Friday of the Fifth Week in Lent
(Jeremiah 20:10-13; John 10:31-42)
In a recent book about God, author Karen Armstrong gives the “new atheists” a sympathetic rejection. She thinks that they are right in their critique of fundamentalist interpretations of religion that have sprouted in the last century. According to Armstrong, sectors of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have felt their cherished beliefs called into question. However, she finds it unfortunate that self-proclaimed atheists Richard Dawkins, the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris do not dialogue with religious thinkers whose ideas are more subtle than the hardliners’. In the readings today Jeremiah and Jesus likewise lament the hardness of their adversaries’ positions.
Jeremiah has preached reform to the Kingdom of Judah. The people, he would say, have to stop thinking that foreign alliances will save them from the threat of Babylon. Instead, he exhorts them to be faithful to the Lord God. Jesus asks the people of Jerusalem, the heirs of those to whom Jeremiah preached, to recognize him as God’s uniquely appointed messenger for all that he has done in God’s name. In both cases, however, the people roundly reject God’s emissaries by threatening their lives.
We must be wary of God-talk. People want and should give testimony to their experiences of God. But they err on the side of enthusiasm when they reduce God to an individual helper albeit infinitely greater than themselves. God is holy mystery whose nature we cannot hope to understand. Some say God is love, and of course He is that. But love is not His nature any more than we could say that here is our nature because we are here. What is more important than God-talk is developing the loving virtues that Jesus exhibits – compassion, understanding, and self-control.