Sunday, August 14, 2016


Idolatry Part I

1.     We are used to thinking of idolatry as statues and images of other sects or religions. So our usual idea of idolatry is cultural—it marks what is already outside our fence. Let us pause for a while and look again at idolatry. It is so rejected by the prophets and other persons in the Bible. The rejection is not limited to “protecting what is inside our fence”. The fear of other statues and carven images is not just about protecting one’s culture and religion. There is something more. There is a deep insight into the rejection of idolatry. We need to go beyond the cultural colors of idolatry.
2.     One of the more famous passages dealing with idolatry in the Old Testament is Ex.20/3-4. It might surprise you but maybe a good way to understand the prohibition of idolatry is to look back at the book of Genesis, in the garden of Eden story.
3.     God gives a command—an order—to Adam in the garden. “The LORD God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die” (2/16-17). The order is summarized as “you may…but”. You may eat from all the trees but not from this one tree. To live well and happily in the garden, “you may…but”.
4.     This is the first part of the command: “You may…” do what you want. Do anything you want. Feel free. The second part of the command gives a limit: “but…” there are just certain things you cannot do because if you do them you will die. This is actually a description of human life and human condition. The human is a creature of desire. The human desires for many things. Why not? There is nothing wrong with desiring. However, recognize the limits of desire. Recognize that your desire cannot hold on to everything. Your desire cannot possess and control and dominate over everything. There is a limit.
5.     Think of driving a car. We might want to drive freely and in full speed. But we need to step on the brake from time to time otherwise we crash onto a wall or a tree or fall off a cliff. We crash on to other cars or we flip our car. Without recognizing the use of the brake we get into an accident, or as verse 17 says, “when you eat from it you shall die”. There is a “speed limit” on the road of life. Recognize that limit, the travel will be fantastic.
6.     The command of Gen.2/16-17 is about suspense and adventure. When we fail to recognize the limits of our desires, when we go full speed without limit and without stepping on the brake, we give ourselves the impression that we are now dominating, fully possessing, fully in control of life. We occupy all the space available, we become “too full of ourselves”. There is no more suspense. There is no more mystery and no more further knowing and learning. We stop the dynamism of desire.
7.     The command of God is meant to open more room and space in life. There are things to see, discover, know and understand. Do not think you can have it all. Do not let your desire give you the illusion that you can have it all. Know the limits. The limits allow for mystery; they allow for developing, deepening, discovering more, broadening horizons. Life is an adventure, face it. Suspend your desires and do not give full speed to them.
8.     If we try to pursue our desires full speed without limits we isolate ourselves. We stop recognizing the reality in front of us. We want to make all reality conform to our desires. The alterity of the world around us is rejected. Being too full of ourselves we make ourselves isolated. We start seeing only ourselves and our desires.
9.     This is why Gen.2/16-17 opens up to verse 18: “It is not good for the man to be alone”. It is not good to be alone. It is not good to be isolated. We need a face-to-face relationship. We know the story, eventually the woman emerges (from the ribs of Adam, as we traditionally say). Now there is a face-to-face contact.
10.            The presence of the other person tells us that we are not alone. Other people have their own thoughts, feelings, plans, dreams, hopes and fears. We have to recognize that. I am not the only person in this room. I am not the only person in this family. I am not the only person in this community. I am not the only person in this society. The presence of the other person limits me, that presence forces me to step on the brake of my desires and recognize that the other person has his/her desires too.
11.            What is fascinating in God’s command is this: we adventure in life together. You and I, we both have limits to our desires. We are both in the same human condition of desires and limits. You and I can adventure in life. I learn from you, you learn from me.
12.            Imagine living in a community where each member is just “too full of oneself”. Nobody wants to know what others feel and desire. Nobody dares to ask, “How are you”. So in that community each one lives in isolation from others. It is always about me, not you. In that community there is no adventure. Members do not explore life together. Each one is to his or her own. Somewhere along the way desires clash. Violence, even in discreet ways, is applied. Being in that community one does not feel “alive”. Did you ever have an experience of living in such a community?
13.            The command of God in Gen.2/16-17 including 18 is an “instruction” guide on how to live properly—in the world with others. It is an instruction guide on how to live with adventure in life. It is an instruction guide on how to “bloom”.
14.            We know the story. The serpent shows up. The serpent seems to know so much, it even claims to know God’s secret. God may not know that the serpent knows. The serpent then has an “edge” over God. The serpent is like God.
15.            What is the serpent presenting? It is presenting the reason why the command of God need not be obeyed. God cannot be trusted, he has a secret, and his command is meant to preserve that secret. God is telling a lie. So do not put faith in God; have no confidence in God.
16.            God has his desires and he wants to go full speed. But the presence of the humans is an obstacle. God feels threatened in the competition with humans. So God gave the command to gain control over humans, to stop humans from winning in the competition. God is too full of himself and it is the reason why he gave the command. God’s command violates human freedom; it is a command that prohibits humans from blooming. Again, do not trust God. Trust me, I am the serpent, I know God’s secret.
17.            The serpent speaks well. It is so convincing. The “full-speed-desiring” of the humans is stimulated. Now that God is given a negative image, humans can then fulfill their own “full-speed-desires”. We know the story, from the prohibited tree humans start eating fruits.
18.            As soon as a prohibited fruit was eaten, desire transformed into coveting. Coveting is desiring without respect for limits. There is no more stepping on the brake. Take a look at one commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Ex.20/17). She is not my wife. She belongs to someone else. Both of them have a family. They have a life together. To covet the wife is to be blind from all the limits; it is assume that I can step over the limits. I desire and better have what I want, never mind the limits. To covet is to refuse recognizing that my neighbor has his adventure to do in life with his wife. My coveting gets in the way of that life; it violates that life.    
19.            To believe in the talk of the serpent is idolatry. To accept the lie about God—that God is jealous and cannot be trusted with his command—is idolatry. To accept that I have all the reason to covet and there is no stopping me…this is idolatry. To accept that I can live life full of myself and that I can go full speed and do what I want without stepping on the brake…this is idolatry. To live without considering the command of God is idolatry. I can pervert my desire, this is idolatry.
20.            The cunning serpent is the figure of that Idolatry. The serpent is that idol. Note how far this view is from the simple cultural prohibition in idolatry. Idolatry is not just about statues and carved images of a god or goddess. It is about rejecting God and his command to live fully, humanly, “bloomingly”. Underneath the cultural fear of other statues and carved images is this insight about God and ourselves.  

