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God in the Concrete Jungle

Action

Action follows thought. But what if thought Itself has not fully developed when action is already required.

Take the statement “Bring glad tidings to the poor.” We do not yet know how to bring it about. Why is it “glad tidings”? Who really are the poor? Even this last question is still being debated upon. (One argument on one side: Don't they have souls too who live in rich mansions?)

That's why there are still a lot to discuss in this issue.

Assumptions

The first that needs to be discussed however is the symbolic universe. This universe is the assumptive world - the world we assume we live in. Philosophers only articulate what the rest of the world assumes - of the world, of man and of God.

For example, if your assumption of the world is evil, then you will try to avoid the world.

For another example, if your view of man is that his body is evil and salvation is found only when the soul is freed from the prison of the body, then you'd have a different strategy in serving the poor.

Or, for still another example, if you think that God is only transcendent (beyond our perception, our experience and our knowing), not immanent (capable of existing and remaining within us), then your view of liberation is to be freed from this “valley of tears” just like the Hindus. In their theology, the world is an illusion - maya. It is nirvana, their ideal state of joy and stability, to be freed from all attachment to this world, to go to Brahma being part of the divine.

Christian faith

But we believe differently. We go to the poor, because God is there. “Whatever you did to the least of my brethren you did to me.” Christian faith comes with different assumptions.

We have a different symbolic universe. Even at the most basic, our name of God is so different. In Islam, it's Allah; in Hinduism, it is Brahma; in Judaism, it is Yahweh. For us, it is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our assumption is clearly so far removed from the rest. Our concept of God is a community of persons in a dynamic relation of self-giving love. And we are even invited to join their community!

That's why it is dangerous when you begin to serve the poor and still see the world from a Greek view of the world, for example. They see the human body as evil because their myth sees it coming from the evil giant that was killed by Cronus.

But we see it otherwise. Because of the Incarnation, it is through this world that we will find the unity. Because Jesus came, our human body is now redeemable and has been proclaimed to be not evil. There is no dualism, no dichotomy, in our faith.

Whether we articulate it or not, we have our assumptions of the world. We have our symbolic universe that colors our understanding of service and of total human liberation. Let us examine this and, instead of looking for the right assumptions in all the wrong places, it is better to go back to the Trinity.

Trinity

Triads had always been used to describe God in older times. It is not new to Christianity. In Greek mythology, the regions of the world were divided into the 3 sons of Cronus: Zeus (heaven), Poseidon (seas), Hades (underworld). Babylonians had Anu, Ea and Bel - their supreme God. The Egyptian triad consisted of Ptap, Ma'at, and Imhotep. The Hindus have Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Even reality, consisting of time and space, has space made of height, width and depth, and time with past, present and future. Light has 3 primary colors: red, blue and green. Music has tone, rhythm and interval.

In religious life, we recognize a Being that's all-powerful, Jesus as our Lord and the Holy Spirit who's hardly known. But because of the charismatic renewal, we are now coming to recognize the Holy Spirit. We are now completing our understanding of the Trinity.

We are now being forced to face this important truth - that God was revealed to be Trinity when the Divine Word became flesh. We have to take this seriously if we want to understand what service is and what total human liberation means, and not be misled by Karl Marx, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, or the latest popular writer now, Deepak Chopra. We need to go back to the revelations of Jesus, instead.

What kind of God?

So the main question is what kind of God is Jesus proclaiming, what kind of “Kingdom of God” do we understand.

Modern thought has been greatly influenced by Greek philosophies. We were taught of a God, a Supreme Being, who is an Unmoved Mover, a Pure Act, a Necessary Being. But that is not the God that Jesus came to reveal.

Just what kind of God did Jesus reveal?

To Jesus, God is a God of history. He creates and comes through a new beginning. His God is the Living God of Love. His God is not bound by the laws of Space and Time. He is free, unlike us humans - prisoners of space and time.

Let me digress a bit and discuss our limitations. As humans, we are not gods. We have no control over Time; we couldn't even go back to our youth. No matter what we put to our bodies or make our bodies undergo, we could never change our date of birth. We have no control too over Space; we could not be at two places at one time. For a simple trip to Hong Kong, we need our travel documents and a plane ride, two proofs that we aren't at two places at once.

We are not free - but our God is. God is above all Space and Time. He cannot be controlled; even if we say all our novenas, if God does not want to He cannot be made to.

Strangely though we have put boundaries on our God. For instance, we limit ourselves to only two outreach programs per year. After the 2nd, we go right back to our comfort zones, pat ourselves on the back and feel good, then fool ourselves we have done our share. That wouldn't be the 'bringing of glad tidings to the poor' that our God asks of us. That seems more of an outreach.

Outreach

Outreach! The word leaves a bad taste to the mouth. It infers that we came not to serve but to “ob-serve.” With our comfort zones, we have drawn demarcation lines on our activities - just far enough not to make us guilty, but near enough not to bother us too much. These markers have been carefully noted in our minds, cast into stone, making them unmovable, that once we see ourselves overstepping their limits we immediately retreat back to our comfort zones.

We have mistakenly made God our equal by these marked zones. Our God isn't anywhere like that. If He says you must leave the place and go south just like Abraham was asked, you'd have to. If you don't do so, tough, you're on your own. Instead we bargain with Him, making Him like us. We ask for any move I make “what will I get?”

