The faithful know God is in charge

  • February 13, 2013

The faith-filled understand that life has purpose, meaning

Second Sunday of Lent (Year C) Feb. 24 (Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28-36)

God’s promises often defy human logic and the evidence of the senses. Abraham had been asked by God to leave everything behind and strike out into the unknown. He had to let go of his homeland, culture, social connections and everything that gave him security. God would not even tell him where he was being led.

To anyone — but especially to a person of the ancient world — this was an appalling thought. In exchange for this trust, for this is Abraham’s “faith” that is referred to in Scripture, God would ensure that he would be the father of a great nation and that he would have countless descendants. In ancient Israel, descendants comprised the only form of immorality that one could hope for — the afterlife as we know it was not part of their inner world.

Abraham experienced many ups and downs in his journey, and as the years passed, he began to wonder if the promised son would ever arrive. He and his wife were both elderly and having children seemed out of the question. God reiterated the same message in extravagant terms. Not only would Abraham have descendants, they would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

The covenant scene described in the Genesis passage was strange and puzzling, but it reflected the ancient custom of establishing covenants and treaties with sacrifices. An experience of the divine was always a mixture of awe and terror in the ancient world and Abraham faced both.

Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness in God’s eyes in this era before the giving of the Law. Faith is distinct from belief — the latter is focused on specific content, such as doctrines and creeds. Faith is not apathetic resignation but perseverance with a degree of hope, joy and serenity even when the path ahead looks murky and scary.

The faith-filled person is convinced that God is in charge and that the universe and life have purpose and meaning.

Part of that faith is the conviction that human life consists of far more than meets the eye. Paul encouraged the Philippian community by assuring them they enjoyed heavenly citizenship. This did not mean up in the sky somewhere or only after death — it was a way of life. Although residing in ordinary societies, believers in Christ lived their lives by far different principles than those of their surrounding culture. Their lives were patterned on compassion, justice, equality, generosity, purity and patience — the qualities of Christ. By living as a citizen of heaven, believers began the work of preparing themselves for eternity with the Lord. In a sense, they participated in their own transformation.

Additionally, they bore powerful witness to the cause of Christ and the spirit of the Risen Lord dwelling in their hearts and communities.

In the heavenly encounters described in the Scriptures brilliance and glory is often accompanied by darkness and terror. Peter, James and John were treated to the sight of Jesus ablaze with light and speaking with Elijah and Moses — perhaps even receiving encouragement. Luke alone of the Gospels was very specific about the topic of conversation: the impending passion of Jesus in Jerusalem and His exit from this world.

Perhaps to reassure himself that all was “normal,” Peter babbled on about building three commemorative shrines but Luke hastened to add that Peter didn’t have the faintest idea what he was saying. It was at that point that they were overtaken by the dark cloud and succumbed to terror.

This is a constant theme in mystical traditions from ancient times on up to the modern.

Darkness and frightening manifestations on Mt. Sinai were described in Exodus (19:16-25; 24:16-18).

It seems as if the closer we come to God the more our own reference points and cherished concepts of God evaporate in the presence of the reality that is totally other. The voice from the cloud was a command to listen to Jesus the chosen Son. The shaken disciples did not even have to be ordered to keep quiet about the incident.

As they descended the mountain Jesus began to speak of suffering and death and the demands of discipleship.

The glorious and radiant future promised by God — as in the promise to Abraham — is never gained without suffering, fidelity and perseverance.