Idolatry Part II

1.       In part I we had a description of the command of Gen2/16-17. We recall that the command is an “instruction” on “how to live in the garden”. The command is summarized as: “you may…but”. You may do what you want…yes, anything. Fulfill your desires. Pursue your plans. Follow your dreams. Express your passion. Yes, feel free to do anything. Yes, do anything you want. But…be responsible. Know the parameters of what you desire and plan and dream. You do not make an absolute of your desires, for if you do… “if you eat a fruit from that tree you will die”. Death comes in many ways. There is the actual death, but there is also the death of relationships, there is also the death of joy, happiness, vibrancy in life. Life becomes miserable.
2.       The command of Gen2/16-17 tells us that life is an adventure, put suspense on desires, do not assume to completely fulfill desires. Have confidence in the present of others, live together and adventure together in life. Learn from each other, share and receive with each other. Learn to also place yourself in the hands of others and accept when others place themselves in your hands. As an old song puts it, “We’re in this love together”. Nobody monopolizes anyone. It is not good to be alone (see Gen2/18)—it is not good to be the only person in this family, in this community, in this workplace, in this school, in this government, in this society….Adventure with everybody else. Is it not true that when each member, say, of a community starts being “alone” and “full of oneself”, the community falls apart. It turns gloomy and rough.
3.       Rejecting Gen2/16-17 is to accept dehumanization. The command says you may do anything you want just do not dehumanize. Do not dehumanize yourself, do not dehumanize your relationships with others, do not dehumanize social life.
4.       Israel got into a Covenant with God. It was sealed with the agreement that the people will follow the Law. God liberated the people from Egypt—from the slavery there. God gives the Law during the Covenant to let the people have references for their lives in the land given to them. The law was designed so that slavery will not be repeated in the land, in society. The law has its discipline. It is designed to “tame” impulses, to shape desires, to know how to live responsibly. God’s demand in the Covenant and its laws is that the people elevate themselves to a level of moral-ethical living. Hence, for example, the prophets remind the people to live in justice and be vigilant against injustice.
5.       Rejecting the Covenant and its Law is treason. It is to turn back on God and on the call to ethical living. Idolatry is a treason. It is to say that only one law applies, “you may”. The “but” part makes no sense, there is no room for that. Such is idolatry.
6.       When the prophets warned the people, the prophets reminded the people of the link between injustice and idolatry. They are a perfect pair.
7.       Idolatry means that the people prefer their own god. No they do not like the Lord God who makes moral demands. They prefer their own god whom they can domesticate. They prefer a god who will allow them to covet, a god who will not question their moral lives. They prefer a god who will allow them to make an absolute of their desires.
8.       They prefer a god who will allow a life without “speed limits”. No stepping on the brakes. They prefer a god who will give a “seal of approval” for their limitless desires, dis-ordinate they may be. They are disciples of the serpent in the garden.
9.       Do we have examples of this? Yes, we can look at two. One is the story of the golden calf in Exodus and the other is the issue of prostitution in Hosea.
10.   In the Exodus story we read the Moses is called up the mountain and “disappears” for forty days. In that absence the people start getting uneasy. They feel that they have been abandoned in the wilderness. They have no one to lead them, their God is felt absent. It is an occasion to take a leap of faith, have confidence in God. God is a mystery with his own way of living. Now God and his mediator (Moses) are not visible, their presence is sought. Have confidence. But the people prefer to take hold of their God. They cannot tolerate mystery, they cannot tolerate the felt absence of God. Idolatry is a way of escaping that mystery. Idolatry is a way of creating a god that the people can hold. It is not a god of mystery, it is a god of human fabrication. It is a god brought to birth by human imagination.
11.   It is a golden calf. Archaeology has discovered that the calf is used as footstools for temple gods. Calf is a wild fertile animal, still in the prime of its fertility. It has power, but it is power that can go wild. This is the god the people created. The gold is from Egypt; as the people escaped they ransacked Egyptian properties and took gold with them.
12.   The people could not trust this “absent God”. They need a god in their image and likeness. They prefer the god of their ideas and imaginations. A god who will be partisan to their own ways.  The calf is human made. Adoring the calf is self-adoring. Meanwhile the God who liberated the people from Egypt is now eliminated. From now on, with the golden calf, the people can start hearing only themselves.
13.   The prostitution in Hosea is opposed to conjugal marriage. The Lord God is married to Israel and a Covenant has been sealed. But Israel, like a prostitute, decides to go after lovers—baals. This is adultery, for Hosea. Infidelity to God and connecting with baals is idolatry.
14.   In prostitution, both the client and the prostitute relate with each other “economically”. The prostitute sells pleasure, the client buys it. The goal of their contact is not to build relationships. It is to derive from each other needs. It is a very utilitarian relationship that goes no further than the economic exchange. One is not really concerned with the other. Each one can remain too full of oneself.
15.   Baalism is this adultery, this prostitution. Israel breaks fidelity from God and goes to the baals. The baals get their pleasure, they receive rituals. Israel gets her pay—the agricultural products, with oil and wine. It is a pure utilitarian relationship. The baals do not require moral living from the people. All that the baals want are rituals. The people prefer this. They do the rituals and they get their agricultural products. There is not demand for ethical living. There is no call for justice. Just do the religious rituals—that is enough. The rituals can be done yearly, like in prostitution where the client returns regularly for the quick pleasure moment. Baalism is a very convenient religion. It is what the people prefer.

16.   In a conjugal relationship of love, like that of Israel and the Lord God, the exchange is free. Nobody pays anything to anyone. The goal of the relationship is communion, love. The relationship is marked by confidence and mutual trust; each promises fidelity to the other. Israel promises to “live good” and “live morally”. The communication is dialogue—prayer—and not rituals. Hosea invites the people of Israel to return to their true lover—to their true husband.   

