Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Deus Absconditus - The Yoke and the Cross

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Many of us know the feeling of desolation- when prayers seem unanswered, when we struggle with the dryness of prayer life with no consolation in sight, when we wallow in misery crying out to a God, who seems to hide behind a veil of silence. Our human experience of God can appear very much like the peaks of cloud-covered mountains. There are days when God’s grandeur and glory are on full display. At other times, God seems obscured by clouds—clouds of doubt, suffering, disappointment, or pervasive evil. Sometimes it seems that there are far more cloudy days, than clear ones.  Theologians have come up with a term to describe that aspect of God who chooses to play “hide and seek” with his minions. St Thomas Aquinas, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther called God the elusive God, the evasive God, the hidden God: Deus Absconditus. Literally (and scandalously so) it means “God has absconded.” God is hidden. He is absent.

The idea that God hides Himself, a God who lives in “light inaccessible” is an ancient one, an idea familiar to Hebrews and the Jews who read the Old Testament. Why would God choose to hide? Part of the reason God hides is because, as Scripture testifies, if we saw God full-on, we would perish in the enounter, like a head-on car collision between a tiny Kanchil and a Lorry. For a Jew, this seemingly insignificant point forms the very basis of their relationship with God – the finite creature reaching out to the Infinite Deity. It is a reminder that God isn’t a product of human imagination. God isn’t a projection of human hopes and fears. God is outside and beyond our ideas. For the Jew, God is invisible not only to our eyes; God is also invisible to our imaginations. But the hiddenness of God remains a particularly painful experience for those who affirm faith in God: Where is this hidden God? Why doesn’t God show up? It is an apologetic conundrum experienced by many throughout history.

But God does not only hide, God also reveals (Deus Revelatus). Fundamentally, God reveals Himself (Deus revelatus) but remains hidden within the very act of revelation (Deus absconditus). The act, account, experience, or event of revelation will never be exhaustive for God will remain mysterious, even in our knowledge of Him. God’s hiddeness and revelation converge and reaches its climax in the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus is ultimately the revelation of God par excellence. He is the visible image of the Invisible Deity. Jesus reveals the unfathomable depths of God, and yet remains a mystery in Himself. He is both ‘Deus Absconditus et reveletus’ (“the God who hides and reveals”).

And so we find in today’s gospel passage, one of the most disturbingly scandalous aspects of our Christian faith and our Scriptures, a God who hides himself and true understanding from “the learned and the clever”, but reveals himself to “mere children” (the ignorant, the weak, the needy). It would appear that the revelation of God doesn’t stand up to those who in their hubris place great pride in their own wisdom and knowledge. God, in fact, has hidden the teachings of Jesus from the wise (or to be exact, those who think themselves ‘wise’) and instead reveals them to the seemingly ignorant and misguided. For those who revel in their own cleverness, God will remain the Hidden God (Deus Absconditus). He will never be the God who reveals his love to us. On the other hand,  when Christians are called to emulate the vulnerability of children, to receive the revelation of God with an open heart, unencumbered by inhibitions and cynicism, then God no longer remains Hidden but is fully Revealed. The reason for this is that children would be more willing submit to the yoke of obedience than those who take great effort to show the world that they are masters of their own destiny and authorities in their field of knowledge. Pride blinds us. Humility allows us to see.

In Christ, we will find the perfection of all knowledge and Wisdom – He is then the antidote to false worship of knowledge so prevalent in our days. In Christ, we would finally come to understand that the Lord hides himself from us because he is God, and God reveals himself to us because He is Love (I John 4:8). To know God in his Son Jesus Christ is to know that he is unconditionally Love unto the last drop of blood on the Cross. In the Cross and resurrection of his Son, we will find our answer.

