GOD IS LOVE EXPRESSED IN HISTORY
Giuse Phạm Thanh Liêm, S.J.
Table of Contents
Love is the most important aspect of human life. Nobody lives without love: with love of parents, one is born and fed, with love of friendship teenagers are formed, with love young people are married, and with the love the elderly are cared for. Love makes human beings happy. God said in the book of Isaiah: “can a mother forget the baby at her breast, and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget her child, I will not forget you” (Is.49: 15). God loves Israel certainly, but God also loves all races. Christianity believes that God loves every human being, and he wills to share his eternal and happy life with human beings through Jesus Christ.
This paper utilizes the concept of God’s love as the central theme of theological synthesis, and uses the method of correlation that includes transcendental and narrative theology. This paper assumes human reason can recognize God through creature and God can be known and experienced in many different ways.
It has three parts: firstly God’s love expressed through creatures, secondly God’s love reaching the pinnacle through Jesus Christ and thirdly God’s love through the Church, as Christ’s sacrament, to be a sign of the love of God to all human beings.
Any human being recognizes that the world in which human beings live is diverse. It has many races, cultures, ideologies, political systems, and various quests for and experiences of God.
By contemplating creation with its beautiful shapes and colors, human beings can pose the fundamental question: why does so wonderful creation exist?
The fundamental experience one can have is the experience of finitude within the world. That particular experience of themselves and of others includes the correlating experience the infinite being. Human beings recognize the being of all reality, the absolute, or God in some way.
Vietnamese people recognize the Absolute who dwells in the sky, namely “Ông Tr?i” (Mr. Sky, Mr. Heaven). Vietnamese academic literature calls the Absolute “Lord of heaven”. In Vietnam, there is a proverb: “if someone does not believe in God, one cannot deal fairly with others”. “Ông Tr?i” rules the lives of people on.
Creation is from God, and is sign by which human beings recognize God. Theologians view creation as natural and universal revelation because everyone has it. Christians believe God exists and is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible. God creates human beings in the divine image, that is, capable of knowing and loving God. Human beings as creatures are in relationship with God. All have God as Creator who is immanent and transcendent.
Human history knows many religions. Religion assumes the experiences about the Absolute of the founder who shared his experience with his followers. The Absolute is so close and generous to human beings that they can encounter the Absolute at all times and regions in the world, for example Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. In all times, there are many men and women who experience deeply the Absolute. The Christian church is one among many different religions in the world.
God’s creatures have some autonomy in God’s plan. Nature has its laws, and they move material things. As a participant in nature influenced by natural laws, human beings are still have free will and are thus able to make free choices. By free choice a human being becomes a more excellent or worse being, sinner or justified. The evil human beings experience is the intentional offense against others. The injustice is manifest through seizing the material possessions of others or offending others’ lives. The human concupiscence exists in the human history, by usurping others to serve oneself. That happens in the individual but also in collective dimension. For example some individuals harass for bribes, a nation could cause offense to other nation for profit of oneself.
Every religion is concerned with the problem of salvation. Religious human beings experience the desires of eternal and happy life, but at the same time they experience the unavailability of liberating themselves from evil. The Absolute appears as their savior and their salvation.
God is recognized as Creator. Nobody hates his children, thus God loves human beings as his creature, and God gives salvation to all human beings. God’s Spirit works in Christian and Jews, theists and even atheists (Lumen Gentium, #16).
Israelites claim special experiences of God, and Christians maintain the excellent revelation. The Jews claim God chooses and loves them specially; Christians maintain that through the event of Jesus Christ God states his love to all human beings in the fullest degree.
The Israelites believed that when they were oppressed in Egypt, their ancestors called out to God and God sent Moses to liberate them from Egypt. Within their history, the Israelites recognized the intervention of God in human history. The Israelites believed God loves Abraham and their ancestors and chose them as God’s own nation. God talked with the Israelites through many prophets in their history. For Israelites, God is God for Israel and Israel is the people of God.
The Israelites believed that God loved them, and so liberated them from Egypt through Moses, talked with them through prophets, and intervened in their history. God loves the Israelites surely, but he loves non-Israelites too. God loves Israel and therefore intervened in its history, and through Israel God loves all nations. The Scripture of Jews becomes the Bible of many other people. God uses his people Israel to write his letter of love to all races in the world.
Jesus is a member of Israel. He appeared in the time which Pilate was governor of Judea in Jerusalem. Jesus is a special man for Christians.
From the historical record, Christians know that Jesus was a man who lived in Nazareth in Judea. Before being crucified at Jerusalem in time of Pontius Pilate, he went about Israel proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He chose a group of twelve among his many disciples. His preaching offended the spiritual leaders, therefore they arrested him, accused him as rebellion leader and finally put him died on cross as criminal people.