On violence in the Bible

1.     In our first year, first semester class we said that the Bible is a set of books written by human authors. They were “inspired”. Ok, that should be clear by now. If we talk about the violence of God and we do not pay attention to the human-cultural origin of the Bible, we will be in trouble. We will be confused.
2.     In the older times some Christians were so confused they refused to consider violent parts of the Bible as truly part of the Bible. Some cut off the violent parts when they cited the Bible for the liturgy.
3.     Some Christians, however, were so happy about the violent parts that they even said that violence can be justified. They said that God wanted violence, God allowed violence. Some Christians justified their violence against Jews, for example, because the Jews believed in another God, not in the God of Christians. So it was ok for Jews to be massacred; anyway the Christian God allowed it.
4.     For centuries many Christians have also been very violent and they justified their violence with the use Scriptures. Let us not repeat the cycle. Let us mature in our dealing with the Bible.
5.     Maybe we grew up without being so aware of the human-cultural reality of the Bible. We were taught that it was “Word of God” and must therefore be read literally. To read the Bible literally is a serious error and it is fundamentalist. Fundamentalism does not like to see how human the Bible is.
6.     Hopefully by now this is resolved…that we do not read the Bible literally. We approach the Bible more critically. Being critical does not mean that we are rejecting the Word of God. The theology of inspiration has made it clear. The Bible is God’s written Word but it was written by inspired human authors. God did not mind if human authors put in their cultural mentality.
7.     The Bible is not to be simply read. We must dialogue with the Bible. We must dialogue with the human authors and discern their insights about God underneath their cultural mindset. Human authors of the Bible had an encounter—an experience—about God in history. They could not avoid writing that experience with their cultural categories, but we can work to discern what was that encounter. It was in that encounter with God where “inspiration” may have taken place. So what were the INSIGHTS of Biblical authors underneath their cultural ways of writing? To be “critical” is to discern the cultural aspects and to eventually discern the inspired aspects.
8.     It may help us to note that many Biblical books were edited by later authors too. For example the book of Joshua, being a very violent book, contains parts that have been added by other writers centuries after the original book was written. The book of Joshua that we read now is a book of different layers composed of the original text with later added texts. The added parts were attempts of later writers to “soften” the violence of the original Joshua. This is proof that not everyone is so willing to simply accept unconditionally violence depicted. Authors really struggled hard too in writing about how violent God can really be. Can we not say therefore that the struggle itself is part of the “inspiration” of the Scriptures? Authors sense the something is underneath their written texts and they work hard to somehow express that through editions.
9.     In spite of the Hebraic-Jewish cultural elements in the Bible there are insights about our true human condition. The Bible can mirror us and our real human life.
10.            Read the Joseph story for example. Note how each character in the story—including Jacob—is trying to get out of difficulties. While trying to get out they do violence. Jacob hurts his sons by saying Joseph is his favorite. Jacob is in his very old age and he has a new son. His wife dies. Jacob is in pain, so he expresses it in making Joseph his favorite and consequently hurt the other sons. Joseph is in pain because he feels the jealousy of his brothers. So to get out of that pain he tells his brothers of a dream in which his brothers bowed down to him. The brothers were in pain and to get out of it they hurt Joseph by throwing him in a hole and then selling him. They even wanted him killed. So the story is about persons in pain refusing to really communicate with each other and venting that pain on others by doing violence to others.
11.            Is this not about ourselves too? The Bible authors who wrote this may have been writing about a cultural practice but in the bottom of it is a truth about the human condition. And then the story continues to end up with a “happy ending”. The family ends up in Egypt and is able to prosper. Note that even if there is violence in the story that violence shapes up to find a good conclusion. The Bible authors may have depicted the reality of violence but they showed that in managing that violence good things can arise. Note that violence happens, in the story, while God is absent. The absence of God provokes violence. This is true. As God comes into the picture, the violence is slowly shaped to lead to a happy ending. Is this not a beautiful insight underneath the cultural elements of the story?   
12.            Bible authors are humans. They are part of history. Their faith in God is a faith in a God who is not abstract and distant from human life. God is implicated in history. God enters into the human world including the human world of violence. Bible authors cannot avoid pasting their own cultural sense of violence into the intervention of God in history. But they show an insight about God—a true insight. God is not an abstract God. God engages with humans in a very personal way.
13.            Ok, so Bible authors connect God with violence and can even make God look violent. But note that God’s violence is not arbitrary. It is not violence due to an immature and frivolous attitude. It is not a violence of revenge. There is lucidity in the violence of God. It is a violence that limits the violence of people. God is violent to protect the victim from the violence of others. God appears violent and in so doing reveals the deep violence of the human heart. God may be depicted as violent but concludes it by making people have a distaste for violence.
14.            Bible authors struggle with violence and may find it difficult to really accept God as violent. But Bible authors cannot shed off their cultural mindsets. Somehow they cannot avoid projecting violence unto God. But even as they do this they reveal their insights about God. God is a God of presence, a God concerned with the victims, a God concerned with teaching people to give up violence, a God who mirrors to humans their own deep capacity for violence. We may debate on the actual violence of God but the insights are clear. Underneath the cultural elements is the revelation about God who is worried about human violence.
15.            We should not be taking it easy and reading the Bible naively. Dialogue with the Bible.
16.            The revelation of God in the New Testament is clearly historical and very personal in the presence of Jesus Christ. Over the course of time and history we see that in the New Testament God, in Christ, has really taken a clear stand in front of violence. Violence is a reality for God and God is willing to be victim of that violence. Through that God is able to show the path of liberation away from violence.

17.            We also need to have a global reading of the Bible and see the evolution of the way violence is depicted. The books of Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, are interconnected. It will be an error to remove some parts because of our awkward feelings. Face the whole Bible as it presents itself and dare to dialogue with it.    

