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Friday, February 08, 2008

I Am

All Christians should be aware of the implications of those two little words. I AM is how the Lord is known in the Old Testament. I remember our RE teacher in college pronouncing what I think was the Hebrew: eyeh asher eyeh, and it stuck in my mind. It made perfect sense that God who has no other reference of significance except Himself can only say that he is simply .. he is.

This also tells a tale about self-idolatry. When a man puts everything under a reference to himself, i.e., I am <blah>, then he is indeed exalting himself and making himself out to be .. God, who alone can really claim that reference.

Of course, I'm not saying we cannot literally say things like "I am Jeff" or "I am a father of three boys" or "I am the world's sorriest excuse of a handyman." I haven't got time to think about everything that I might attach to "I am" in referring to myself, but it seems at first glance that they are all references relational to something else. I am, indeed, Jeff, but I did not give myself that appellation. I am a father only because I do indeed have children. And I am a poor fix-it-man in reference to my attempts to fix things around the house. Besides, there's something disturbing about so many "I am" to throw around when, in the blink of an eye, "am" becomes "was". One day, I might even forget my own name!

Two little words with incredible significance. Abused, they run the risk of embarrassing us utterly if our claims are subsequently found out to be false.

Something else to be said about self-reference is that it is best replaced with a different model: external references. Rather than make claims about oneself, having witnesses works best -- even better with two witnesses. This may seem a stretch, but what brought on this blog post was some unease I am having in dialogue with Protestants. Do I really have to read the Book of Concord in order to make any case about the Catholic faith? Well, no, since they're not obliging me to look there anyway, but yes, since I really want to contribute to the dialogue. Except that, I get the feeling that it will degenerate into "my creed is purer than your creed". What's worse is when it is reduced to "my interpretation is better than yours!" And that's at the crux of the "I Am" dilemma: is it up to you and me? Can't we bring in a grown-up into this fray? Yes, but which grown-up do we trust? Oh, the Church? That grown-up is anti-Christ, putting itself ahead/above God. Well, not really. I like order, and it seems to me neat and orderly that the Church Magisterium does not have to make claims about itself based on .. itself. The Magisterium is not trustworthy because the pope and the bishops are wise, or learned, or more academically gifted. Why, you can put a few fishermen, a tax collector, and someone who once condoned the unjust execution of an innocent man named Stephen, and by Christ, they're trustworthy. Why? Because Christ said so.

But you, what about your teaching authority -- where does it come from? Who appointed you elder? Who laid hands on you, gave you the keys of the kingdom, and promised you infallibility, so that what you bind and loose on earth are bound and loosed in Heaven?

Don't look at me! No sir, I know I was never given that appointment. I have enough trouble with my anointing as a husband and a father. Me, infallible? Just who do you think I am?!

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