What Makes God Glad?

Note: A few words before you read Regis Martin’s beautiful meditation on God’s love for us. As you know, Robert Royal is in Rome for the 2016 Consistory and the end of the Year of Mercy. Please click here to read Bob’s Consistory Chronicle: Day 4.

I don’t know. . .but I’ve been told. . .he finds us irresistible. (Marie Bellet) I keep hearing this music running through my head. And the words, sprung from a melody so fetching, so positively riveting, that I can’t seem to rid my mind of them. Nor do I want to because if they are true, if they correspond to reality, to something that actually happened, then everything changes.

The song is from an old soundtrack by Marie Bellet, a singer-songwriter of superb voice and wit, produced back in 2003, called Lighten Up. Of which the following two lines represent the refrain:

It was his delight to walk among men.
Heaven lend me light to see what he sees in them.

Two lines of heart-stopping beauty, what do they mean? And why won’t they go away? Because in the very lilt and simplicity of the song, the whole mystery of the Christian life stands revealed. And, thanks to the special alchemy of the artist, it ravishes the heart.

But, once again, what do the lines mean exactly? Only that God, who needs nothing from us – indeed, the sheer perfection of his being places him infinitely above any calculations of gain and loss – has freely chosen, against all the indices of good sense, to enter the human estate and actually become one of us.

God has done this, mind you, not merely out of pity for our brokenness, of which there is evidence enough to justify the most comprehensive divine coverage. But out of pure delight, the prospect of our company having prompted him to come down out of heaven and pitch his tent in our midst. For the sheer pleasure, if you can believe it, of our company.What was he thinking?   Is it anything we could possibly wrap our heads around?

What was he thinking?   Is it anything we could possibly wrap our heads around?

Sermon on the Mount by J.J. Tissot, c. 1890 [Brooklyn Museum]
Sermon on the Mount by J.J. Tissot, c. 1890 [Brooklyn Museum]

But how could we? Unless we were God himself, there is simply no mechanism by which to parse whatever motive it was that drew him down into the muck and the mire of a fallen world. I mean, if you were God, would you do this? Could anything on planet earth possibly tempt you to take leave of the enticements of eternity?

Of course not. And isn’t that comforting to know? Otherwise we might be tempted to think we were God. What a disaster that would be!

“If all things were within our grasp,” warns Gregory of Nyssa, “the Higher Power would not be beyond us.” And so, if this impossible thing were true, would it not follow that we’d all need huge cascading heaps of heavenly light just to see what on earth God sees in us? How apt the lesson, then, and that it should at once apply to all of us. Who else had Ms. Bellet in mind when writing the song?

And one more mediocre sinner
Wonderin’ what to fix for dinner.
And I’ll never know what’s all the fuss,
What does he see in all of us?

Well, this much at least is clear. That whatever it is God sees in us he could hardly have come any closer in making his point. As Joseph Ratzinger reminded us in his Introduction To Christianity, a work that enjoys an almost iconic reputation among orthodox Catholic theologians:

God has come so near to us that we can kill him. . . .Thus today we stand somewhat baffled before this Christian “Revelation and wonder,” especially when we compare it with the religiosity of Asia, whether it would not have been much simpler to believe in the Mysterious Eternal, entrusting ourselves to it in longing thought; whether God would not have done better, so to speak, to leave us at an infinite distance.

Simpler, yes, but scarcely as exciting.   And certainly not nearly as consoling as the knowledge that it was never enough for God merely to have made us; and then, like some celestial clockmaker, leave us ticking away while he wanders off in search of something more interesting to do.

We may not be the star of the show, and so the parts we’ve been given to perform remain tangential at best to the action of the play. But why should that matter since it’s God’s play, after all, and the lines we’ve been asked to deliver were first written down by him? Then given a full-dress rehearsal by his Son.

Isn’t that, after all, the whole point of the Incarnation? That in the human being Jesus we get to see and hear how our lines were meant to be spoken. It isn’t only the face of God shining upon the countenance of Jesus that we are meant to see; it’s also the face of man, the whole meaning of his being, that Christ came to reveal.

How wonderfully spot-on of Chesterton, then, in telling us that what he most likes about our God is that “he takes such an intense interest in his minor characters.”

So let’s put away the pious horror preventing our acceptance of the fact that God has truly assumed our human condition. How else will it shine like the noonday sun? Or, as the song says: Lighten up.

Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Author of a half-dozen books, including, most recently, Witness to Wonder: The World of Catholic Sacrament. He lives in Wintersville, Ohio with his wife and ten children.