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Knowledge of Jesus Part I

1.  How were we raised in thinking about Jesus Christ? We might think that he was all-knowing even when he was still living with and doing his mission with his disciples. In other words, before Easter he was already all-knowing with super knowledge. So he knew, for example, how and when he was going to die. It was not unknown to him. While he was living with his disciples he already predicted the time of his death. He knew it, he was not ignorant about it.
2.  Of course it can be a problem too. If we say that Jesus knew everything, as God, then do we say he was only pretending to be limited in knowledge when he was with his disciples? If we say yes, then we might be following Docetism.
3.  If we say that Jesus knew nothing about himself as God and his knowledge was purely limited like human knowledge, then we might be following Arius.
4.  If we say that Jesus sometimes knew all and sometimes was limited, then we might be following Nestorius.
5.  The early Christians—during the early centuries of Church history—did not think of this limitation of knowledge as a problem. In general the early Christians were recognizing the limits in the knowledge of Jesus. If Jesus was, indeed, the Word made flesh and who “emptied himself” and became human, then it was perfectly understandable that he had limited human knowledge. He took the human condition. It applied to him. The Word became flesh—became human—and was subjected to the same human conditions as all humans. If, from birth, Jesus knew everything already, he would be a monster!
6.  The plan of God to save humanity had to include the human limitations of Jesus. It had to include the Incarnation and all the conditions of being incarnate. Jesus had to be one with humanity without exemption.
7.  Jesus may have sensed that he was Son of God and that the Lord God was his Father. But that did not raise a problem. He can be Son of God and be limited at the same time. As Son of God he had the task of revealing the Kingdom to people, and he showed authority in doing that. But Jesus was, at the same time, respecting the reality of the human condition. To have full super knowledge outside human limits would be a violation of the Incarnation. It would be incompatible with the humanity of Christ. For the early Christians it was alright that Jesus came “from above” and be limited in a human way.
8.  But then arose certain questions about the knowledge of Jesus. A debate was provoked by a passage in the gospels, as we read in Mark: “But of that day or hour, nobody knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, only the Father knows” (Mk.13/32). Could the verse be proof that Jesus, as Son, had ignorance about the final days? Some people started to insist that Jesus had ignorance as human ignorance. This point of view came to be known as “agnoecitism”. It provoked a crisis in the Church.
9.  Some Christians could not accept this. If we allow ignorance in Jesus then he cannot really reveal what is from God. Jesus cannot be instrument of God’s revelation; Jesus cannot therefore save. If Jesus is to save and judge the world he cannot have ignorance. But Jesus is Saviour, so he cannot be ignorant. Maybe people are ignorant of the final days, but not the Son of God.
10.      In fact there were later Christians who really denied any limitations in Jesus and said that even while in the womb of Mary Jesus already knew everything!
11.      The trend was to protect the divinity of Christ. People just found it so difficult to blend the humanity and the divinity in Christ. The rejection of any ignorance in Jesus continued until the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages there were many variations in trying to prove the absolute, super knowledge of Christ. We can look at one perspective, that of Thomas Aquinas.
12.      For Thomas Aquinas Jesus had three ways of knowing. He had in him “beatific vision” in which he had direct contact with God’s knowledge. Here Jesus was really super all-knowing. Then Jesus had “infused knowledge” or the knowledge of angels. Angels, being dis-incarnate, could see the essences of all things. Jesus had this special knowledge too. Finally Jesus had knowledge which is the same as the knowledge of any human being. This was called “acquired knowledge”. Like all human Jesus had to learn and acquire knowledge over time.
13.      Thomas Aquinas made a fascinating “theory” about the knowledge of Christ but it tended to make Christ unlimited. The humanity of Christ was somehow downplayed.
14.      The Church continued this path of accepting Christ as all-knowing and there was so much hesitation to accept his human limitations. Modernity came, however, and it started to be critical about the absolute super-knowledge of Jesus. Modernists wanted to emphasize the humanity of Jesus and they wanted to show how Jesus was really like all humans—developing, growing in understanding, limited. Church Magisterium reacted against this modernist trend. For the Magisterium it was impossible for Jesus to be limited, it was impossible for Jesus to have ignorance. The modern approaches were too risky for faith. Hence teaching modern ideas was prohibited in schools and seminaries.
15.      This does not mean that the Church was completely anti-modernity. The Church was simply prudent and felt that Catholic schools and seminaries were not ready for assimilating modern ideas. The Church Magisterium never stopped anyone from discussing and debating with modernity. In fact there were quite a number of theologians who went deep into modern thinking.
16.      Modern trend—up until today—does not hesitate to recognize the human limitations of Jesus. Interesting here is the return to Scriptures, especially the return to the Gospel accounts. Modern theologians would say that over centuries the Bible was not a strong reference for knowing Christ. So why not return to the Gospels and investigate what the Gospels really show about Jesus?
17.      The Gospels show a tension between the super-knowing Jesus and the limited earthly Jesus. Mark, for example, presents Christ as very human with ignorance and limitations. But at the same time Mark is ready to present Jesus as strongly intimate with God. Jesus can read people’s hearts and minds. So in Mark was this tension between the “super” and the “earthly/human” sides of Jesus. Matthew and Luke seem more opting for a more “super-knowing” Jesus but they too had their passages showing a limited Jesus. On one hand Jesus may have been all-knowing even in the womb of his mother—as the Visitation story seems to say. But Jesus also grew and developed in wisdom; he had to pass through normal, human development. John may look like he emphasizes fully the divinity of Jesus. But if, for John, “the Word became flesh” (1/14), there was still the reality of “becoming flesh”. Hence Jesus was not completely in the divine loop; he was also limited.
18.      There is this tension between the heavenly glorious Jesus and the earthly limited Jesus in all four gospel accounts. We can understand the tension. Remember that the Gospels were written after the Easter experience. So the gospel authors, in retrospect to the life of Jesus, wanted to show that the exaltation of Jesus in the resurrection was already present in the before-Easter time. The Easter experience influenced the writing about the life of Jesus. The Gospel authors were, on one hand, working with the impact of the historical Jesus and they were, on the other hand, interpreting that impact with the Easter experience. It was not perhaps so easy to write that way; so there is a tension in the Gospel texts.
19.      This tells us that the Gospel authors recognized both the super-glorified knowledge of Jesus and the limited-human knowledge of Jesus. Somehow  the authors may not have resolved the question of what exactly was the knowledge of Jesus. But that may not have been the interest of the Gospel authors. Live with the tension.
20.      So if we go back to the question of Jesus knowing about his death, modern theology and Biblical interpretation will answer that differently from the Medieval theology. Medieval theology will immediately go for the full-knowledge of Jesus, no ignorance. Jesus knew in advance his death. But modern Biblical interpretation will prefer looking at the Gospel texts, recognize the tension, and evaluate them in the light of the historical conditions of Jesus.
21.      How will modern Biblical interpretation see the knowledge of Jesus about his death. Historically Jesus saw himself slowly getting into trouble with some people, notably the religious authorities of Palestine. Jesus was beginning to realize that his mission provoked the anger and jealousy of certain persons and his mission can, indeed, make some people want to kill him. Jesus may have known that and it was historically true. Jesus then expressed his concern to his disciples.
22.      Now, the Gospel authors wrote about that after Easter. So they painted that event with their views of Easter and the glorification of Jesus. The knowledge of Jesus about his death, in the historical sense, was interpreted by the Gospel authors in the light of the Resurrection.
23.      Of course nobody is to stop us from believing still in the absolute super-knowledge of Jesus. But let us pause for a while and ask ourselves why insist on removing any form of ignorance from Jesus. Indeed, if the Word became flesh, what is wrong then if the knowledge of Jesus had the same conditions as that of human knowledge? His ignorance does not necessarily delete his divinity. His ignorance can, in fact, be interpreted positively. Because of limits in the humanity of Jesus, his mission respected the “pace” of the people of Israel—and the Church. Just like the humanity he served Jesus also took time to open room for growth and knowing. Jesus and humanity can be like “two dancers” in the desert, together pacing in slowly entering into the reality of the Kingdom.
24.      This is not the full answer to our struggle, but hopefully it can help.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What do Christians do with their enemies?

