Today’s Mass readings, Wisdom 2.1, 12–22, John 7.1–2, 10, 25–30, are a challenge to our certainties: do we know God, do we really know God or do we only claim to know God? We speak so confidently about God and God’s purposes at times and are always ready to correct others whose opinions differ. I have been fascinated by the way in which Christians in the U.S.A., for example, have argued for and against Donald Trump, as though he were either another messiah or the devil incarnate. Should anyone be rash enough to express a dissentient view, he/she is likely to be attacked, in no uncertain terms. Pity the British outsider, baffled by Trump’s appeal, mystified by the whole U.S. political process, and uneasy about the implications for the rest of the world whoever wins the race to the White House. I expect at any moment to be accused of lacking intelligence or understanding because I have my own views. It is much the same with people’s ideas about God. If you do not see God as I see God, so the argument goes, there is something wrong with you.
Put like that, it is easy to see what an absurd argument it is. Who can possibly ‘know’ God? However much we pray, read, study, God is always beyond us. We catch glimpses; follow traces; are graced, now and then, with a glimmer of understanding; but the mystery of God is so profound we can never exhaust it. I sometimes think that if we all spent more time in prayer, seeking God, instead of telling other people what they should do or be, we would come nearer to knowing him. St Benedict’s whole spiritual edifice is built upon the principle of humility and obedience — the humility that grounds us in truth, and the obedience that makes us listen out for God in any and every moment of our lives. It is not a bad principle on which to live these last few weeks of Lent or, indeed, the whole of our lives.