Alright, more from Benedict XVI’s What It Means to Be a Christian. In the first two posts, we’ve looked at the first section, “Christianity as Advent,” of sermon 1 in this 3-sermon collection. Let’s turn to section two, “The Unfulfilled Promise.”
Benedict lifts up images of God’s kingdom from the prophets Isaiah (ch 11 on peace) and Jeremiah (ch 31 on the new covenant and God’s putting his “law within them, and [written] upon their hearts”). His purpose in mentioning these is to confront head-on how far we seem to be from these prophetic visions in the midst of his struggling with the nature of Christianity “as Advent.” He presses us further:
I believe the real temptation for someone who is a Christian, as we experience it today, does not just consist in the theoretical question of whether God exists; or even the question of whether he is three or one; or even the question of whether Christ is God and man in one person. What really torments us today, what bothers us much more is the inefficacy of Christianity: after two thousand years of Christian history, we can see nothing that might be a new reality in the world; rather, we find it sunk in the same old horrors, the same despair, and the same hopes as ever. (pp 25-26)
This stark accounting of things leads him back to the basic gospel proclamation of Jesus, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And he continues to press his point that the kingdom seems not to be ruling in the affairs of the world.
This is a hard section to read because Benedict dives headlong into the “discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment” of the gospel of the kingdom that we see in the events of the day when we pull up the internet our computers, check our BlackBerries and iPhones, or watch TV news. This sort of raw examination of the faith comes from one who only pages earlier has said (as I quoted in an earlier post) that “a faith that will not account for half of the facts or even more is actually, in essence, a kind of refusal of faith, or, at least, a very profound form of skepticism that fears faith will not be big enough to cope with reality” (p. 19).
One contribution of this section is that it gives us the permission (if we’ve needed it) to be confused, frustrated, and bewildered by the amount and depth of evil in the world and, admittedly, within our own souls. We know that we are broken people who have failed God and others countless times. It haunts us. Benedict here opens the door for all of us that need to bring the frustrations, fears, doubts, etc out of the shadows and into the daylight to deal with. He asks these questions; we are allowed to ask them too.