Graphic by David Chen

Faith: Jesus is proof of God’s steadfast love

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  • June 1, 2017

Most Holy Trinity, June 11 (Year A) Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; Daniel 3; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18

Who is God? There is no shortage of talk, theories, books and adamant assertions about God, but what does God have to say?

Moses wanted to know, so he rose early and went to Mount Sinai. God, or at least a divine manifestation, appeared before him. The voice defined God as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” That was it — short and simple, and all Moses needed to know.

He knew that all of those qualities were needed in the future and were certainly going to be tested, for he was not under any illusions about the crowd of people he was leading. They had failed the test too many times. Moses pleaded with this gracious God to accompany them and forgive the many iniquities and sins that he knew would occur.

There are images of God in some of the Scriptures that are far less flattering and comforting. Natural disasters, plagues and invading armies were often seen as the wrathful and punishing hand of God.

This is a persistent human tendency, even though we should know better by now. Many have projected their own fear and darkness on to the divine image, but God always steps out from behind these man-made masks and reveals who God really is.

Like a golden thread, this image of the loving and merciful God runs throughout the prophets and the gospels, and it is the thread we should follow to lead us out of confusion, fear and uncertainty. Today, there are far too many people turning the merciful and gracious God into an object of fear, division and intolerance.

The word that is translated as “steadfast love” is the Hebrew word hesed and it has a range of meanings. It can mean merciful, compassionate, loyal, faithful or all those things. It reassures us that not only is God merciful and compassionate, but God is with us constantly and unconditionally.

God remains with us even in the depths of our sin or broken lives, just as God was with the Israelites. We may have to experience the consequences of our actions, but God will be there to help us pick up the pieces and make a fresh start. God’s love, unlike human love, is unwavering and everlasting.

Paul’s blessing from Second Corinthians gives us a brief glimpse of what might be called the dance of the Trinity. Grace, love and communion are all part of the divine life in which we are invited to participate. Despite the uniqueness of each person of the Trinity, they all share these qualities. Divine life is marked by harmony, peace and sharing, so that is the way to enter this divine life and remain within it.

John 3:16 is probably the most famous verse in the entire New Testament. It can be seen on bumper stickers, religious paraphernalia and in the end-zones during football games. In one verse, it expresses succinctly the life and mission of Jesus — He came as an expression of God’s love and mercy. God has only love for the world and is not interested in punishment.

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Trinity gazes down on the world and its people, and is moved by human suffering and misery. God decides to send the Son to bring about humanity’s redemption.

God offered humanity a desperately needed lifeline, but as in real life situations, not everyone will reach out and grasp it. Those who reject the love that God offers bring suffering on themselves since they close themselves off to the divine life offered by God.

Today we have an understanding of the dynamics of faith and doubt that is a bit more nuanced than John’s black and white approach. There are many reasons why people come to faith or fail to do so, and it is not necessarily bad intent or personal failing on their part. God does not give up on anyone and will revisit them again and again in various ways.

John’s subtle and enigmatic use of words requires a bit of unpacking. Accepting Jesus is far more than mere church attendance or cultural Christianity. A careful study of John’s Gospel reveals that believing in Jesus meant a personal encounter and relationship, as well as a life marked by discipleship.

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