Tag Archives: God

Picturing God?

Holy Trinity of God, by Viktor VasnetsovThis image, “The Holy Trinity of God,” by Viktor Vasnetsov is a rather interesting image for Christians.

Some will say, with historical precedent, that this image of the Trinity is heretical because God the Father cannot be depicted in a human form. The proponents of a biblical and liturgical theology state that God the Father is invisible and unable to be depicted in matter. Jesus Christ was born of the indescribable Father, therefore the Father cannot depicted be in an image. Having said this, it has not stopped artists from attempting to show us the Father. The Russians are noted for this.

I happen to like this image but I understand the caution and even the rejection of the image. For many, this issue may an Eastern Christian matter and not a Western one. It is, however, not that easy to say that this is a matter for one portion of the Church and not another. There is something called the unity of faith.

The teaching comes from 7th Ecumenical Council in AD 787, Second Nicea which focussed on the place of iconography in the Church and the very heated controversy between the iconoclasts and the iconodules. No doubt I can’t deal with the whole of the Council but the teaching of the Church was formulated by Saint John of Damascus who said,

Concerning the charge of idolatry: Icons are not idols but symbols, therefore when an Orthodox venerates an icon, he is not guilty of idolatry. He is not worshipping the symbol, but merely venerating it. Such veneration is not directed toward wood, or paint or stone, but towards the person depicted. Therefore relative honor is shown to material objects, but worship is due to God alone.
We do not make obeisance to the nature of wood, but we revere and do obeisance to Him who was crucified on the Cross… When the two beams of the Cross are joined together I adore the figure because of Christ who was crucified on the Cross, but if the beams are separated, I throw them away and burn them.

The Second Council of Nicea formally taught as a result of the Damascene:

Icons are necessary and essential because they protect the full and proper doctrine of the Incarnation. While God cannot be represented in His eternal nature (“…no man has seen God”, John 1:18), He can be depicted simply because He “became human and took flesh.” Of Him who took a material body, material images can be made. In so taking a material body, God proved that matter can be redeemed. He deified matter, making it spirit-bearing, and so if flesh can be a medium for the Spirit, so can wood or paint, although in a different fashion.
I do not worship matter, but the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation.

Now, where do we go from here? In my mind I think of this issue as very similar to the biblical prohibition from pronouncing he name of God (YHWH). Recall that Benedict XVI asked Catholics to respect this biblical discipline. Sadly, Catholics can have a rather bold and sometimes arrogant approach to some things…

Questioning God?

The Gospel for the 25th Sunday through the Church Year has us meditating on Matthew 20:1-16. You know the Gospel narrative where the last worker gets the same wage as those who toiled all day; some are angry at the landowner –the analogy is that we are really angry at God’s generosity.  The logic of God is not the logic of man. Too often we say that we want to be like God, to act like Jesus, be as merciful as our Heavenly Father. I don’t doubt this is a true desire of our heart but haven’t really seen sustained examples of putting words into action. I do believe, however, many strive and honestly wrestle with the idea we need and desire God’s uncompromising and generosity and look for ways to employ Divine Revelation: this is the journey of faith: we in process of becoming what we are meant to be by the Blessed Trinity.

A patristic reflection from St. Gregory the Great: “The householder said to them, ‘I wish to give to this last one as I give even to you.’ And since the obtaining of his kingdom comes from his goodwill, he properly adds, ‘Or am I not allowed to do what I wish?’ It is always foolish to question the goodness of God. There might have been reason for loud complaint if he did not give what he owed but not if he gives what he does not owe.”

One of the monks at St Joseph’s Abbey (Spencer, MA) wrote the following of the Gospel:

It is that in the final scene of today’s Gospel when the foreman doles out the pay that we are witness to the extravagant compassion of the landowner, (a cipher for the extravagant mercy of our God.) All the workers, even the last ones who worked for only one measly hour, receive a denarius. Aware of their need and the desperation of their situation; the landowner knows that less than a denarius will be not enough for a man and his family for a day. And he wants them all to go home happy and satisfied. Now that’s not fair; it’s excessive. But if we were part of that last crowd who had worked for only an hour, we’d be overjoyed at the landowner’s outlandish generosity.

