God’s gradual dazzle


Truth is stunning. Sometimes it is shocking and overwhelming. Often it takes us a bit of time to adjust to truth, like emerging from a movie theater to the bright light of day.

Of course, it depends on what has been revealed. Learning the ingredients of the Big Mac’s secret sauce does not leave us speechless (though I was surprised to hear they use paprika). But confronted with Divine Truth? That requires a bit of time. It is an act of mercy that God’s revelation unfolded over millennia, rather than striking us full blast. As Emily Dickinson wrote, “the Truth must dazzle gradually/or every man be blind.”

The wisdom of measured marvels is at work in Luke’s resurrection narrative. We will hear it at the Easter Vigil. There the risen Christ does not burst upon the scene, startling and paralyzing the disciples with wonder. Rather, reminders and signs precede his revelation. The angel is enough to frighten the women. The empty tomb and the burial cloths are enough to amaze Peter. But Jesus, unlooked for, suddenly appearing alive and glorious, would have been too strong a shock. The bright surprise might have killed them. Instead, by hints and signs, the disciples stretch to receive the bewildering truth: Jesus Christ is risen.

Emerging from the fallen world’s shadow into the brilliance of the resurrection, adjusting to the vision of Salvation, does not happen instantaneously. The Truth must dazzle gradually. This was true for the apostles in the beginning, and it has remained true throughout the history of the Church. The Second Vatican Council taught that “as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her” (Dei Verbum 8). The Church has contemplated her risen Savior for two millennia, and for two millennia she has been dazzled, but gradually. Gazing upon Christ, she gazes upon God (Jn 1:18), and she acts as the “scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven,” bringing forth “the new and the old” (Mt 13:52).

Our own life in Christ is the same. It develops gradually. We come to know him over time. The letters of St. Paul are full of exhortations to grow in the knowledge of God (Eph 4:13; Col 1:10). We are called to conform to Jesus (Rom 13:14), to put on his mind and his values (Phil 2:5-11); but all of this happens over time.

But how can we be sure we are growing in this knowledge? We can answer this question with another question: are we still dazzled by Jesus Christ? If not, then we have lost sight of him.

Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s Scriptural reflections during Lent.