There is no greater symbol of this truth than in the symbol of the Cross. Christians have maintained that the fullest disclosure of God lies in apprehending him in the Cross. The apprehension of God in the cross is not a matter of seeing but of having one’s eyes opened. In the Cross, Christians see the light of revelation which makes life and suffering meaningful. In it they also discover the greatest puzzle of history. The “why” of the Cross silently suggests that God is hidden at the moment of fullest disclosure. It affirms that in revelation, God is both known and unknown.  God is revealed with amazing and unexpected tenderness and beauty in the ugly and violent drama of the Cross. In a twist of Divine Comedy, God delights in contradicting the wisdom of the world by hiding his love under wrath, his glory under suffering, and his divinity under flesh. And here lies the heart of our Christian paradox – on the cross, where God’s absence was most profound, God’s mercy and grace was most present. The Cross is not evidence of God’s absence. On the contrary, it is testimony that God is really present in the fullness of his Love. It is no wonder that that the Cross is foolishness to those who want to know God directly by human reflection and God remains hidden from the supposedly “learned and clever.”

So when Jesus says, “shoulder my yoke and learn from me,” it is not an invitation to a life of ease.  His yoke and his burden are the cross.  The yoke and the cross are twin symbols of Christian experience. The disciple must bear both; he cannot choose to take one and leave the other. To walk under this cross is not misery and despair but refreshment and rest for the soul.  It is the greatest joy. Under his yoke we are certain of this nearness and communion.  Under his yoke, we will be mentored by one who bears the full weight of the cross for us. It is only when we bear it alone, without Him, would we feel its crushing weight.

Jesus leads us to the cross. Jesus calls us to cross, not as something to be feared but rather as something to embrace. “Come to me all of you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.” Ironically, it is at the foot of the cross that we will find rest. Jesus calls us to look again, to see with eyes of faith that which is being offered to him — a sign of hope in the midst of despair, a symbol of life in the midst of death. The Cross will finally break the back of Sin and Death.

It is the Cross which stands before us, casting its shadow over us. To those who turn away, God will always remain hidden. But for us Christians, there is no turning away, for that cross goes before us at every turn; indeed it is inscribed upon our very forehead at baptism to remind us daily of its power over us and in us. The Cross remains living testimony that God is not absent from our lives or from the world. But God does not come to us on our terms or at our beck and call like some maid at our service to do with as we please. The Cross and the yoke teach us that to discover the Hidden God, we must submit in humble obedience to his Lordship and direction. It is to that cross that Jesus summons His disciples, inviting them to take up their cross and follow Him. The cross lies squarely at the heart of God's revelation of Christ's mission in the world. It is in the cross that the fullness of God's love is spoken to us. Indeed it is only in the cross that we come to know this God at all, hidden deep within human suffering, this Deus Absconditus who has become the Deus Revelatus.

The most profound hiding place of God, according to Blaise Pascal, is delightfully the Eucharist.
“This strange hiding place, in which God withdraws impenetrable to our sight, teaches us that we should take ourselves far from the sight of others. He remained hidden under the veil of nature which conceals him from us until the Incarnation; and when he had to appear, he hid himself even more by covering himself with humanity. He was even more recognisable when he was invisible than when he made himself visible. And finally, when he wanted to fulfil the promise he made to the Apostles to remain with human beings until his final coming, he chose to remain there in the most strange and most obscure hiding place of all, the species of the Eucharist. It is this sacrament which St John calls in the Apocalypse ‘a hidden manna’ (Vincenti dabo manna absconditum 2.17); and I think that Isaiah saw him in this condition when he said in the spirit of prophecy, ‘Truly, you are a hidden God’ (Vere tu es Deus absconditus 45.15). That is the last hiding place where he can be. The veil of nature which covers God has been pierced by several non-believers, who, as St Paul says, ‘have recognised an invisible God by visible nature’ (Rom 1.20). Heretical Christians have known him through his humanity and adore Jesus Christ, God and man. But to recognise him under the species of bread, that is the distinguishing mark of Catholics alone: we are the only ones whom God enlightens to that extent.


  1. First rate summation. Wonderfully succinct and penetrating. Thank you.

  2. First rate summation. Wonderfully succinct and penetrating. Thank you.


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