Did you notice the difference between the Gospel Luke 16;19-31) and the 2nd Reading (1 Tim 6:11-16) this Sunday? The Gospel paints a very vivid picture of heaven and hell, but the 2nd Reading says that God’s home is “in inaccessible light, whom no man has seen and no man is able to see.” Of course, the answer is that when the Bible paints pictures of God and heaven for us it doesn’t want us to take them literally. But that doesn’t mean that they are not true. If I come to you in tears and tell you my heart is broken, you don’t take me literally and rush me off to hospital. You know I am telling you something of even deeper significance, that something very sad has happened to me, and you do your best to give me comfort.
Some of you know already how annoyed I get with those scientists who try to dismiss God because they cannot see how a creative power fits into their picture of the Universe. Scientists who are believers in God, and there are many, would point out that there is more than one kind of truth in our world. Do your parents love you? Well I hope they do, but you will never prove it scientifically. Are the moon and the stars beautiful? Well, yes they are. Scientists can tell us many fascinating things about the universe, but the fact that it is beautiful is not a truth they deal with. And then there is moral truth as dealt with in our readings today ; the truth that we all agree on, whatever our belief, that caring for one another is a good thing, and that those who do not care are evil. This is perhaps the most important truth of all, for however much scientists reveal to us about the intricacies of the Universe, without such moral truths as the imperative to love and care for one another, all scientific fact is a waste of time.
So next time you are faced with someone who dismisses God as imaginary nonsense, remember to point out to them that love and goodness and beauty are no more provable than God is, and yet most people believe that these are the most important things in the world. Indeed, we Christians say that God is love and truth and beauty and that it is things like this that persuade us that the “spiritual” world, as we call it, it is just as real, or we might say even more real, than the physical realities dealt with by science. There is thus no conflict between science and religion at all, for they stand alongside one another as two equally important ways in which we humans examine and understand our universe.
The difficulty lies in working out how these two kinds of truths interact with one another. Jesus says that “God is a spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). But how then does a spiritual power affect a physical one? The answer is that we don’t know, but we do know that it does. It is a scientific fact that a sick person who is surrounded by love gets better more quickly, as does the person who can see the beauty of the natural world, even if only in pictures on the wall. And it is apparently the case that those who practise a religion live longer! What we think and what we believe affects our physical body whether we like the idea or not, and so parents who have their children baptised and bring them up to affirm the reality of goodness and truth and beauty are actually not just helping them spiritually but physically as well.
Of course it’s not easy to believe especially when life gets hard, as it does sometimes. This is precisely why we Christians say that we have to work at our faith. Yes, having faith is important, as I have been showing, but unless we practise it, “fight the good fight of the faith” all sorts of other things can come in and swamp us, not least our physical desires.
Why doesn’t the rich man in Jesus’ story notice the poor man at his gate until it is too late? It would have been so easy to send out “the scraps from the rich man’s table”! But he is clearly so absorbed in enjoying his physical pleasures, and they can be of various kinds, can’t they, that he doesn’t find time to care about anyone else except himself. That’s why we say that people need to practise the presence of God. That’s why we say that prayer, and going to Mass is important. As Jesus says in the parable of sower, it is so easy for “the cares of life” to swamp our good intentions. Like the athlete who wants to run a fast race, we cannot make ourselves better human beings unless we have proper training. Just thinking it’s a good idea is not enough!
But take heart. We must aim to be perfect, but God knows we will struggle, and that’s why it’s attempting it that matters. Even our smallest attempts to serve God are worthwhile.