Last Saturday, the People of Hope held a conference; the topic was the Scriptures, and the speaker was a Bible scholar from the farms of Idaho. The talks were fantastic, the speaker was engaging and holy, and the material was remarkable. Without getting into specifics, the talks were basically an introduction to the study of the Scriptures as a narrative of salvation history, paying particular attention to the historical contexts.
Since then, I’ve been contemplating the historical significance of Christ’s arrival on earth. Why choose the specific point in history? I remember learning somewhere (probably KA) about the progress in communication and travel around this time-period: it was a great time for Christ to come because His message could be dispersed through the nations in a relatively short period of time.
But I think the significance goes deeper. The intellectual framework for the message and theology of Christianity is essentially a marriage, albeit a bickering one, of Hebrew and Greek thought. From this amalgamation of philosophies we get much of our understanding of God. We get an all-perfect unmoved mover who can and desires to love us in a personal way.
One of the foundational tenants of Catholicism is the all-perfect and all-good nature of God. This is essentially a Greek idea. Aristotle’s unmoved mover becomes God in Aquinas’ writing. God’s very nature of Love is what holds all of creation together. Nevertheless, just as the term “unmoved mover” seems to imply, there is not much personality, affection, or involvement in this Greek idea of God. Why is it that this all-perfect and all-good entity would concern Itself in the affairs of squabbling, mortal men. There is not much exploration in Aristotle of a personal knowledge of this Unmoved Mover, let alone a relationship.
Enter the Hebrew theology and Scriptures. The God of the Old Testament is a loving, personal, jealous God. God gets angry at the wickedness of His people, but He also feels compassion and forgives. Although the Old Testament doesn’t disallow it, there is little exploration the Greek or modern Catholic idea of God’s perfection. Men, like Moses, seem to change God’s mind; and sometimes God seems to act purely out of an emotions.
Both individual theologies of God miss out on integral aspects of Who God is, how we’re supposed to view Him, and how we come to know Him. But when we marry them together, we get a wonderful window into the beauty that is God. The Greek without the Hebrew breeds movements like Deism, visions of God as a distant and unmoved deity, who cares little for the Universe He created, simply because “caring” is an emotion that would lessen His greatness; and the Hebrew without the Greek can give us a loving God, but one whose emotions could get in the way – a God whom we may be reluctant to trust, since his unaffected perfection is not established.
But as a Catholic, I believe in a God that created the entire world and controls every aspect of it right now; but this God loves me in an intimate way. This God created, maintains, and understands all of the galaxies, black holes, and supernovas; but he also desires that I come before Him and tell Him I love Him. There is nothing more perfect, more Good, or more powerful than this Being; but this Being chose to come to earth to die for the sins of each individual person, because He loves each and every human with a passion that is unsurpassable. This is an awesome God.
And so Christ became man when He did, so that we could understand Him in this way.
I have two intellectual reactions to this line of thinking: First, are there other theologies and intellectual frameworks by which we can understand God in a different way? I think this is what mystics and others preach, especially when they delve into Eastern thought. Perhaps the marriage of Hebrew and Greek thought was perfect for the establishment of the Catholic Church, but what other awesome truths can we learn about God from different contexts. There is no intellectual philosophy that can contain or fully explain God; likewise, there are no two that can do this.
Second, I don’t see it as a coincidence that when modern man began to cast doubt upon the foundation of Western thought, he began to doubt his faith; and when modern man began to rail against Western thought, he began to rail against his faith. Although the essence of individual conversations is beginning a relationship with God, for contemporary culture to turn away from sin and toward its loving Creator, the battle of philosophies needs to be fought and won.