Whenever I go into a classroom to speak about the Christian Faith to children and youngsters, I am struck by how hard it is to explain what we believe. This is especially true when I go into a class of little children. First and Second graders are natural born Theologians. They ask the questions that Augustine and Aquinas raised but they do it simply and directly. They are also unerringly logical in their approach. And in that logic they are fearless in asking what adults either don’t think to pose or dare to ask. For often, a child is shamed when the adult does not know what to answer.
I remember when I was in second or third grade. Sister had just said that we were made to love and serve God and to be happy with him in heaven. So it occurred to me to ask: why then did he put us here first, why not just create us in heaven? Underneath my question was the underlying question: why do we have to struggle so much here at earth first? Even today, I think this is a good question. Unfortunately, Sister did not agree.
If we look at the basic beliefs or creeds of the other two monotheistic faiths (Judaism and Islam) they are very simple: “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself” for Judaism. “There is not God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet” for Islam. Compare these simple formulations with the Nicene Creed that we recite every Sunday at Mass and you see the difference right away.
When we look at things more closely, we indeed see that the major tenets of our faith end in Paradox: statements of apparent opposites.
When one says, for instance, that we believe in one God, we are united in this to both Judaism and Islam; but when we speak about the Trinity, that God is one God in three persons, one posits a contradiction: How can one thing be both one and three? It seems to go against the principle of non-contradiction. Yet can God not go outside the realm of human logic? Is God not bigger than our minds?
Another basic paradox of faith is the following: Jesus is both fully human and fully divine! How can something be both a creature (i.e. created) and divine (i.e. not created)?
Let’s look at the doctrine of the place of Our Blessed Lady in the Catholic Theological system. She is hailed as both a Mother and a Virgin! See the pattern? And not only that: this woman is hailed as the Mother of God, God who has no beginning or end!
This pattern of paradox comes even into our Sacraments. The greatest of all the sacraments is the Eucharist. Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of our Savior! He unites with me as He does with everyone who receives Him throughout the world! At the same moment!
Our faith is not simple. It is a layered system of paradoxes that defy the mind much like Koans do in Buddhist practice: non logical interruptions to the mind’s accustomed way of proceeding.
All of these reflections, therefore, lead to the conclusion that the mind can only go so far in the quest for God. Revelation by God is essential as is the response of faith. “We walk by faith and not by sight”. This essential act of trust in God and the willingness to take what Kierkegaard called “The leap of Faith” is the true test of the Christian. This leap is not something done in opposition to the combination of inferences and intuitions that all seem to point in the direction of the cohesive likelihood of the success of the enterprise of faith; quite the opposite. It all seems to be moving in the direction of meaning, i.e. that it all makes sense.
But there is no proof to that effect that would have a binding power. In faith there will be always a risk that we can be wrong. But, if we are right, the implications are vast and wonderful.
Strange as it may seem, I am comforted by the Paradoxes that are the heart of our faith. I cannot remember the name of the author that I read but I remember him saying: If I can understand the nature of God and his ways, is it not possible that God is just a projection of my will or to put it bluntly: that He is an invention of the human quest for meaning in life? Paradox and mystery alert me to the fact that I cannot understand God and that He is beyond the “Coincidence of Opposites” (Nicholas of Cusa). Who would or could invent this curious synthesis of mysterious contradictions? If you were going to invent a religion, why speak about human-divine, three persons-one God, Virgin-Mother, Bread-Body, suffering-joy, Cross-Resurrection?
In the fact that it does not make sense, I see the disparity between the God who is always beyond our understanding and our limited way of knowing.
I am comforted and humbled by the greatness of God and the smallness of my abilities. I am left kneeling in wonder and awe before the majesty of the incomprehensible God. A God who is so great but still loves me personally!