In faith, Christians believe that Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. What they know about Jesus came from the apostles, the group of twelve members whom Jesus chose. This special group became the special witnesses of Jesus, because they lived with him in three years long while Jesus preached the kingdom of God to Jews. Christians who receive what the apostles transmitted, today as in the first time of the Church, believe Jesus is risen from dead.
Jesus has compassion for suffering people. He cures the paralytic; he heals the invalid of thirty-eight years and asks him to stop sinning (Jn5: 8.14). He performed many miracles out of compassion of suffering people. Jesus respects the poor, for example, the widow who gave money in the temple. He is sympathetic with suffering people from sickness or by accident (Lk.13: 1-5). His love for others decided his activities.
He himself is treated as mad-man, possessed by demons. However, people also recognized him as a prophet, and Jesus also accepted himself as even the eschatological prophet (Mt.11: 25-27). He performed many miracles as a sign to justify his message from God.
The God about whom Jesus preached causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt.5: 45). God is merciful as the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk.15: 11ff). God loves the world so much so that God gives his beloved Son to the world (Jo.3: 16).
Jesus is always united with God in prayer and united with human beings in his activities, so much so that his food is to do Father’s will (Jo.4: 34). God’s will is very important for him: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt.26: 39). Working is important to Jesus too: “my Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (Jo.5: 17).
He claims to have the power of forgiving sins (Mk.2: 5-7), and to be the unique revelator of the Father (Mt.11: 25-27). The awareness of himself is more and more clear insofar as he accepted what Daniel’s vision about the Son of man is attributed to him (Mk.14, 62); and by this reason he is condemned with a death sentence.
Jesus preaches the kingdom of God, but the kingdom of God is not obvious that people can see it: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Lk.17: 21). Jesus denounces the scribes and Pharisees to offer a tenth of spices but to seize possession of widows’ heritages. He hates sin but has mercy on sinners. Jesus’ law is to love one another (Jn.13: 35). Nobody is allowed to judge others. Who lives in love does not fear the judgment. The last judgment will be done in the standard of what people do for the poor: “whatever you did for the poor, you did for me” (Mt.25: 31ff). Forgiveness is the golden rule in God’s kingdom. Jesus taught and he lives it. When he was hanged on the cross, he said: “Father, forgive them because they did not know what they did”.
Happiness is a mark of people who are poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and pure in heart (Mt.5: 3ff). The salvation is in men’s hearts; it depends upon the acceptance to live under the guide of his conscience, under the Torah and under the law of love. To understand salvation, one must look at Jesus with his lifetime. In this world human beings do not yet possess complete happiness or salvation; however happiness or salvation does exist already in everyone’s lifetime.
After his death, the apostles believed that Jesus was raised. The empty tomb and the appearances to both the apostles and the disciples, as well as to the women are what the New Testament writers spoke of the resurrection of Jesus.
Karl Rahner said that to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, one has to hope in resurrection of his own. Hence the obstinate in sin do not easily accept the resurrection of Jesus.
For the early community, with his resurrection Jesus is approved to be whom God is pleasant, he is pre-existent before Abraham, he is seated at the right hand of God, and he is the beloved Son of God as he claimed.
In 325, the council Nicea defined Jesus Christ is the same substance with God, God from God, light from light. Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, the beloved Son of God.
If Jesus was a man and no more, then Christianity was a religion as other religions.
By testimony of the New Testament, the early Christian community believed that Jesus is from God: “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (Jo.10: 33). However in the time of the New Testament, there were also people namely Christians who denied Jesus as Christ (1Jo.2: 18-23).
In Christian history there were many theories that try to clarify the identity of Jesus, for example, he was seen as one adopted by God (adoptionism), one subordinated to God (subordinationism), one similar to God (homoiousios), one identified with God Father (patripassionism). The council Nicea refused them and defined Jesus as God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Jesus is the same substance (homoousios) with God.
Before Jesus was hung on the cross, many people had already been hanged on the cross. Among them probably there were some innocent of their charges, but those change nothing. If Jesus is God incarnate, the beloved Son of God, the Word of God incarnate, then “Jesus hanged on the cross” reveals God’s great love to human beings. Because if God did not love humankind, therefore when human beings killed his beloved Son in the cross, then God might have destroyed them. But, in fact God is patient before men who tortured his beloved Son, that is, God waits human beings to repent, so that they can be saved. Therefore, because Jesus is the Son of God, then clearly God so loves human beings. Jesus is the sacrament of God’s love to human beings. The cross expresses God’s love and Jesus’ love to human beings.
The baptismal formula of Mt.28, 19 speaks of the Triune name of God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The early Christian community believe in the Trinity, and expressed it in great doxology: “through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever”.
The Father is the goal, the end, and the objective of the Christian prayers. The Christians address God as the Father Who creates and does all things. All is converge to God the Father from whom all things take existence.
