Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
It all began with God's call to Abram, as we hear in today's selection from Genesis 12. Eventually, through hundreds of years of human history Christians and Muslims will inherit a reverence and devotion to the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Sometimes, as I have heard or read teachings about Revelation, the authors and speakers seem to be talking about information about God rather than the knowledge of God. The distinction is important. I may have some information, or data, about a person but not know him. Data may be stored in books and computer files. It may be processed, broken down into facts, sorted with similar details, and measured as statistics.
Knowledge belongs to a person. If I had worked as a carpenter most of my life I might say, "I know carpentry." If I have done research and arrived at a certain conclusion I may say, "I know this." If I share the research with others, they may know it.
Knowledge of a person means I have a particular relationship with that person. It may include facts but I cannot say I know someone if I have never actually met the her. Nor does the sum total of much information add up to knowledge of her, though people may say, "I feel like I know her."
Knowledge is infinite; I can never come to the end of knowing a person. But I may have more enough, or even too much, information. A loving relationship always wants to know more.
Revelation began with a personal encounter. Abraham was known as "the Friend of God" though I don't find it's counterpart -- "the Friend of Abraham" -- in scripture. God's name is mysterious and unpronounceable; that datum was not revealed to the patriarch and his wife.
Divine Revelation sheds only some information about God even as it bestows a deep, overwhelming and beautiful knowledge of God. In Jesus Christians believe we have a complete knowledge of God, and yet not all the information. We can still love more; in fact we are thirsty for more knowledge of God.
Twentieth century theologians spoke of a mysterium tremendum et fascinans -- a fascinating, terrifying encounter with something/someone totally Other. The encounter with this Person comes in blinding light. The visionary may say, "I see you but I cannot see anything."
This knowledge is immediate; it happens in the moment. Sometimes knowledge of persons lapses into memories and I can only say, "I knew her once but I don't anymore." Sometimes the knowledge can be restored, as when friends reconnect. They might spend hours "catching up" with each other, narrating stories and events to fill in the information gap. In that case their knowledge grows deeper, as does their affection for, and delight in, one another.
Sometimes people cling to a past encounter with God and think they know him. There are innumerable reasons for such a mistake but we call it hypocrisy. To know the God who reveals himself we must stand continually like Abram, ready to say, "Here I am!" We do not know the hour or the day when God might call us; nor can we suppose what the Lord might ask of us.
The saints cultivate that eager, joyful expectant readiness with fear and trembling -- for the encounter with God is indeed a mysterium tremendum et fascinans.
Abraham, "our father in faith," shows us the way.