1. Christians do not revenge. They refuse to open the doors to possibly doing violence and revenge. St. Paul was realistic about the human heart when he wrote, “do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath” (Rm.12/19) and St. Paul continued saying to let the anger of God do its own action. In fact, a better way to show revenge is to show more humanity. St. Paul suggested, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Rm.12/20). In the book of proverbs we are told never to wish bad things against the enemy (see Pr 24/17-18). Christians do not say, “sana ma-disgrasya sya” or “sana ma-karma sya”. If it is really that tough wishing that good things happen to enemies, do not wish bad things, try silence instead and observe the anger arising and passing. I am reminded of the Cain story where God tells the frustrated Cain to be careful, “ sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it” (Gen.4/7).
2. St. Paul exhorted “patience, bearing with one another” (Ep 4/2). “If possible”, he wrote, “on your part, live at peace with all” (Rm 12/18). He was realistic in saying “if possible”—hangga’t maaari, sa abot kaya. (No, he did not write in Tagalog). St. Peter was also realistic in recognizing that at times one feels victimized and wants to resort to violence. He wrote, “Let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer” (1Pt. 4/15). Ok, bad things do happen and bad deeds are done now and then, if not regularly. But St. Peter’s remarks point out that one does not have to fall into the trap of repeating the cycle of doing bad things. When victimized by violence one will only continue to be victim when resorting to violence.
3. Christians do not commit murder but can defend themselves. Jesus said, “Love your enemy as yourself” (Lk 10/27). Yes, “as yourself”. It is alright to require respect for oneself and one’s right to live. Self-defense does not make for a homicide and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) affirms it (see #2261 and #2264). Self defense is even a duty and a responsibility, especially when the lives of others are threatened. Again the CCC has something to say about this (see #2265). A class in moral theology discusses this too.
4. Christians may not be effective enough to completely delete violence from society but they can try to limit violence. Again the CCC (#2309) has something to say about this. Moral theology also discusses this in the topic of “the morality of a just war”.
5. Christians pray and in their prayer they ask that they become channels of peace. Prayer is integral to Christian living. Turning towards God is a big help in resisting answering enemies with violence. “Pray for those who mistreat you (Lk 6/28)”, Jesus said.
6. Christians love their enemies. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt.22/39). To love one’s enemies is really a recognition of the dignity of the enemy—of any human person—and violence serves as a rejection of this dignity.
7. To love the enemy is a surprising command, it seems bizarre. Jesus says, “I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father” (Mt.5/43-46). The Christian, as disciple of Jesus, is called to live this out.
8. The love of enemies requires mobilization of energies. Jesus is not naïve in thinking that loving enemies is easy and natural. Love of enemies is a combat, a battle. The battle is against the temptation to opt for violence. Do not regard the enemy as an enemy, wrote St. Paul, “but admonish him as a brother” (2 Th 3/15). To avoid answering violence with violence is not necessarily a sign of weakness and passivity. It is not to allow injustice and shutting one’s mouth. The social doctrine of the Church states that violence only destroys what it tries to defend. “ Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings” (Compendium #496).
9. Christians love their enemies and even forgive them. To love enemies is also to decide forgiving them. To forgive, in this case, is to help liberate the enemy from the bad things he/she does.
10. Is this but a silly, romantic way of dealing with enemies? Maybe, and without doubt many would really want revenge and countering violence with violence. Many who have really been deeply hurt by violence done to them and their families would, of course, want to resort to violence too. Many will think that the Christian way is…well, too soft and impractical. But I remember what a good friend told me once, Yves Becquart, that the Parousia is not strictly something in the future. Parousia means presence and presence means that the future is always possible. There is always something to look forward to. To treat an enemy with the same strategy as he/she treats me is to reject presence; it is to say that there is no more future to look forward to between you and me; we have chosen to die and condemn ourselves both to the fate that the resurrection of Christ had defeated—the fate of death. In my violence not only do I reject your presence but the presence of God who gives life... for I too prefer death.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Bible is a set of books written by human authors

1.   The Bible is a set of books written by human authors. The texts were marked by the cultures, languages, personalities, and historical moments of the different authors. In an introduction to the Old Testament class the teacher would often start talking about the different traditions named J,E,P and Dt. What I remember from my teachers is that the J and E were written more or less in the period of the two Kingdoms—Israel and Judah. When Assyria captured Israel and its capital Samaria some of the E texts from the north were brought down south to Judah. The J texts of the south were then blended with the E texts of the north. Then came the so-called “reform” that unified all Judah under the governance of Jerusalem and the Temple; the Dt tradition began. Experts say that there are many layers of the Dt, so possibly there can be Dt1, Dt2, etc. After the Babylonian exile a new tradition of authorship emerged and wrote texts now identified as P texts.
2.   The texts were not only written they were also edited. So, for example, the book of Deuteronomy is considered to contain many layers in which editions can be discerned. The book is not, therefore, completely Dt, it also has J, E and P elements in it. One reason why this is the case is because after the Babylonian exile all the different texts circulating were compiled—assembled—and in the process were also edited. This explains why, for example, we have two creation stories in Genesis.
3.   The gospels in the New Testament were written also by human authors. The Mark account was the earliest, and then came the Matthew and Luke accounts, and finally the John account. Each has its own “version” of presenting Jesus and this was mainly due to the community to which each author addressed his text. Now, not only were there four gospel accounts. There were many in circulation. In the 1st century some “Church-Fathers” made a kind of “selectioning” and they accepted the four gospel accounts and they rejected the many other accounts.
4.   Today there is what is called as “textual criticism” that investigates the different existing manuscripts of both the Old and the New Testament. Experts here will say that we really do not have the original copies of any of the ancient authors. What we have are copies of copies of copies of copies. Experts note that there are many discrepancies among the manuscripts. Comparing one manuscript with another manuscript of the same book, experts identify discrepancies. They conclude that in the process of copying a copy of a copy of a copy, scribes may have either made mistakes in copying (they may have been drowsy) or they may have deliberately added their own “opinions” to the text. Later the text becomes an “official text” ready to be published in a nice smelling book; and the text contains the possible errors and additions. Readers will then say “this is the Word of God” without realizing that chunks of what they read are “words of scribes”.
5.   So one can be challenged by a question: how sure are we that what we read really came from Matthew, for example, and even from Jesus himself?

6.   Do I propose that we drop our faith based on Scriptures? No. What I want to say is that the whole Bible is also a cultural product. It did not fall from the sky, it was not a verbatim dictation from God. When someone uses the Bible to justify violence, in the belief that God himself condones violence, it is wise first to pause and recognize that human authors put in violent texts in the Bible. There is no need to conclude, immediately, that God himself (herself) is pro-death penalty, for example. 

Some Notes on the Trinity (archived notes)

The Trinity? It is Complicated
Marcel Domergue S.J.

1.        We are familiar with God as Father and as Son. Why must there be a third person? Why must there be the Holy Spirit? It is hard to figure this one out. One God and Three Persons…what does this mean?

