God is truly so close to us that we don’t even know him.
Anyone who is a parent will understand exactly what that means. When you know someone, literally from the moment they appear on the earth and tend to their every need, you know that person far better than they know you.
And it occurs to me that we don’t know our God very well at all. He knows us inside and out, loves us unconditionally, and longs for us to know and love him as he is, just as any parent desires once their child has grown.
But sometimes it’s easier and more comforting to hold onto the immature and selfish view of a parent that one remembers from childhood — the doting, take-care-of-everything adult with no feelings or needs of their own, rather than getting to know the real person inside.
Seeing a parent as a vulnerable human being with feelings that can be hurt is far more difficult and painful. Sadly, this is where many people stay in their relationships with their parents, and this is where many of us stay in our relationships with God. We develop a concept of God and keep him just the same for all time, because it’s comfortable, it’s familiar, and it requires no personal growth on our part.
It seems to me that traditionalism is the very epitome of this mindset, and that we must shake it to its very core, because it’s all an illusion.
“Those who make religion their god will not have God for their religion,” C.S. Lewis quotes Thomas Erskine of Linlathen in his book Miracles. “Probably no thinking person would, in so many words, deny that God is concrete and individual. But not all thinking people, and certainly not all who believe in ‘religion,’ keep this truth steadily before their minds.”
Lewis goes on to wax poetic about our many conceptions of God, that he is an “absolute being,” that he is creative, not inert, that he is infinite — that he is the great I AM. And here is where we come to the crux of the matter.
“To say that God ‘is a particular Thing,’” writes Lewis, “does seem to obliterate the immeasurable difference not only between what he is and what all other things are, but between the very mode of His existence and theirs.”
Once we develop a concept of our God and arrange all our notions of what proper worship of him should look and feel like, our human nature dictates that we must then begin to demean and criticize all other methods of worship. Why?
Much of this behavior can be attributed to basic principles of psychology and human social behavior. A series of experiments performed by social psychologist Solomon Asch of Swarthmore College in the 1950s demonstrated the power of conformity in groups.
One experiment consisted of a group “vision test,” in which participants were found to be more likely to conform to obviously wrong answers if those answers were first given by other “participants” who were actually employed by the experimenter.
Over a third of the subjects conformed to the wrong answer.
They didn’t possess the wherewithal to find a real answer. They just accepted and perpetuated the answer that “everyone else” gave. Don’t we do the same with our Catholic faith at times?
Venerable Fulton Sheen explores similar concepts in his book The World’s First Love, Sheen writes, “The human ‘I’ was not made for the ‘I’ alone, but for God’s service. The man, therefore, who refuses to seek the perfection of his personality, namely, God, must do one of two things: he must either inflate himself into an infinity, and identify himself in a fantastic swelling with the dimensions of God; or else, he must suffer a terrible emptiness and void within his ego, which is the beginning of despair. Thus there is pride at one end of the mystical self and hopelessness at the other. The will which breaks away from God always becomes an assertive will that will tread anything, ruthlessly, underfoot. All that a will that is divorced from God cares about is power.”
There is a lot of truth in this. We squirm, we writhe under the scrutiny of the living God over our true selves! Just as a child who has been caught in wrongdoing in a classroom will utter the defense, “everyone else did it, too,” we are content to languish in the comfortable camp of conformity.
And so we must decide at some point in our lives if we truly desire to know God as he is, or as we perceive him to be.
Upon this Rock
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate an account of Jesus asking His disciples who they think he is.
“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” (Matthew 16: 13-15)
It’s always at this pause that I picture our Lord with a sad look upon his holy face, as he wonders what His dearest ones think of him. As a mother of four very different children, I can attest to the fact that on any given day I can be described as “unfair,” “the best mom in the world,” “best friend,” or “lame,” simultaneously.
The descriptor says more about the heart of the one issuing it than it does of the subject, if that makes sense. What they say about you reflects what is in their hearts so much more than who you really are.
It is at this point that Peter truly shines, for he replies. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus says to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16: 16-18)
And the rest is history.
Once we admit that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, our daily lives must change dramatically. Because if he is who he says he is and if I plan to live with him in eternity, well … I better orient every remaining second of this earthly life to His service.
Perhaps this is the very first question our Lord will ask of us when we stand before him on Judgment Day: “Who do you say that I am?”
Today would be a very good day to start pondering that question.
Kristi McCabe is an award-winning freelance writer, Catechist, a former teacher and editor who lives with her family in Owensboro, Kentucky. As an adoptive mother of four and an adoptee herself, Kristi is an avid supporter of pro-life ministries. She is active in her local parish and has served as Eucharistic minister and in various children's ministries.