Years back, as a young professor of theology, I had a dream, to write a book on the question of faith. My hope was to shed some light on why God is hidden to us. Why don’t we see God physically? Why doesn’t God simply show himself to us in such a way that it would remove all doubt?
For a couple of years, in my spare time, I did some reseach. I prepared a bibliography on the question, looked up what many of the saints and classical theologians had to say on the issue, and I began to ask colleagues and friends what they thought. One day, sitting at table in our college cafeteria, I asked a colleague, an elderly man who had been one of my own mentors and who was now a professor emeritus, what he thought on the issue: “Why does God hide himself?” I asked, “Why doesn’t God just appear, physically, beyond doubt, and then we wouldn’t have to have faith, we would know God with certainty?”
His answer took me by surprise, especially because of its directness: He spoke very gently, as was his style, but, after his answer, I decided I would not write that book after all: “Your question is an interesting one,” he said, “If it is asked by a young person and asked with sufficient passion, it can seem like a profound question. But it is not, in the end, profound. What is betrays is a profound lack of understanding of the incarnation! But don’t be discouraged. It is a perennial question. It’s the one that Philip asked Jesus. The answer, therefore, that I will give you is the same one that Jesus gave him: `You can look at all you have seen and heard and still ask that question? To see certain things is to have seen the Father!‘
To ask a question like this is tantamount to looking at the most beautiful day in June, seeing all the trees and flowers in full blossom and asking a friend, ‘Where is summer?’ To see certain things is to see summer. To see certain things is to see God.”
With those thoughts in mind, I would like here to offer a set of questions that Karl Rahner used to ask people when they asked him about the veil of faith:
-Have you ever kept silent, despite the urge to defend yourself, when you were unfairly treated?
-Have you ever forgiven another although you gained nothing by it and your forgiveness was accepted as quite natural?
-Have you ever made a sacrifice without receiving any thanks or acknowledgement, without even feeling any inward satisfaction?
-Have you ever decided to do a thing simply for the sake of conscience, knowing that you must bear sole responsibility for your decision without being able to explain it to anyone?
-Have you ever tried to act purely for love of God when no warmth sustained you, when your act seemed a leap in the dark, simply nonsensical?
-Have you ever been good to someone without expecting a trace of gratitude and without the comfortable feeling of having been “unselfish”?
If you have had such experiences, Rahner asserts, then you have had experienced God, perhaps without realizing it.
A priest I know tells the story of how he was preaching one Sunday on the parable of the wedding banquet. He was emphasizing the motif of urgency within the parable: “We must respond now!” he thundered, “tomorrow it will be too late!” A man got up and walked out of church. The priest suspected that his homily must have upset the man in some way. However, the next day this man phoned the priest. “The reason I walked out of church yesterday was not that I didn’t like your homily. I left because I understood exactly what you were saying. My brother and I had a fight 12 years ago and we hadn’t spoken to each other since that time. When you pointed out how Jesus warns about delaying coming to the banquet, I knew that if I didn’t act today, tomorrow I wouldn’t have the heart for it. I left church and phoned my brother from the first pay phone I found. We got together last night for a talk and we forgave each other!”
What does God look like? Take the fig tree as your parable, when its leaves grow green then you know that summer is near … look at someone who has forgiven somebody they hated for 12 years and you will know what God looks like.
A little girl, drawing a picture, was asked by her mother: “What are you drawing?” She replied: “A picture of God!” “But we don’t know what God looks like,” her mother objected. “Well,” replied the child, “when I am finished with this then you will know what God looks like!” If we do the things that Rahner suggests then too will draw a picture of God.