Human Experience
2.        It is an error to say that we supplement our lives when we relate with Nature and with other people. It is like saying that “first” we exist and “then” we enter into relationships. In fact, when we eat and breathe we take from what come from outside. Food and air are brought to us. We cannot say that “first” we eat and breathe, and “then” we supplement these with food and air.
3.        What about ideas and tastes, information and interests? They come also from somewhere else: our parents, friends, teachers, etc. We are “crossroads” or “meeting points” of so many currents of events and situations. Many things happen and each of us are meeting points of these. To exist is, at the same time to be in relationship. We cannot say that “first” we exist and “then” we enter into relationships. Look at our birth. It is a result of the relationship between a man and a woman. We start the development of our humanity with our parents, and then slowly we meet others and we grow and develop.
4.        Although each of us is unique, we depend on others and we are inter-connected with others.  Our faith tells us that the reason for this is because we are created in the image and likeness of God whose basic “substance” is relationship and inter-connection.

No Two without Three
5.        As ancient as the 13th century, Saint Thomas Aquinas was already saying that the Three persons in God form a “subsisting relationship”.  Sounds abstract? What the saint was saying is that the basis of existence of Father, Son and Spirit is relationship. The Father cannot be Father without Son. Son cannot be Son without Father. The Spirit links both of them.
6.        Where do these ideas come from? Also, why do we have to speak of Three, why not just Two? Why add the Spirit in the picture? Well, we rely on the Holy Scriptures—the Bible. And the Bible tells us that the Three are involved in “mission” or in “sending”. We read that Jesus, in the Bible, speaks of “he who the Father sends” or “another defender, the Paraclete” or “the power from above”.
7.        The Bible tells us that the Father sends the Son. The Father and the Son send the Spirit. So we have an idea of who God is. There is a lot of “sending” involved.
8.        The New Testament talks a lot about the Three. Among many accounts, the baptism accounts express the presence of the Three.  Two cannot express the perfection of love. If there are just Two, then there is a narcissistic face-to-face relationship. It is necessary to open up to the Third.

Spirit, movement
9.        Theology, based on the Bible, tells us that the Spirit “proceeds”  from the Father and the Son. Also the Spirit is, at times, creator too. The Spirit is presented as the movement of the Father to the Son, the Son to the Father. Thanks to the Spirit, one moves to the other. If, for us, we get confused thinking of the Spirit, it is because the Spirit is also in us. The Spirit is God in us.
10.     Father, Son and Spirit are all found in the Bible. We might easily relate to the Father and Son because their relationship resembles our experiences of fatherhood and son-hood. But actually there is also a big difference. Saint Denys would propose that we consider God’s Fatherhood in three ways. a. God is, indeed, Father.  b. But God is also not Father in the human way.  c. God is Father in an “eminent” or “superior” way.

God is life, sharing, movement
11.     When we think of Father or even Son we might have images of bearded men. What about the Spirit? We might think of breath, wind, dove, tongue of fire, oil, etc. It is not easy—not as easy as when we think of men with long beards. Let us say that Spirit is the figure of God-in-movement. God moves towards becoming human and moves towards death on the cross. We are also put on the move when we receive the Spirit. We move in the Paschal life. Through the Spirit God is within us. We are moved by the Spirit.
12.     But why speak of “persons”? Why say Three “persons”? This might lead to a misunderstanding that there are three gods. No. The term “Three Persons in One God” must help us see that God is not about three functions or that there are three viewpoints about God. No. God is actually relationship—sharing. St. Ignatius of Antioch would say that God, rather than “One”, is “Union” (Letter to Tralliens X,1). In other words, the “substance” of God is love and life—it is relationship and sharing.
13.     We need to make more precision with the word “person” here. Person takes place only when there is relationship—when there is link and union with others. The Trinity is Unity. We have become images and likeness of this—we exist only in this way, as relationship. This explains why life is given the basic command—the command of all commands: love. Love unites without destroying uniqueness. In fact, love magnifies each of us.

Jesus Christ, God Who Comes Near
Marcel Domergue S.J.

A return to the Gospel
1.       Christians are accused of pretending to know the truth. They are accused of their dogmatism. The Gospel is not, however, a series of answers. It is rather the “good news” about an encounter between God and the human person, and an encounter among human persons. Let us return to the Gospel.
2.       Why is the gospel story—and the Christian faith in general—so unacceptable to some very serious and responsible people? This rejection is an unhappy result of what happened in history. Many Christians have given the name of Christ “anti-gospel” meanings. So things have emerged, like authoritarianism, pretension to monopolize knowledge of the truth, exclusivism, etc. Christianity has become known for these.
3.       This is a challenge for us. Maybe we need to return to the basics. Let us start all over again. Let us return to the Gospel and see its state of birth before the complications of history and culture arose. This is not the way of receiving from fixed tradition imposed on us and has become obligatory to our faith.
4.       Where do we find the Good News in its birth form? The quick answer may be to read the New Testament and read about the words of Jesus. Maybe we can look at how Jesus behaved and see how we can do the same. This looks ok. But the four gospels are really about the birth of the Good News in a culture of long ago. They may tell us about the Good News and how it took place at that time. But they might not tell us much about how it can take place in our world today.
5.       Of course the stories there give words and images that transmit an original experience. But this is secondary. We can even study the culture behind the written texts and see what the texts mean. The Good News, however, is really underneath the written texts. If Jesus came today he would not be saying the same words nor will he be doing the same gestures.
6.       The Good News is, first of all, about an encounter. The Good News is born in a world where there are persons who risk showing who they really are. The Good News is born when there are persons who overcome their antagonisms and they try to live in harmony with each other.  It is not a harmony against other people, like that we see in political and international pacts. Rather it is harmony “for”. It is a harmony that can spread throughout and be shared so that finally we can truly understand each other. It is a humble birth. But it is serious. The Good News produces itself, like when electrodes touch and an electric spark arises. The Good News is the way persons come near each other and reconcile.

