Numbered section 2 is titled “The Incarnation of Mercy,” and over the next few days, we will explore what it means to give flesh and substance to the mercy of God. Pope John Paul II first turns to the New Testament. Fresh in the memory of the early Christians were their experiences of and with Jesus Christ. Very early, the apostles Paul and John were reflecting on the coming of God in the midst of people. What did that mean? What does it show us about God?
Although God “dwells in unapproachable light,”(1 Tm. 6:16) He speaks to (us by) means of the whole of the universe: “ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”(Rom. 1:20) This indirect and imperfect knowledge, achieved by the intellect seeking God by means of creatures through the visible world, falls short of “vision of the Father.”
To a limited extent, people can perceive God in the created universe. Our created brains can seek, glimpse, and reflect on the nature of God who is not readily detected by our senses.
Jesus makes God known, and is a breakthrough for those who seek God, and for God seeking to express his love and regard for humanity:
“No one has ever seen God,” writes St. John, in order to stress the truth that “the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”(Jn. 1:18) This “making known” reveals God in the most profound mystery of His being, one and three, surrounded by “unapproachable light.”(1 Tm. 6:16) Nevertheless, through this “making known” by Christ we know God above all in His relationship of love for (people): in His “philanthropy.”(Ti. 3:4)
In the liturgy, this passage is cited on Christmas Day, the Mass at Dawn. This is when our culture most connects with this “love of humanity,” in the sense that some in the West still maintain traditions that involve people aware of and receptive to God’s generous love, and passing that generosity through service and charity to others.
But there is more, for committed Christians. The Paschal Mystery, the most profound expression of love, that is a love to the death:
It is precisely here that “His invisible nature” becomes in a special way “visible,” incomparably more visible than through all the other “things that have been made”: it becomes visible in Christ and through Christ, through His actions and His words, and finally through His death on the cross and His resurrection.
What are your thoughts on this? Is this only an historical and artistic “visibility,” n the sense of seeing with our eyes something that happened twenty centuries ago? How does God make this history, this story, something real and incarnate today?
Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana