The Word Embodied
“The story seemed like nonsense, and they refused to believe it.”
Light and Goodness. Let it be. Heavens and earth, day and night. Movements of moon and stars that would never have been, had they not been willed into existence. Water, sky, and earth. The great parade of natural kinds, nurtured by earth, fills the horizons. Waters teem and trees flower. Fertility. Multiplicity. Creeping creatures, urgent and easy, wild and gentle, small and great. God is the original environmentalist, the first cause of all our species, the eternal lover of diversity. Good. Yes.
Then the final good gift. “God created them in God’s own image; male and female God created them.” This final nature, a human one, would be given all else: as gift to nurture, name, and affirm. All is benefaction, and the human, made specially in the likeness of God, is empowered to know existence and pronounce it all good. All is benediction.
At least one might have thought so. But the creature with the power to name, with the freedom of “yes,” said “no.” It was a rejection of the great order and the great orders. There would be a resounding “no” to the goodness of limits. The tempter was a liar. They already had the tree of life as their shade and comfort. They would not die anyway. They were already like unto God. And yet, resistant to the very condition of their creaturehood they ate of the tree of limits. They wanted more than the power to name all the goods of the earth. They wanted to name evil, to dictate right and wrong. They wanted to control all, even if it meant losing everything they were.
In exile, there was left to them either despair or faith in a journey back. But such a journey could be led only by one who knew the way, only by one who could be absolutely trusted, one wholly other than the namers who misnamed it all. Thus Abraham, against all hope, learned to place all hope in the promise that God made, to yield and obey at the core of his very being. Thus he became the ancestor of all faith, even in the face of total loss.
The return was rife with peril, traps set by alien powers. Our people were horrified by the odds. The sea of frenzied life seemed impassible. Yet steadfast Moses, armed with nothing more than the “other’s” promise, split the very sea in two, offering passage. He became the ancestral leader of all journeys.
The return had its snares, captivities of every manner. Our forebears, like us, knew days and years of being lost and abandoned. Moved by our affliction, the one who first pronounced us good consoles us in prophetic voice. “With great tenderness I will take you back ... with enduring love I will pity you.” The covenants of Eden, of Noah, Abraham, and Moses will never be forgotten.
Something new is promised: a water, not of chaos, but of cleansing; a new food of unremitting nourishment; a mercy confounding, lavish in forgiveness; love beyond the grasp of mere human imagination. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” God’s very word will come to be the final “yes” of goodness.
But what of our sin, our resistance, our ritual of death and folly, the compulsive repetition of Eden’s inhabitants? How might the wisdom of God penetrate our thickness? If our hearts would only turn, Baruch chides us, with the humility of the stars. If our minds might only surrender to the will that moves the earth. Yet we cling to other gods, their twisted principles and precepts.
Ezekiel, who saw our horrors and shame, indicted us but also promised that the covenant holds despite our deed. Unfaithful, we stay cherished. Besotted, we will be purified. Hard, cold, and lost at sea, we heard Ezekiel’s rumor of our ransom. Could we chance a hope for some new spirit, for hearts no longer made of stone, for a homeland?
Who would have guessed that our home might be a person? Who would have dreamed that the passage through the sea was just that: going into the water, even under, but with someone who, like a sleek, glorious dolphin of grace, would bear us on his back?
Jesus entered the deeps of death, a plunge he need not have made had he not loved us in our sorry state. But he went to death with a “yes,” with the utter trust of Abraham, the constancy of Moses, the bright reliance of Isaiah. In Easter’s vigil, we plunge with him: “Are you not aware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Being like him through likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection.”
The risen crucified one sounds again God’s original “yes” to us now, even in our sin, even in the death which sin brought on us. Allowing us to be like and in him since he became so fully like unto us, he carries us, as one of his own, to safe land.
“If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with him. His death was death to sin, once for all; his life is life for God.”
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University