What follows should be read in conjunction with a previous article on this site entitled ‘God in the Old Testament’. While neither article provides the definitive teaching on God as presented in either testament of the Bible, they both seek to offer a few thoughts that might be of interest to the general enquirer.

In ‘God in the Old Testament,’ we noted how the People of Israel began to experience and explore their relationship with God. Through this experience and their reflection upon it, they sought to make sense of what they had learned primarily by telling stories (often based on historical events and real people), and then by writing those stories down. These sacred texts tell us many important things about who God is and who we are called to be in response to God. These things are enduringly ‘true’ and reflective of what it is that God wants us to know. As a result, they are acknowledged as ‘inspired’.

That does not mean they are an easy read. Certain passages are, but if you were to read the Old Testament from cover to cover, you would soon discover that your patience might be tested and your attention pulled in many different directions. As was discussed in the previous article, even the way that God is described in these texts lacks consistency. To make sense of it all something is required to help us bring the essential teachings and ideas the Old Testament contains into focus: a key, if you will, to help us unlock the mystery.

This is where the New Testament and, in particular, the story of Jesus comes in. Without wanting to anthropomorphise God, we can imagine a discussion among the Persons of the Trinity {link to ‘Trinity’ article}, speculating on how their attempts to communicate the reality of God to this people had gone well and, perhaps, how they had gone a little awry. The important things had been received in one form or another, but this ‘headstrong people’ (see Isaiah 48: 1–11) kept missing the point. What to do?

It is in answer to this question that the essence of the Catholic faith is expressed. The heart of Christianity, as understood and taught by the Catholic Church, is that Jesus Christ is the incarnation (lit. the one-made-flesh) of the Second Person of the Trinity. What this means is explored elsewhere {link to the article on Jesus}. However, long story short, it is in Jesus that we encounter who God is, but in human form.

The heart of the New Testament are the four versions of the story of Jesus (not counting the letters of Paul), traditionally referred to as the ‘Gospels’ (lit. ‘The Good News’). These are not intended to be primarily a historical record of the life and events of Jesus’ life. Each version has its particular perspective and points of emphasis. One way to think of them is as four different insights into the person of Jesus, into the teachings he gave, and into the events of his life. Like four artists painting the same scene, there are points of connection amongst them, but each painting has its colours, nuances and insights that as much as anything reflect the artist and not just what he or she was attempting to depict. That doesn’t make them ‘less than true’, in the same way that while a photograph might be more accurate than a painting, a great painting reveals aspects of the inner life of the one being painted that no photo can achieve. The Gospels are there to provide ‘truth’ about who Jesus is, and about who we are called to be in response to Jesus, and are not limited to a post-scientific revolution understanding of what ‘history’ should be.

What is this ‘truth’ they depict? Author Alister McGrath, believes that the New Testament makes “the most important and exciting assertion of all: that Jesus is none other than God”. McGrath goes on to say that:

“the affirmation that Jesus is divine is the climax of the New Testament witness to the person of Jesus Christ. At least ten texts in the New Testament seem to speak explicitly of Jesus in this way (John 1:1; 1:18; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8-9; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20). Others point in this direction, implying (though not explicitly stating) much the same conclusion (such as Matthew 1:23; John 17:3; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 2:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; and 1 Timothy 3:16)” (Theology: The Basics. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012, p. 65).

Furthermore, we see in the New Testament that not only is Jesus God but that he is the fulfilment of the promises God has made throughout the Old Testament. McGrath notes:

“The statements made about Jesus may be broadly listed under two classes. First, we have statements about Jesus’ function – what God has done for us in Jesus. Second, we have statements about Jesus’ identity – who Jesus is. The two are, of course, closely connected. His achievements are grounded in his identity; his identity is demonstrated in his achievements” (op. cit. pp. 65 – 67).

Our concluding point comes to us from Pope Francis. A few years ago, he drew attention to Jesus as being the one in whom the mercy of God is revealed. By becoming one of us, God takes on the vagaries of human life that we all experience, including suffering and death, so that we can no longer say that God does not understand our situation. However, there was more to this than merely allowing God to say “see, I do understand”. Instead, he showed us that in Jesus, suffering and death have no more hold over human beings. In Jesus, God brings hope and life to the world. Two quotations from Pope Francis are helpful in this regard.

Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. [Misericordiae Vultus, no. 1]

Jesus is the central point of the story that began in the Old Testament. He is the one who brings it all together. For everything that is taught to us about God in the Old Testament comes to birth in him, and is revealed in his life, death and resurrection. In Jesus, the storyteller who is God becomes one of us. God’s story becomes aligned with ours.

In the parables devoted to mercy, Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy. We know these parables well, three in particular: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father with two sons (see Luke 15:1-32). In these parables, God is always presented as full of joy, especially when he pardons. In them we find the core of the Gospel of our faith, because mercy is essential as a force that overcomes everything, filling the heart with love and bringing consolation through pardon. [Misericordiae Vultus, no. 9]

Jesus is the pivotal point in God’s plan for humanity. Prepared for by the prophets of the Old Testament, proclaimed by the Apostles and their successors in the New Testament and beyond, Jesus is the cornerstone around which the whole plan of salvation is arranged (see Ephesians 2:20).

Catholics have no excuse when it comes to understanding who God is, what God is like, and what God is asking of us. If we are in any way confused about these things here, it is one more time…We are to become the merciful presence of God in the world. We are to allow Jesus Christ to be reborn in us. We are to proclaim our faith with every fibre of our being. Start praying, stop sinning and look after the poor and anyone else who is in need. And when we fail (and we do, regularly), we throw ourselves on the mercy of God.

Original text by Shane Dwyer
Photo of clouds by Rodrigo Rodriguez on Unsplash

Fr Anthony Mellor, 30 October 2019

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, 30 October 2019

30 October 2019

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