Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Times: Christian understanding of God [regarding Imam's comments]

Monday, 7th December 2009 by Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap, San Ġwann

God is a controversial subject as much as it is intriguing. Both believers and non-believers have their own views about God. The tones of the discussion might differ according to the diverging ideas presented for argumentation.

Nevertheless, there are some concepts which, by their very nature, are unacceptable to endorse. For instance, I find it pretty horrible to accept a God who is portrayed as a ruthless judge and knows no mercy in the way he exercises his judgment. How can a God who chops off the hands of thieves and carries out capital punishment on those who are engaged in same-sex marriages, homosexuality, adultery and abortion can ever qualify to be merciful? Additionally, it is very worrying to hear that such a God is so cool and tranquil to end a human person's life much on the same lines as an enraged master would kill a disobedient servant.

Personally speaking, the Christian understanding of God tends to solicit in me more faith and trust in Him. The reason that compels me to hold such a view is neatly expressed by what Jesus said to Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3, 16-17).

In Pope Benedict XVI's words in his encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, "faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love!" (§ 39). Only an omnipotent God can send His Son into this world to die for fallen humanity.

God's omnipotence is powerfully shown in Jesus' incarnation, self-oblation on the cross and His glorious resurrection. The Christian God is mighty not because He is violent and bloodthirsty but because He is merciful. As the Son of God, Jesus unveiled the merciful face of God the Father to us. Hence, Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical which treats God's mercy, Dives In Misericordia, says: "Making the Father present as love and mercy is, in Christ's own consciousness, the fundamental touchstone of His mission as the Messiah" (§ 3).

The Christian God is a loving God specifically because He is a merciful God. This is so since, for Christianity, "mercy is an indispensable dimension of love; it is as it were love's second name and, at the same time, the specific manner in which love is revealed and effected vis-a-vis the reality of the evil that is in the world, affecting and besieging man, insinuating itself even into his heart and capable of causing him to 'perish in Gehenna'" (§ 7).

The sympathisers of a violent God may fear that non-violence denudes God from his justice. According to Christianity though, the opposite is true. A God, who is just, must necessarily be merciful. Think, for instance, of the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father had every right to punish his son for being a wayward. Instead, he said to his servants: "Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found" (Lk 15, 22-24).

Such a merciful response of God's gratuitous mercy to obstinate human beings highly impels the latter to show mercy in their dealings with one another. "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6, 36). Within the social context of everyday life, this would imply that "true mercy is, so to speak, the most profound source of justice. If justice is in itself suitable for 'arbitration' between people concerning the reciprocal distribution of objective goods in an equitable manner, love and only love (including that kindly love that we call 'mercy') is capable of restoring man to himself" (§ 14).

The awesomeness of the Christian God shines in the fact that He does not make victims of His justice but He is himself becomes the victim of love on the cross. The Christian God is not revengeful or a puppet of his murderous wrath but an ever-forgiving God. When he was dying on the cross, the Son of God prayed and forgave his executioners. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Lk 23, 34).

In being merciful and forgiving, the Christian God is just and omnipotent. "How great is the mercy of the Lord and his forgiveness for those who turn to Him!" (Sir 17, 29).

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

1 comment:

  1. Michael SchembriDecember 10, 2009

    It's nice of Fr Attard to see his God as one of mercy and non-violence. The subtext seems to be that the Christian God is merciful, the Muslim God is not. In fact the only way to claim the former is to be selective when reviewing Christianity's history; the only way to claim the latter is to turn a blind eye to the mixed, rich and contradictory history of Islam. The sutra of the Qur'an all start with: In the name of God the Merciful...

    P.S. I am gay and an atheist.