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When asked what question he would put to Jesus were he to meet him, the Dalai Lama is reputed to have answered: ‘What is the Father like?’
What a stimulating response! Firstly, it places us immediately at the heart of the Christian experience of God as Trinity, a community of love.
The question also includes the question that is at the root of all the longings that arise from the deepest heart of all humans: What is the unknowable God like? What is the mystery of being? Does this life have a purpose? A future?
The crisis facing institutional Christianity today is the crisis of God. We need courageous honesty to admit that all too often the god we have presented has been a rather destructive caricature. The god that the Church has presented hasn’t worked!
Our answer to the question ‘What is the Father like?’ is unsatisfying to hearts. The words of the prophet Isaiah are ever valid: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.’
And, yet, we continually try to take control of God and reduce him to a god we can understand, and who is inevitably a projection of our own needs.
Fear, punishment, intimidation, power may promote rigidly faithful religious practice, but these are not going to lead people to love, freedom, salvation, knowledge of the Father. Pharisees live on, and remember Jesus did not give them/us an easy time!
One of the Desert Fathers responded to a question about the way to love, peace, salvation: ‘Find your heart and you will be saved.’
All the palaver of religious practice may or may not appeal to us, but every individual is invited at some point to descend into the depths of the heart and take up what arises from there.
It is particularly incumbent upon Christians, whose mission is to reflect the answer to that awesome question: ‘What is the Father like?’, to find their own heart, and to experience the neediness and thirst at our deepest being.
Go to your heart and the Father through Jesus will reveal Himself; the unknowable mystery of life will reveal itself as unconditional love.
Worthiness has never been the starting point for Christian living; only humility opening our eyes to the unfathomable Love the Father is. And true knowledge of the Father always emerges as compassion and love for all our brothers and sisters.
Father James MacNeil, St Columba’s Cathedral, Oban.