7.       The Good News is not a series of “questions and answers”. It is mutual presence; it is encounter. It is impossible to fully estimate and predict what will arise from this encounter. The gospel texts are stories of an encounter. Someone, a man named Jesus, was encountered. It happened over 2,000 years ago in the 1st century of Palestine. It is an encounter so meaningful and so fundamental—it is an encounter between God and humanity. It has become the source of encounter among persons.
8.       Who is Jesus? To answer this, let us first say who he is not. So, who is he not? Jesus is someone who does not have obstacles in encountering others.
9.       Jesus of Nazareth is not a “personal institution”. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read, “If he were here, he would not be a priest” (8/4). Jesus did not carry anything institutional in him. The Letter to the Hebrews continues to say that what priests do is only an imitation—a “shadow and copy”—of what is real.
10.    Jesus is here and now, today. How? If he comes visibly, will he be sitting on a throne? Will he be sitting on an Episcopal throne?  Perhaps we will find him, instead, in a poor neighborhood telling the voiceless and the marginalized, “the kingdom is in your midst”. He would be telling them how wonderful it is to welcome the kingdom.
11.    The Kingdom? Let us keep in mind that it is about the life of harmony and mutual understanding. Jesus would not be part of the club of Pharisees. No, he would not be member of such. He would be a “free-lancer” and we would not be able to classify him.
12.    Jesus is the figure of an Absolute Liberty. In the gospels we read about people who wonder, “Who is he?” We read that he would be speaking. But he would not be speaking like giving a professional speech—like the speech of a lawyer. Jesus would not place his words under the authority of others—as professionals would. He would speak under the authority in himself. “Come and see”. What speaks in Jesus is what gives witness to him. There are his “works” which are the works of God—they are works of Love. Jesus does not hide behind authorities to authenticate his message. He refers to scriptures, and he does this to absorb the scriptures. But instead of looking at the scriptures to see how he can justify his words and actions, he would instead say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk.4/21).
13.    Jesus presents himself with such freedom towards everyone. He is the beginning—the beginning from where emerges a new way of being human. Jesus is so free he does not put in chains the freedom of those who listen to him. He does not say, “You should believe in this or that”. Instead he says, “Believe in me, believe in God”. He does not say, “Believe that God exists”. Rather he would say, “Lose yourself in God and follow me”. Everything depends on the freedom of whoever listens to him: “if you want…if you want”. He proposes…and he does not propose a system of truths.  In the case of Jesus, he proposes his very own self—his very own person. “The truth? It is me”.

Expel the forces of division.
14.    If truth is a person, it is not enough to have convictions. We cannot enclose a person in a box or on a prison of concepts. There is one episode in Luke and Mark that is curious. It is given in Lk.9/49-50 and in Mk.9/38-40. We read that the disciples try to stop someone expelling demons in the name of Jesus. Why? Because that person is not a member of the group of disciples. Jesus disapproves. “Do not stop him,” he says, “who is not against us is with us”. This statement actually can go very far. Jesus invites us to build a world where everyone is “with”. Whoever refuses to be “against” and whoever expels the forces of division is already “with”. This “with” concerns all human and it cannot have exclusion in the name of Jesus.

God, the Father of Jesus
From Bernard Sesboüé S.J.

1.       In the New Testament the image of God is a caring God towards the human person. To express this care the preferred word in the New Testament is “Father”[1]. God is Father. There is a strong presentation of God as Father and the human person as child of the Father. The image of friend and bridegroom of the human person is given in Jesus Christ.
2.       But wait. We might feel that the image of God as Father is something hard to accept. Do we not sometimes feel a rejection toward this image? The image is so marked by negative meaning that we like to reject.  Let us take some examples.
3.       Modern psychology has unveiled the doubt and confusion in the relationship father-and-child. Freud has even captured the image of the son wanting to “kill” the father in order to move on in life. Look at our own experiences within the family and we will notice the difficulties involved: possessiveness of the parents, the abuse of parental authority, the downplaying of the father towards the son who cannot comply with the father’s ideals, etc. In some of our societies we even hear of news about parents abandoning their families. In fact, within society we also experience “paternaism” and “condescension”. (Paternalism is experienced when a professional assumes he/she always knows better than the client). So the tendency in us and in some of our societies is to be free from the father or from authorities. The image of Father is not well received. So, it may be difficult to see how God is Father. Yet, we shall try.

When Jesus speaks of God
4.       What does Jesus say about God whom he calls as Father? The God that Jesus speaks of is the God of the Old Testament. He is the God Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Moses and the prophets (see Mt.12/26 Mk.1/44  7/10). This God is the “wholly Other” who is radically different from the human person. There is nothing of “flesh and blood” in this God. What God thinks and does is not what the human person thinks and does.
5.       This can be a powerful God of which Jesus says, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Most Powerful” (Mk.14/62). The New testament does not hesitate to give God the tles used in the Old Testament: “Master”, “Lord”, “King” and “Judge”. He sits up in heaven. He is all knowing, he even knows more than the Son (see Mk.13/32).
6.       This explains why God knows what is going on inside our hearts. When we pray we do not need a lot of words because God already knows what we need (see Mt.6/7-8). God can see our secrets (see Mt.6/4.6.18). He is full of goodwill for us (see Lk.12/6-7). Remember when Jesus is called “good master”, how does he respond? “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mk.10/18). The goodness and concern of God is confirmed in the forgiveness of sins (see Lk.11/4). This God saves (see Mk.13/13). He is also the one who reveals to the little ones and not to the wise and intelligent (see Mt.11/25-26).
7.       Like the God if Israel, the God of Jesus is a faithful God. But he is also disturbing. In the parable of the vineyard workers he gives the same salary to those who have worked for less than an hour and to those who have worked under the burden and heat of the whole day (see Mt.20/1-15). In the name of generosity, God does not follow the rule of “pay according to the hour”.  God is a God who wants us to love our enemies (see Mt.5/44-45). This is a contradiction to the practice in the Old Testament. It is also a contradiction to the usual reaction of a person hurt by someone else. Are we not surprised by the call to love those who make us suffer and miserable? Yet this God who tells us to forgive is the one who does it.
8.       This God is the God who has sent Jesus. Let us look at this.

God, the Father of Men and Women
9.       When Jesus speaks, the place of God the Father has a very high value. He is God who is so related with the human person. Jesus invites his disciples to pray by calling God “Our Father”  (see Mt.6  Lk11/2). Jesus speaks to his disciples by saying that “Your Father is in heaven” (Mt.5/45 Lk.6/36  & 11/13). Thus , presented through the disciples of Jesus, there is a relationship of father-child between God and the human person.
10.    The paternity of God is also expressed in parables that show the relationship of father and son. The famous one is that of the so-called “parable of the prodigal son”. The younger son leaves and spends all his money in waste. Repenting, he returns to his father. His father blows a big feast. The elder son who thinks he remains faithful is disappointed. He is, in fact, always welcome to the feast. Jesus makes use of the parable to give explanation for his attitude of willing to mix with sinners. Jesus is like saying, “I do with sinners what God does with them, and it scandalizes others”.
11.    There is also another parable involving two sons and a father. The father asks them to work. The first one says “yes” but does not go to work, and the second one says “no” but goes anyway. The parable is an invitation to conversion.
12.    These parables show the paternal relationship of God with people in the course of the history of salvation. They are, in fact, in the line of the insights of the Old Testament. They make more concrete those insights. 
13.    Jesus is sent by God to show men and women about the true love of God who is Father to them.

