The Bible is revolutionary in its understanding of the relationship between God and the human being. In answer to the question, “Why did God create the human being?” the standard answer in the ancient world was, “Because God needed slaves”. God was like a king who had a large garden, a Paradise, that needed a lot of hard work to keep it in order. A king didn’t do his own dirty work: he had slaves to do that. So God created us to be slaves. That’s exactly what the Bible has us think when it says that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).
But Scripture pushes the standard line only to put a bomb under it a little later where we read that “the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Gen 2:19). The human being, we now see, is no slave. By God’s free decision, the human being becomes a co-creator, sharing with God the work of ordering the chaos by the use of language. In the beginning, the Creator brought order from chaos with a word. Now he calls the human being to do the same. God is shown to be collaborative and communicative in a way that is wholly new.
God decides to enter into partnership with the human being. Such a partnership presumes a harmony of wills where divine and human freedom are perfectly at one. God wants radical coordination. The story of the Fall will be the story of the human being’s rejection of the partnership God offers and the coordination it implies (Gen 3:1-7). It will tell of the clash between God’s will and ours, between divine and human freedom, as if it had to be one or the other, never the two in harmony.
From then on, the Bible will tell a story where some times the human being accepts the partnership, at other times rejects it. The story will make clear that when the partnership is accepted, things go well for the human being and that things go badly when it’s rejected. Scripture will also tell a story of the God who never rejects the partnership that was his idea in the first place. Finally in Jesus the partnership comes to its fullness, as divine and human will find perfect union in the one who is both God and man, the one who is perfectly obedient to the Father’s will.
With the coming of Pope Francis, there’s been much talk of the need for reform in the way the Church is governed, and the Holy Father has gathered a group of Cardinals around him to consider the options. It’s clear to many that the Holy See needs to work in a way that is more coordinated, more collaborative and more communicative. But that applies not only to the Vatican. The whole Church, including the Archdiocese of Brisbane, needs to become more coordinated, more collaborative and more communicative – in other words, more like God.
What’s true of the Church is also true of society at large. The current Royal Commission makes it clear that, as a community, Australia needs to work together much more in the area of child protection. The Royal Commission has put pressure on the Church to work in a more coordinated, collaborative and communicative way, to enter into new partnerships. That’s why we have established the Truth, Justice and Healing Council to help the Church speak with one voice as we engage the Commission for the good of all. This is one of the ways in which society at large is helping the Church to think and act in more cooperative ways, in other words to become more like God.
In dealing with sexual abuse and its consequences, the Church can no longer go it alone. We need help from others, and we can also offer help to others, given what we have learnt through recent years. The Church must now coordinate with all who are working to protect children – especially with the Royal Commission itself. The Church must also collaborate in very practical ways with all those who want to make Australia a safer place for children. And we must communicate as truthfully and effectively as possible – with those who have been abused, with their families and with all who want to heal the wounds of the past and create a more hopeful and secure future, especially for the young and the vulnerable.
Through the days of Advent, we prepare for the moment when the partnership between God and the human being is sealed in the marriage of heaven and earth that we call the Incarnation. As the Church Fathers say, God becomes human so that we can become divine (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church, 460). The collaborative and communicative God wants not only to enter into partnership with us but actually wants to become one of us. That’s why the language of marriage rather than partnership goes deeper in describing the truth. It’s more radical in its claim that, in Jesus, God and the human being “become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
As we prepare for the birth of Christ, I urge you to ponder the amazing ways in which God draws us into himself and into his creative work. Day by day, listen with the ears of the heart to the great readings of the season, as they put before us figures like John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary, both wholly at one with the will of God. Then ask what it might mean for us, concretely, to become a more coordinated, more collaborative and more communicative Church in service of all, a Church more attuned to the will of God, a Church becoming more like God.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
First Sunday of Advent 2013