*The following homily was delivered on February 27, 2016 and is based off of C.S. Lewis’ eponymous essay, “The Seeing Eye.” Homilies are written in a conversational style and do not follow traditional writing conventions.
Cf. C.S. Lewis. The Seeing Eye and Other Selected Essays from Christian Reflections. New York: Ballantine Books, 1967.
Many of you may remember the year 1961 when the Soviet Union sent the first human being into space. From what I understand, the whole world was watching, and for a number of reasons: After all, the United States was in the thick of the cold war. But more importantly, people were astonished and amazed that a human being could actually orbit the earth in space. Incredible.
Because up until this time, space was spoken of as “the heavens.” It was a place shrouded in mystery; a place no human being had ever gone before. And so people were wondering: What will the soviets find up there? What will they see when they are floating among the stars?
Well, when the Soviet’s returned to Earth, Nikkita Kruschev, then the leader of the atheistic Soviet Union shocked the world when he said:
“The soviet’s flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.”
For the soviets, technology and science would replace God..
Fast forward to September 11, 2001, when, among other things, terrorists fly two planes into the World Trade Center. Shortly after the attack, a group called “the four horseman of the New Atheism” were formed: Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet. These guys took a similar line to Kruschev, proclaiming that we don’t need God. “We can understand everything through science and technology,” they said. And so they publish a whole bunch of books and have a whole bunch of debates online and so forth.
And you know, I think these lines of argumentation make a lot of us Christians a bit nervous….How do we understand God in a scientific age? How are we to respond to these atheists? How would we respond to Kruschev, or Richard Dawkins, or maybe even to a relative or friend who think God and science don’t mix? I think we all know people like this, don’t we? How do we talk to them about God? Well, I think our first reading can give us a little help today. It’s one of the most famous stories in the bible:
So Moses is taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep when he stumbles across the mountain of Horeb and then, miraculously, a bush starts on fire. But the bush isn’t burning; it’s not damaged by the fire. And God introduces himself to Moses as the God of his ancestors. And then Moses boldly asks God his name, and he asks:
“When I go back to the Israelites,what should I tell them? Who should I say that you are?”
And God gives him an answer:
“I am who Am”
What a puzzling response…huh? At first it kinda sounds like a non-answer, like he is avoiding the question. And I think in some ways that’s exactly what’s going on. Why?Because to give someone a name is to categorize that person; it’s to put that person into a box.
“Oh..you’re a Kennedy
….your family is known for such and such
…..so you must be that way too?”
We all know what that’s like…heh? Again, to name someone is to categorize him. But God can’t be categorized. So in one way, God is avoiding Moses’ question. But in another way, God isn’t avoiding the question at all. Because by saying that his name is “I am who Am” he is saying that he is being itself. We use the phrase ipsum esse in theology
…I am being…I am who Am…And what does this mean?
What it means is that the Soviet’s attempt to find God in space is like you or me trying to find the character J.R.R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings story, or it’s like trying to find Shakespeare as a character in Hamlet. And, as most of us know, Tolkien isn’t a character in the Lord of the Rings like Frodo or Gandalf. And Shakespeare isn’t a character in Hamlet like Horatio or Claudius. Similarly, God is not a character in the drama of the history of the Universe. He is not one thing among many. He is something totally other- utterly transcendent.
In other words: God is less like Frodo, and more like Tolkien; less like Horatio, and more like Shakespeare. God is an author. Not a character. He is the author of our existence.
So again, what does this mean? Does this mean that we can’t find God in this world?
Absolutely not. Because by reading the Lord of the Rings, I may not find the character J.R.R. Tolkien, but I do learn something about him, just as I learn something about Shakespeare when I read hamlet. So it goes for the “story” of creation: By looking at the world, at the universe, I learn something about God.
So when I look at a lion, I learn something of God’s majesty…..
When I look at a lamb, I learn something of God’s mercy and meekness…
When I look at an owl, I learn something of God’s wisdom…
And when I look at the heavens–to the sky–I learn something about God’s beauty, his order, his all encompassing stature. And ultimately, as Christians we believe that God, for a time, indeed became a Character in the great drama of the history of the universe because God became a character in his story in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is why Christmas is such a big deal, and ultimately this is why Lent is such a big deal, because we remember how the great “I AM,” the one who is greater than the cosmos, the one who is totally other and totally transcendent, allowed himself to be whipped, and spit upon and nailed to a tree…all on our behalf. And by doing so, we came to know Him who was previously unknowable.
Solets get back to the question we asked at the beginning: If you were to meet Nikkita Krushchev, and he said to you: “My soviet cosmonaut flew into space…and he could not find your God,” what would you say to him?
Well, let me tell you what I would say to him.
I’d say: “Mr Krushchev….you’re right. Your cosmonaut couldn’t find God in space.
But you know what? God can’t be found that way. Because God is not a character, but an author. And yet, at the same time, if your cosmonaut couldn’t find God in space, maybe it also means that he didn’t have the eyes to see….”
Brothers and sisters,
As continue on our Lenten journey, lets open our eyes to see God in all that is around us
and let us give thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ, the great “I AM”, the one who is totally other made flesh as a character in the drama of human history for us.