When I first became a Christian, as a teenager, I certainly believed in Jesus, and wanted to follow him, but I’m not sure that I believed that Jesus was God, and I wasn’t at all sure that the God I thought Christians believed in actually existed. Given the words at the end of the Gospel today (John 3:16-18) was I therefore “condemned”? Well the answer is No, and for two good reasons.
First, the Christian/Catholic faith is not based on quoting this or that text from the Bible. In another place (Acts 17:22-24) St Paul tells non-Christians in Athens that they are already worshiping the one true God, even though they do not know Jesus. It is precisely because the Bible expresses all sorts of views within its pages in different ways, that we must rely on how Church teaches the Christian faith, based on the Bible as a whole, rather than on this or that Biblical text. And the Church teaches, that although the best way, the most assured way, to reach salvation, to reach heaven, is by believing in Our Lord Jesus Christ, and being a member of his Church, it also teaches that those who do not have this full belief are not necessarily excluded from the love of God. (Catechism Para 847)
People may think they have rejected Christianity for all sorts of mistaken reasons. Many years ago I went to visit a man in hospital, and as soon as he saw a priest coming towards him he told me with very strong language to “Beep beep off”. For some reason, guided by God I now think, I said that I was beep beep going to visit him whether he liked it or not. It worked! He was, I suppose, so astonished that he stopped rejecting God and the Church and asked me to take his funeral! We must never assume that those who say they have rejected Jesus, or think they have rejected God, actually mean what they say, or even understand what it is that they think they have rejected.
And this gets us on to God as Trinity, the great truth about God that we celebrate today. People quite often have said to me “I don’t believe in God, I believe in the power of love and goodness in me and between me and others.” “Ah” I say “We call that God the Holy Spirit.” Or they say, “I don’t feel close to God in Church, I meet God when I look at the trees and the sky on a beautiful day.” “Ah yes,” I say “That is what we mean by God the Father, not an old man sitting on a cloud, but the power that we sense in the trees and the sky.”
So, as a teenager, when I began by following Jesus, even though I wasn’t quite sure that I believed in God, I was meeting God in Trinity whether I believed or not. Jesus said “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9), or as the great St Augustine said “Walk in the man and you will arrive at God.” The idea that we have to have our belief in our heads all sorted out in order to be a faithful Christian is just plain rubbish. The wonder of the doctrine that God can be met in three distinct ways – as the power underlying the Universe – that we call God the Father – as God in a wonderful man called Jesus – whom we call God the Son – and as a presence of love and strength in and around us – that we call God the Holy Spirit – that doctrine – God as Trinity – actually takes us beyond our individual approach to God, whatever that may be. It shows us that God is greater than any image or thought of him that we can conjure up in our brain. Thus it gives us a freedom to meet and to understand God in many different ways. To me that is just wonderful!
I must add however, that whatever our way of coming close to God is, our duty is to share it, to bring our relationship with God with us to Church/to Mass so that our presence supports others, as hopefully their presence supports us. Those who say “I don’t need Church, because I meet God in nature, or in my friends”, are actually missing the point. We do not come to Church/ to Mass for ourselves, we come so that together we are the family, the people of God ; and that God is God in Trinity who is always greater than any one individual’s understanding.