The modesty of God

In his introduction, Daniel says this: In the sense of modesty there is an element of holding back, of reserve, of discretion as a sort of veil which love imposes on itself in order not to hand itself over too quickly. Timidity dares not, doesn’t know how, or cannot, love as it longs to. In contrast, modesty does not wish to give all of its love, not out of meanness and not because the other person is unworthy to be loved, but to allow love to grow into intimacy. ‘The modesty of God’ is intended as a series of Lenten meditations, therefore leading up Jesus’ Passion, so, like ‘Gethsemane’ it is a lead in to ‘The Silence of God during the Passion’. As an element of to the gospel account it is important to establish that it is legitimate to speak of God’s modesty. Daniel does this firstly be looking at Jesus.

Amazingly, perhaps, the love of Jesus is mentioned just once in the synoptic gospels (he looked on the rich young ruler and loved him – but the love went unnoticed!) It is only in  John that he speaks of his love in his closing address, his adieu! Love one another. As I have loved you, you also must love one another.  We see that the love of Jesus comes first and is the starting point, certainly, but as a foundation for something that has more value in his eyes, communal love. (the ‘you’ is plural). Clearly, this is Jesus’ modesty.

How then does Jesus speak about God’s love?  Typically using the divine passive and parables in which God is hidden; the mourning are comforted, discreetly, modestly, and as in the case of the prodigal son  – God’s tears are hidden. When Jesus does talk about his love for the disciples he says, ‘I have loved you’ – not I love you; and again, in the Song of Songs, while the beloved freely expresses her love for the King, he never speaks openly in this way

Just once, David, another friend of God, allows a word of his intimacy with God to escape his lips in a psalm: “I love you, Lord my strength . . .” (Ps 18:2).

Through this verse of the psalm we learn joyfully that in our intimacy with God we can tell him quite freely of our love for him, in the strongest words, not in any way compromising modesty, but at the heart of a shared modesty, because that is what modesty is, a shared modesty.

The verse also teaches us another essential fact, that the place of intimacy with God is prayer.

Prayer, this is where God awaits us, in the most intimate place of our being, bringing us the knowledge of this intimacy in which God hides himself and in which he hides us with him, in the depths of his modesty in which he guards every bond of fellowship with others.

In chapter 3, Daniel suggest that we efface ourselves a little, stepping aside so that we can consider the love of Jesus for God and God’s love for Jesus.

Jesus and God! We do well to stand back! Indeed we should be taking off our shoes and prostrating ourselves; a face to face encounter between Christ and God is quite simply the Father face to face with the Son. Their reciprocal love is the love of God within himself, Trinitarian love, love in absolute incandescence, in its infinite purity.

The modesty of the Father, the modesty of the Son, the modesty of the Holy Spirit; the modest Trinity, wrapped in discreet reserve. (Speaking about Jesus’ baptism) Heaven was open (Ezek 1:1; Rev 4:1), but no angel appears; no angel and no archangel; the heavenly army is silent, discreet, just as one is silent before the modesty of infinite love.

We clearly see the modesty of Christ’s love in his dealing with the woman brought before who was to be stoned, John 8, and here we see his modesty as a balm to her wound.

From this extremely rich passage, we will pause only over those details which show the degree to which is Jesus is discreet and reserved with regard to the suffering of others

In order not to look at her, Jesus is bent over. He makes himself still smaller than this less than nothing woman! It is for her to look at him. Right in front of her she has a humble man, whose modesty can only bring relief to her suffering. We see this humble and modest love, which is not to be found in any other person in the crowd.

It is Christ’s modesty that has brought her here, and right here, her inner suffering assuaged, she is now able to hear what one does hear in God’s heart: “Neither do I; I do not condemn you; go and sin no more

Again, at Lazarus’ tomb we find that Jesus weeps, it is not with the normal verb of demonstrative mourning but modestly.

The movement of the book is towards the modesty of God, particularly, as noted above, in the Passion, but first Daniel looks at some incidents in the OT. The Bible is very discreet about the suffering of God, but it says enough to allow us to see that God does suffer, and, since he is nothing but love, his pain is always the pain of his love.  Firstly, we look at the conversation between God and his friend Moses at the time of the golden calf; God actually asks Moses to leave him alone in his grief, but, Moses, friend as he is, declines to do so but seeks to comfort the Lord. We also see God’s tenderness and modesty in Moses’ death. However God’s grief and modesty reaches its climax of intensity in the Passion. In a familiar theme,  Daniel turns to Mark 12 and the story of the vineyard, where again the father is a hidden figure Typically, Daniel concludes that the unique thing about Christ’s death is that it takes place in the very heart of the Trinity. As he dies, the Son remits the Spirit to the Father. This is death not just passively suffered by Christ; he makes it an act of infinite love. As he dies, the Son sends the Comforter Spirit (John 14:16) to the grieving Father. It is hidden in the heart of the Trinity that we find our salvation, in a modest, hidden, but secretly revealed love.

 

 

 

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