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Knowing God introduces us to infinite love

  • March 12, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 22 (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33)

Libraries are filled with books about God and people spend years studying theology or going on retreats and workshops. If that is the case, why is it that evidence of this “knowledge” of God is so often absent in the lives of the theologically and religiously learned? 

Knowing about God is not much of a deterrent — at least as much as it should be — to displays of selfishness, unkindness and cruelty. Addressing the nation of Israel, Jeremiah notes that they have not done a good job of keeping their covenant with God (and neither have we) despite the marital nature of the covenant relationship. But Jeremiah brushes this aside, for a new day was approaching. God was creating a new covenant of a different sort with Israel. God would write the divine law in their hearts, and there would be no further need of being taught about God by others. This interior covenant would enable the people to know and experience God directly and personally. 

Knowing God in this fashion instead of knowing “about” God is a life-transforming encounter, since God is infinite love and light. Intimate knowledge of God makes it very difficult if not impossible to behave in ways other than kind, compassionate, generous and righteous. This is a sobering thought — there is so much talk about God in our world and yet so much intolerance, hatred and violence with religious justification. God is invoked so many times to bolster the power and identity of groups and individuals. How well do we really know God and how much is just talk? 

Jeremiah’s renewed and deepened covenant did not cancel the “old” one — renewed covenants build on and include previous versions. That also applies to the renewed covenant of which Christians are a part. In John’s Gospel, Jesus promises us that if we abide in Him, loving others to the utmost and living in the Spirit, we too will know God. This is not a free ride — we have to be willing to put on the mind and heart of Jesus and put off our own. Jeremiah’s prophecy assures us that God wants to be known — by everyone — and that God is willing to go to great lengths to make that possible. It will not be forced on us — only we can make it happen. 

This covenant was made possible for us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. By walking in our shoes, experiencing suffering and struggle, He learned obedience and the compassionate understanding of the human condition necessary for becoming the eternal high priest. We can know God because God has known us so well.

Somehow the request from a group of Greeks was the tripwire that signalled the arrival of the hour of Jesus — His crucifixion. Rather than shrinking in fear from His impending death, He recognized that it was the very reason He had come into the world. Even the voice from Heaven affirmed Jesus and portrayed His self-giving death as a source of glory. Jesus used the metaphor of a grain of wheat to describe His death (and ours!). Unless it dies and falls to the Earth, there can be nothing new or fruitful. Death is necessary for new life — we must let go of what we have in order to receive something far greater. If we clutch and cling to our lives in a self-protective and self-advancing manner, we will lose it anyway (spoiler alert: we all die!). 

But beyond that, we will have lost something more precious: not becoming who God intended us to be. Jesus insisted that whoever serves Him must follow Him, echoing the love commandment in chapters 13-15 of John. Love was linked with laying down one’s life for others. Jesus knew that when He was “lifted up” (crucified) He would draw all people to Himself. When this is seen in light of John 1:14 — the incarnation — it becomes clear that the self-giving of Jesus and His gift of the knowledge of God was intended for all of humanity, not just a select few. 

Death is not an event at the end of our life, but a way of life that we learn to practice continually. As we die to self and open our hearts to the divine Spirit, we are day by day born again into God.