Thursday, July 27, 2023

From inside. . .

While watching snippets of movie scenes on the internet, I noticed one that did not appear to be quite right.  It turns out that the scene was a mirror image of the film itself.  The images were on the opposite sides of the screen as they were originally.  Sometimes it did not matter but often it became unbearable.

I wonder sometimes if that is not how those outside the Church view the Church.  They see some things that accord with their own vocabulary and experience and yet they seem off and other things are simply too confusing or confounding to look at.  It is the same phenomenon as the way we look at stained glass in the Church.  From the inside it is clear but from the outside the same glass is skewed or confused to the point where it is hard even to admit that it is the same image on the outside that appears so clear and beautiful from the inside.

Christian truth does not always fare well under the gaze of the unbeliever or skeptic.  It is not because there is anything wrong with that truth or any flaw in that truth but because from the outside it is not quite right and often unbearable.  Surely listening to news media trying to encapsulate the larger Christian truth when explaining things religious that are also deemed newsworthy is the same problem.  What sense does it make to those outside the Church to speak of such things as the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or even prayer?  That is the point.  It does not make sense.  It is only from the vantage point of being inside that one can see, know, believe, rejoice, and celebrate the grand self-disclosure of God in His Word and the means of grace through which He bestows His eternal gifts to His people caught in time.

Knowledge ought never be denied for its value and purpose by God's design but it is noteworthy that St. Paul insists that it is with the heart one believes (Rom. 10:10).  He continues to unfold the mystery of what is faith and insists that faith is not a voluntary activity of the mind or a decision of reason but the work of the Holy Spirit working through that Word.  How do you say that to people who live in a world of choice, preference, felt truth, and individualism?  You cannot.  You cannot make faith reasonable or approachable until those outside the faith can see what those inside behold.  How do you prove Christianity and eliminate the risk of believing?  The radical reality is that you do not observe God in nature or in the world and apprehend Him by faith but that faith is God's work through God's Word by God's Spirit.  We live in the illusion that there actually is objectivity.  What a lie we have told ourselves!  Joseph Ratzinger once observed, “There is no such thing as a mere observer. There is no such thing as pure objectivity.”  That is not meant to despair our reason or senses but to know their limits.  Christ transcends those limits with the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, and, we might add, that beyond which reason can deduce or vision can witness.  It is this reality so real that death cannot end it that God delivers to us in the limitation of our minds and hearts but outside the faith, living outside the Church, it is skewed at best and unintelligible at worst.

Faith is not nearly the gamble that living in the world, subsumed into its life and values truly is.  Faith is the surrender of the finite for the infinite under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  It does not reject the temporal but knows it is not its own end.  It means being more and more consumed by and reflective of this imparted truth of God's own revelation.  Being in but not of the world does not mean that we do not belong within God's creative order but that we know that this order gives way to the redemptive order born of Christ's incarnation, obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection.  Holding to this is not giving up the world but seeing the world as God would have us see it.  This diminishes nothing of God's creation or man's reason or science.  It does just the opposite.  This places all of that within the lens of God's creative and saving will and purpose.  Those outside see things they cannot comprehend or refuse to accept as the price of admission to the household of God but it is not that at all.  It is beholding the beginning of that which endures when everything else is gone and so gives meaning, purpose, and perspective to who we are, where we live, and how we live in it.

Christian life is like the stained glass of a church -- it is confusing and impossible to know unless you are inside.  Those considering Christianity are not objectively evaluating the truth of God and then deciding whether it is theirs or not, they cannot objectively evaluate anything until they see themselves, their life, their place in this world, and their hope in the world to come from the inside.

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