in what concerns God to confess our ignorance is the best knowledge.” I must allow God to tear down the shack I’ve built for myself so that a highway to Him may be put through.
I’ll probably get in trouble from English teachers everywhere (not to mention readers!) for the following sentence, but here goes: A catechesis of a catharsis of the cataphatic allows for the apophatic.
I cry with Isaiah: “Oh, that You would tear open the heavens and come down, that even the mountains would quake at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:1).
What I forget is that He has already done this. And every day, in myriad ways, He allows me to come to Him and be with Him and see as much of Him as I can take.
And so I’m content and more than content with the small still voices, and the small places, and the invisible signs that God has provided for me. They are enough and more than enough to see God. [mention Bede and Keble seeing God from small vantage point. And I have made my peace with seeing and seeking God in Tyler, Texas).
Prayer: “Oh, that You would tear open the heavens and come down, that even the mountains would quake at your presence!” I thank You have heard the cries of Your people and have come down in the beloved person of Your Son and that You offer Yourself to me every day in many ways. Oh, that I would have eyes to see Your glory, though You hide Yourself!”
Points for Meditation:
- How much do you seek God in the theatrical and obvious, and how willing are you to see Him in the ordinary?
- In what ways are your conceptions of God limiting His presence and grace in your life?
Resolution: I resolve to focus today on one ordinary way that God comes to me in my life.