God, the Father of Jesus
14.    Jesus claims a very unique relationship with God by calling him a “my Father”. This is more than the adoption we have with God.  Look at one statement that Jesus makes. “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I praise you because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to simple people. Yes, Father, this is what pleased you. My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one knows the Son except the Father. No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt.11/25-27). The statement reveals how Jesus relates to God. It is such a direct and intimate relationship. It reveals how Jesus is so familiar with God. We see here the “behavior of a son” to his father.  As the saying goes, “like father, like son”. The father and the son know each other so well. It is such an intimacy that others do not share. This is why Jesus could say, “My Father and your Father” (Jn.20/17) to imply that his relationship with the Father is so different from our relationship with him.
15.    Jesus calls his Father “Abba”—“papa”. At the time of agony before the crucifixion Jesus says to his Father, “Papa, everything is possible for you, take this cup away” (Mk.14/36). This way of calling God is extremely strange and new. The call “Abba” is the typical way by Jesus talks to his Father[2]. Within the world of Judaism, Jesus is the only one who dares call God as “Abba”, showing how intimate he is with the Father.
16.    All this would not make sense without the attitude of Jesus towards his Father. Jesus takes the attitude of Son towards his father. Jesus shows to us who the Father is by showing us how to be son to the Father. Jesus loves in full communion with his Father. His prayer is a breathing of a son. He loves the Father and he is willing to obey the Father in his mission all the way. He obeys not as a fearing slave but as a beloved child.[3]

God, the Father of the Crucified
17.    The mission of Jesus leads him to the cross. At the end of the route of the mission, God becomes the Father of the crucified. This is a mystery. Jesus reaches a point when he complains with a cry that his Father abandons him.  Yet, his attitude as a child does not lie. In his manner of dying, Jesus shows to us how far the power of God reaches. The almighty God in the Old Testament becomes the powerless God in the New Testament. God, in the life of Jesus, is not “paternalistic”. Jesus is not a victim of paternalism. Jesus simply accomplishes his mission received from the Father. This attitude of a son to the father is so clear in Jesus, it is an attitude he brings with him all the way to the cross.
18.    The notion of “Father” here takes a new meaning. Through the attitude of Jesus as Son to the Father, we discover that to see Jesus is to see the Father! “Philip asked him, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that is enough’. Jesus said to him, ‘…Philip, whoever sees me sees the Father” (Jn.14/8-9). “Like father, like son”, as the expression goes. What Jesus reveals is the humanity of God. God turns our to be the powerless one. As one Protestant Theologian (J. Moltmann) would say, God is Crucified.
19.    “Who is this God for us to be his love, child of the earth? Who is this God who ties himself with love to be our equal? Who is this God who must find the heart of the poor? Who is this God, destitute, great, vulnerable? Who is this God, who comes to our side and walks with us? Who is this God whose heart never fades at our table? Who is this God who nobody can love if he does not love us? Who is this God who we hurt so much whenever we hurt our fellows? Who is this God for us to be his love?” (J. Servel)

The Holy Spirit: Scripturally
(Taking from Bernard Sesboue L’esprit sans visage et sans voix, Dedsclee de Brouwer, Paris 2009)

1. In the New Testament we see mention of the Holy Spirit among the other two—the Father and the Son. The three are mentioned (see 1Co12/4-6; 2Co13/13; Eph4/4-6;Mt28/19-20) separately to show that each has a specific way of acting in union with the others. So the Holy Spirit is independent of the two. Yet, if we look closely, the Holy Spirit is unlike the Father and the Son. The Father and the Son have “personalities”…they have “faces”. Jesus was a man of Nazareth who suffered, died and appeared to his disciples. He spoke about God as Father and showed that the Father had a kind of “personality”.
2. But what about the Holy Spirit? We do not read in the New Testament any reference to a “face” or “personality” of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit is not addressed as a “you”. The Holy Spirit stays as a “he”. The Father and the Son are persons to enter into conversation with….but not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a person talked about and is not a partner in conversation.
3. There are symbols and images representing the Holy Spirit…”breath”, “dove”, “tongues of fire”. Aside from these symbols there is no description of the “face” of the Holy Spirit. Why? The Holy Spirit is presented, rather, as “in”….”in” the Father and the Son and “in” us. The Holy Spirit is symbol of life “in” us and beyond us. He is like an inner force who animates us.
4. So the Holy Spirit is given the image of a dove who descends on Jesus and whatever Jesus would then do will be in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles received “tongues of fire” during the Pentecost and here we see the Holy Spirit described as someone with whom the Apostles will act. So we read a letter of the Apostles during the Jerusalem council: “‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities” (Act.15/28). The Holy Spirit is a partner in decision making…the one who acts and decides in and with the Apostles. Just as the Holy Spirit is in the Father and in the Son the Holy Spirit is also in us.
5. Furthermore, notice that the Holy Spirit does not speak. The Father has spoken…so to the Son. But the Holy Spirit seems to speak not: “the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own” (Jn16/13).
6. The Holy Spirit does not speak on his own but makes us speak, just as he made the prophets speak (see Heb3/7 and 10/15). The Holy Spirit inspires. We see this clearly in the Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Spirit: “And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Act2/4). Thanks to the Holy Spirit we ourselves can say Abba, Father (see Rom8/15) and we can say Jesus is Lord (1Co12/3).
7. If we seek for the Holy Spirit we see him “in” us rather than in front of us.
8. Theologians talk of the “economy” of the Trinity. The Father sends…the Son is sent by the Father… the Holy Spirit is sent by the Son from the Father. Then, another element is to consider. Already in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit has prepared the path for the Son (see Is48/16 and 41/1; see Lk.4/18). It is also true that the Son was born of the Holy Spirit. So also the Father with the Spirit sent the Son and the Father with the Son sent the Holy Spirit. 

[1] Feminists today might react to this and say that this image of Father is too sexist. God is also Mother, for the feminists. We must respect this position too. But at this point we need to be clear that Jesus called his Father “Abba”. His revelation about God is Father, therefore “masculine”. Yet, to avoid confrontation, we can also say that the characteristic of God as merciful has feminine and maternal features. The Hebrew word for God’s “mercy” is the uterus, which is very feminine. 
[2] If today we call God “Abba”—as in Our Father—this is thanks to Jesus teaching us to call God as “Abba”.
[3] We can learn a lot from this be “reviewing” our own obedience to God. Are we obeying God because we are afraid of him or because we see ourselves as his children?