By Father Thomas Esposito
Special to The Texas Catholic
The biblical faith expressed in both Old and New Testaments does not lend authoritative support to those who draw a personal map to a God of their own devising. The first pages of the Bible, in fact, should be sufficient proof that a do-it-yourself program of “spirituality” or “religion” or “the journey” leads only to an inflated ego. The introduction of sin into God’s good creation, narrated in Genesis 3, distorts all sorts of relationships: between us and animals; between our fellow men and women; between us and God. Any pursuit of God guided solely by our personal compass will certainly create a path, but it will veer off in a selfish and ultimately lonely direction, far from the path trod by the holy ones before us.
What we find in Scripture is not principally the plan for man and woman to return to God, but the unquenchable desire on the part of God to restore a fractured relationship with the crown jewel of creation. As soon as Eve and Adam eat the forbidden fruit, God comes upon the scene of the crime, announcing the consequences of their sin. Yet even in the punishments indicated (toil and sweat in work, pain in child-bearing, death, etc.), a promise of restoration is already hinted at. To the serpent, the Lord God declares, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head, and you will strike at his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The first Christian theologians interpreted this statement as the Protoevangelium, the earliest announcement of the Gospel: that the offspring of Adam and Eve, namely Christ, would be born of a woman (Mary) and conquer the Evil One, represented by the serpent.
This assurance of God’s presence is evident at every stage of Israel’s history. God is pained to see the enslaved suffering of the Hebrews in Egypt, and desires nothing more than to liberate them so that they can be free to worship Him. The purpose of the Law and the covenants with Abraham, Moses and David is to allow Israel to know the constant love God has for them, and to provide Israel with the path God wishes them to follow in seeking Him. Israel sins frequently, committing idolatry by worshiping other gods, and the prophets describe this transgression as the infidelity of a wife to her husband. God is grieved by this betrayal, and his bride must be punished for her iniquity, yet God never revokes his love, and never abandons Israel.
The Incarnation of Jesus, as the great apologist Blaise Pascal put it, “shows man the greatness of his misery by the greatness of the remedy which was required.” No greater proof of God’s amorous desire to heal the wounds of human sin and separation can be found than the person of Jesus Christ himself. His willingness to become one of us, and then to suffer and die, reveals the infinite depths of his desire to reunite men and women in that true love which brought them into being.
Perhaps the most beautiful demonstration of this divine desire is detailed in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-42). Her encounter with Jesus begins with a request on his part for a drink of water, but he quickly moves beyond physical thirst. By speaking of the living water that God will give to the one who asks, he draws out a beautiful prayer from the sinful woman’s heart: “Lord, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15). St. Augustine captures the desire of Jesus brilliantly with the simple observation that in speaking to the woman at the well, “Jesus was thirsting for her faith.”
May we never forget that our thirst for God cannot be quenched by purely natural waters which we draw for ourselves, but by the God who yearns to quench our thirst with the life-giving waters cascading from the pierced heart of Christ.
Father Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.