How often I murmur because things aren’t fair. And true enough it’s the constant plea of psalmist and prophet, “Why is it Lord that the way of the wicked prospers? Why is it that you let the sun and rain and all good things come to the just and the unjust?” It’s not fair. But the good news is God’s Kingdom is not about fairness or entitlement, only mercy; never about “confidence” in my own accomplishments or sacrifices.* It’s not ever about rewards but grace- not something earned but a gift freely given in love. My brothers and sisters, God is not fair. He is abundantly, incomprehensibly merciful, way beyond our imagining. He knows we don’t always do enough, don’t always pull our weight or labor long and hard enough, that sometimes I loaf and dawdle and wait too long and make bad decisions. He sees it all, and he is merciful. It doesn’t mean that everything’s always OK, not at all. No, I mess up, and God is merciful. I am unkind, impatient, stingy, and God is merciful and gives me another chance.

Imagine if God were only fair. Imagine if he gave me what I really deserve. I’d be in big trouble. Certainly God looks into our hearts and notices the good we do, but the kingdom is all about his mercy, never payback for a job well done. It is on the contrary completely, utterly, totally gift. Gratuitous, absolutely surprising, way beyond what I am “entitled to.” Simple gratitude is the only response. For what do we have that we have received? No, God is not fair, but all loving, all giving, all forgiving. We’re all latecomers and God is always switching things around. It’s called mercy. And Jesus invites us this morning not to succumb to jealousy, to literally “having a wicked eye” which will not allow us to see clearly as God sees.

Certainty about God in our life

Today’s quote from Pope Francis: “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else – God is in this person’s life. You can – you must – try to seek God in every human life.”

Creation is evidence of God’s existence

Paul Walker on creationHear what to selections of Scripture say that echo Paul Walker’s statement,

“When I see the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?” (Psalm 8)

For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them, since God has made it plain to them: ever since the creation of the world, the invisible existence of God and his everlasting power have been clearly seen by the mind’s understanding of created things. (Romans 1: 19-20)

Pope Benedict said the following about the place of images (created things) in Christian faith:

But since God has now been seen in the flesh and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved.

Act of Confidence in God by Saint Claude la Colombière

I am uncertain of the history of this prayer, but Saint Claude does a good job capturing the heart of the matter…

My God, I am so persuaded that You watch over all who  hope in You and nothing can be lacking to those who  await from You all things, that I have determined to  live from now on without any concern, letting go and giving You all of my anxieties.

I will sleep and rest in peace because You, O Lord, and only You, have secured my hope. Men can deprive me of possessions and reputation;  illnesses can take away my strength and means to serve You; I myself can lose Your grace because of sin; but I will not lose my hope; I will conserve it until the last instant of my life and all the efforts from demons trying to take it away from me will be useless.

I will sleep and rest in peace. May others expect happiness in their richness and talents; some may lean on the innocence of their lives, or the rigor of their penitence, or above all on the amount of their good works,or the fervor of their prayers.

As for myself Lord, all my confidence is my confidence itself. Because You Lord, only You have secured my hope. No one has been deceived by this confidence. No one who has waited in the Lord has been frustrated in their confidence.

Therefore, I am sure that I will be eternally happy because I firmly hope to be; and because You, Oh, My God, are in Whom I expect all. In You I hope Lord, and never will I be confused. I know very well . . . too well that I am fragile and inconstant, I know well the power of temptations against the most firm virtue; I have seen the stars fall from heaven and columns from the firmament; but none of this can frighten me.

As long as I maintain firm my hope, I will be conserved from all calamities; and I am sure to hope always, because I hope the same in this unchanging hope.

In conclusion, I am sure that I cannot hope in excess in You and that I will receive all that I would have hoped for in You. Therefore, I know You will sustain me on the most rapid and slippery slopes, that You will strengthen me against the assaults and make my weakness triumph

over the most tremendous enemies.I hope You will always love me and I will love you without interruption; to take once and for all my hope as far as it can reach. I hope in You and only in You!

Oh, My Creator! In time and for all eternity. Amen.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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