We even ask Him to explain Himself to us.

We ask why is there evil in the world. And yet the dialogue could simply have gone like this:

He asks us “Where you there when I laid the seas?”

“No, Sir.”

“When I raised the mountains were you there?”

“No, Sir.”

“When I hung the stars in the sky were you there?”

“No, Sir.”

“Then why do you ask Me to explain Myself?”

We have no right to seek justification from God. He neither needs to justify Himself to us nor to even explain the evil in the world.

He only says to us “Bring glad tidings to the poor” and minimize the evil in the world - that is all He is asking.

Make a difference

So, the problem is not just to “Bring glad tidings to the poor,” but to make a significant difference - that's what makes it dangerous! – in the poverty in our country.

We have responsibilities. We cannot just feel good listening to retreat masters. If God is our CEO who asked us to do outreach programs, how do you think the outreach programs monitoring would be? How would the evaluation be? Is it all right to just keep doing outreach program's unmindful of how many participants make it through. If it was a top management practitioner checking up on us, we would hardly pass the mettle. We have a duty to decrease, even just a little bit, the number of poor as we “Bring glad tidings to the poor.” If we need to do workshops and seminars and cooperatives, then let's have them!

The evil upriver

There was a man who seeing a child drowning in the river, jumped right in, swam across, and caught the child through the river's current, and brought him to the banks. But he saw another, did the same, and still saw another and still did the same. Meaning well, he took workshops on swimming, diving, rescuing. It never occurred to him to investigate why there were so many children being thrown into the river. Upriver was an evil character who kept on throwing the children as “fast as they were being saved downriver. Unless the man faced up to this evil character, he could take up all his time doing workshops on saving the children and still not have lessened the evil and its influence.

When we bring glad tidings to the poor, we come face to face with evil. (It may even be our own faces - in which case we need to reform our professional or managerial practices.) It's true that God does sometimes intervene. But that's very infrequent. What mostly happens is God's own great Kingdom is spread and made a reality by weak imperfect men like us. (Even prayer doesn't change things. Prayer changes people who change things.) We cannot just feel good about 'bringing glad tidings to the poor' without ourselves being changed.

Paying the price

Now going back to our concept of God - a community of Persons. Calvary was a Trinitarian event. The dramatic events at Golgotha cannot be understood except with an explicit belief in the Trinity. The death and resurrection of Jesus was an event that took place within God. The entire Trinity was deeply involved in the death of Jesus on the cross. The cross stands at the heart of the Trinitarian being of God. It divides and conjoins the persons in their relationship and portrays them in a specific way.

The Father grieves over the death of the Son. (it is also the grief of the Father that saves us!) This is a different kind of execution, of murder, because God was involved in the death. Jesus experiences the agony of being forsaken on the cross by the Father, while the Father experiences at the same time the anguish of being separated from His Son, losing His identity as father. The Son suffers the dying; the Father suffers death of the son. The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son for the salvation of the universe.

Grief is salvific. Love pays the price. If God did not suffer, then John 3:16 is all useless. Suffering is the only language that love can understand. Love has to pay the price.

It is not unlike sending your maids (or helpers, staff, emissaries) to distribute your unwanted almost-expired canned goods to the poor and taking photo-ops with the poor at the end of the distribution line to make it to tomorrow's papers announcing your generosity. That is not real love of the poor. Like an outreach, it is serving only when you have the time or when the fridge is full. God didn't love like that - He paid the price.

In Their surrender of Their mutual identity as father and son for the sake of sinful human beings, Jesus and the Father experiences a new unity with one another in the Spirit who reestablishes the community between them in the very moment that They are prepared to renounce it for the sake of the salvation of the universe. The Holy Spirit bound them together and in this way releases the Holy Spirit to the whole world to reconcile all in Christ and to set the conditions for a deeper and richer form of life, the more abundant life.

Thus, going back to the assumptive word, the symbolic universe, if we have the wrong assumptions, then we cannot understand “Bring glad tidings to the poor,” service to others, nor total human liberation.

For us to understand all these, my argument is simple: return to the Trinity.

Repent and believe in the gospel. Mark1:14

Repent in Greek is metanoia. “Meta” meaning 'beyond'; “noia” meaning “thinking.” It can thus mean in one sense “beyond our thinking.” We must go beyond our thinking and think like Jesus. St. Paul says the way Jesus thinks is how we should think. It is even possible we use the same words but have different meanings. For example, for some, evangelization means outreach programs; for others, it means crusades.

But our bishops have spoken: “Actions on behalf of justice is an essential part of evangelization.” That means we have to face the evil upriver who is throwing the children to their deaths. There is such an evil as structural evil - systems in society, economics and politics that make it easy for us to commit evil, even when we want to do good.

It's in its nature

In summary, God is a dynamic relation of self-giving love.

So what would our assumption be of man? We can only reach the true nature of our being when we give.

Since the Trinity is self-giving, then we too should be self-giving. So in our service, when we “Bring glad tidings to the poor” it would not be because we pity the poor, nor because we are just following what the Christian community discerned, nor because we are afraid that the poor would start a revolution.

We go to the poor so that our humanity will be fulfilled. We are doing it for ourselves. We will not be saved if we do not “Bring glad tidings to the poor.”

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