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Would you believe?

30 November, 1999

Amanda writes: How sure can we be that there will be second coming of Jesus Christ and a bodily resurrection of all the dead at his coming? I find that I cannot believe this at all because a return of Jesus with a Universal Resurrection gives rise to many questions. Fr Bernard McGuckian replies.

Belief in the second coming of Jesus Christ and our bodily resurrection is based on words spoken by Our Lord himself on different occasions in his life and recorded by the Evangelists. For instance, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on the throne of glory’ (Mt.25:31). And ‘Do not be surprised at this, for the hour is coming when the dead will leave their graves at the sound of his voice; those who did good will come forth to life; and those who did evil will come forth to judgement’ (Jn.5:28).

At Mass each Sunday in the Nicene Creed, believers echo these words by proclaiming that ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead’ and that ‘we look for the resurrection of the dead’. This public proclamation is meant to deepen faith and strengthen conviction. All of us to some extent are in the same boat as the man who cried out to Jesus, ‘Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief’ (Mk.9:25). Like him we should all ‘cry out’ to Jesus in
our difficulties of faith, since he is the source of our faith.

Difficulties and doubts
Cardinal Newman, speaking of faith, once made the consoling distinction, ‘A thousand difficulties never make a doubt’. The minds of the great theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine bristled with difficulties about questions of faith. It was grappling intelligently with these problems that made them so influential in the subsequent history of the Church. This effort to understand is something very different from doubting the truth of the Word of God.

Our Lady had all sorts of difficulties about what form the Incarnation was going to take. This we know from her question to the Angel Gabriel: ‘But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?’ (Lk l:34). However she had not a single doubt about God’s promise and power to do what he was proposing through Gabriel. Later Elizabeth complimented her on this faith. ‘Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled’ (Lk.l:45).

Elizabeth really knew what she was talking about. Her own husband Zechariah had been struck dumb because of God’s displeasure at his doubts regarding the revelation of the future birth of his son, John the Baptist.

Belief and understanding
You state honestly that the reason why you ‘cannot believe this’ is that it gives rise to ‘many questions’. From your long letter, which limitations of space prevent us from reproducing in full, it appears that it is these questions which are causing a problem for you. In my opinion these are more in the nature of difficulties than doubts.

If we postpone believing until all our difficulties are resolved we will never get started. This was a problem for the young Augustine with regard to accepting baptism. As a high-powered intellectual he wanted to grasp every angle of what was implied before taking the first step. He found himself in a bind until he discovered that he was going about things in the wrong way. He then realized that he was like someone trying to learn to swim without first getting into the water. This led to his famous piece of advice to those with a problem similar to his own: Crede ut intelligas – Believe that you may understand.

Faith is always based on the word or testimony of another. This is clear from the expression we use everyday when we are not in a position to check out something for ourselves, either because of the constraints of time, expense or even lack of expertise: ‘I’ll take your word for it.’ 

This is even more true of the mysteries of faith: We express our faith and hope in God, who cannot deceive or be deceived, by taking His Divine Word for it. The second coming and the resurrection of the body, something we should look forward to with joy, are matters about which we can be absolutely sure or in other words ‘as sure as God’.

Personal salvation
Although it is relevant to know what is going to happen to the human race on the last day, it is of even more interest to each one of us to know what is going to happen to us individually. Scripture reveals that the human race has been saved but not my personal salvation. The war has been won but I have still to win my own battle. Like everyone else, I struggle and hope for victory. As St. Paul puts it, we each work out our destiny ‘in fear and trembling’ (Phil.2:12).

This ‘fear and trembling’ is not that God will abandon us but that we will forsake him. If we do, it will be all our own doing, for He gives all of us sufficient grace to get to heaven and to be happy with him, body and soul, forever. ‘Our homeland is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will ‘transfigure this wretched body of ours into the mould of his glorious body, through the working of the power which he has, even to bring all things under his mastery’ (Phil. 3:21).

This article first appeared in The Messenger (September 2006), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.


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