Jesus Christ as the mediator through whom God acts, through whom everything belongs to God the Father. Jesus Christ is the unique mediator between God and humans. Christians do good things with Jesus Christ, without Him no one can do a good thing: “apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn.15, 5). Christians and the Christ are not two but only one “total person” who communicates with God the Father. In Jesus Christ, Christians pray to the Father, and they pray to the Father in the name of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is the love unites the Father and the Son. All is done “in the unity of the Holy Spirit”. All is realized in the Holy Spirit, such as the creation, the incarnation of the Word of God, the work of salvation and the faith in Jesus Christ (1Cor.12, 3).
The “great doxology” expresses the Christian faith in the Trinity as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God the Father does all through Christ in the Holy Spirit. So much so that nothing is done without all three persons, as if “only one God” does every thing.
The Church is “sacrament” of Jesus’ love for the world in sense that it is Jesus’ presence and mission in history and world.
By the testimony of the New Testament Jesus chose a group of twelve among many disciples. This twelve group was chosen to be the witnesses of what Jesus lived, preached and did. By this twelve the resurrection of Jesus is recognized, the divinity of Jesus is acknowledged, and the divinity of Holy Spirit is recognized.
The twelve is the kernel of the Church, and by them the apostolic characteristic of the Church is professed: “I believe the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic”.
The sacraments are symbols that articulate Jesus’ love to human beings. With seven sacraments God expresses his love to Christians in the whole of their lives: in the first time of their lives though baptism, in youth with confirmation, in family life with marriage, in a life of service with ordination, and in the case of failure by reconciliation, to share daily the divine life with Eucharist, and in sickness with extreme unction.
The sacraments are the expression of God’s love. By baptism God makes us children of God, sharing the divine life of God. By the sacrament of reconciliation God uses the ecclesiastical minister to give absolution, so that the repentant feels peaceful and happy. The Church performs his charge to be the sacrament of love by offering the sacraments.
The Church’s mission is Jesus’ mission: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jo.20, 21). Jesus’ mission is to show God’s love to human beings, so it is also the Church’s mission. If Jesus is the Son of God incarnate, then God’s love for human beings is excellent. If the Church lives his mission, then the Church expresses God’s love to human beings too.
Christ’s Church contains all who believe in Jesus Christ. The life of the Church is the lives of Christians. God is love, thus Christians by their lives have to show to others, non-believers and believers, God’s love for them.
The Church realizes its mission by preaching the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because if someone recognized Jesus as Word of God incarnate, then he recognized God’s love to him and to the entire world.
The Church fulfills his mission by practicing the law of love that Jesus taught. With various works the Church helps human beings today to be liberated from all kind of slavery and to believe in Jesus Christ and in God. Through the holy lives of Christians as her members, the Church completes her delegated mission.
Christians are saved in this world, but not yet completely. The belief in Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, and the hope in God, help Christians to live in the world in freedom. The salvation Jesus Christ gives to Christians is not only in this world but also in the next. Jesus as a man did not receive complete happiness in this world: he died in the cross! The resurrection is the sign to recognize the complete life and happiness of Jesus and Christians.
All are created by God, so human beings of all races are children of God. Jesus Christ died for all. God is for everyone, not only of Christians.
By Vatican II’ s teachings, non-Christians can be saved by their act of choice according to their conscience (L.G.16). There are many religions in the world, and these religions have deep spiritualities. The believers of other religions did and are doing many charitable works. Through that, Christians can recognize the God’s actions and love. Christians could be thrown outside (Mt.8: 11-12) if they didn’t live in law of love. The salvation is not only for the afterlife but also in this world, so if someone did not live in love then they did not have salvation now and even in the coming life.
Christians have to respect other religions and their believers, because the Holy Spirit is also with them and guides them in God’s way. Christians recognize Jesus Christ as the complete revelation, but Christ and God are transcendent. Christians’ comportment to human beings and to God is very important, for Christian as for non-Christians. God loves everyone. Respecting, trusting in, and loving human beings are signs to recognize who are children of God.
God is love. By and with love God creates everything for human beings. He so loves human beings that he gives his only Son for human beings, even though human beings killed his Son. By Jesus Christ, human beings know that God wills to share his divine life with human beings, so that they live in happiness eternally. Jesus Christ is God’s sacrament of love to the world. The Church is Christ’s sacrament of love to human beings, that is, it continues to show to human beings God’s love by his members’ lives and activities.
Christians are not the unique subject of God’s love, but all races in the world. The important thing for Christians is not to claim the superiority of Christianity over other religions from the God’s plan of salvation, but to show to all people the God’s love through Jesus Christ. This will be done if the Church and his members become incarnate in the world as the Word of God incarnate and become one of human beings.
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Giuse Phạm Thanh Liêm, S.J.