There is a basic principle
in theology which states that faith or Scripture contains the
answer to the deepest questions of the human heart. Faith
is about life, my life. Faith is like x-raying my human
existence. It helps me to live better, to be more human,
to be more integrated. Faith is to discover that there is
only a oneness: God is the deepest Ground of my being.
One of the deepest
needs of the human heart is the need to be appreciated.
Every human being wants to be valued. This is not to say
that everybody wants to be told by others how wonderful he is.
No doubt there is that desire, too, but that is not fundamental.
We could say that every human being wants to be loved. But
even this admits of ambiguity. There are as many varieties
of love as there are species of flowers. For some people,
love is something passionate; for others, it is something romantic;
for others, love is something merely sexual. There is, however,
a deeper love, a love of acceptance. Every human being craves
to be accepted, accepted for what he is. Nothing in human
life has such a lasting and fatal effect as the experience of
not being completely accepted. When I am not accepted, then
something in me is broken. A baby who is not welcome is
ruined at the roots of his existence. A student who does
not feel accepted by his teacher will not learn. A man who
does not feel accepted by his colleagues on the job will suffer
from ulcers, and be a nuisance at home. Many of the life
histories of prisoners reveal that somewhere along the way they
went astray because there was no one who really accepted them.
Likewise, when a religious does not feel accepted by her community,
she cannot be happy. A life without acceptance is a life
in which a most basic human need goes unfulfilled.
Acceptance means that
the people with whom I live give me a feeling of self-respect,
a feeling that I am worthwhile. They are happy that I am
who I am. Acceptance means that I am welcome to be myself.
Acceptance means that though there is need for growth, I am not
forced. I do not have to be the person I am not! Neither
am I locked in by my past or present. Rather I am given
room to unfold, to outgrow the mistakes of the past. In
a way we can say that acceptance is an unveiling. Every
one of us is born with many potentialities. But unless they
are drawn out by the warm touch of another's acceptance they will
remain dormant. Acceptance liberates everything that is
in me. Only when I am loved in that deep sense of complete
acceptance can I become myself. The love, the acceptance
of other persons, makes me the unique person that I am meant to
be. When a person is appreciated for what he does, he is
not unique; someone else can do the same work perhaps even better
than he. But when a person is loved for what he is, then
he becomes a unique and irreplaceable personality. So indeed,
I need that acceptance in order to be myself. When I am
not accepted, I am a nobody. I cannot come to fulfillment.
An accepted person is a happy person because he is opened up,
because he can grow.
To accept a person
does not mean that I deny his defects, that I gloss over them
or try to explain them away. Neither does acceptance mean
to say that everything the person does is beautiful and fine.
Just the opposite is true. When I deny the defects of the
person, then I certainly do not accept him. I have not touched
the depth of that person. Only when I accept a person can
I truly face his defects.
To express it in a
negative way: acceptance means that I never give a person
the feeling that he doesn't count. Not to expect anything
from a person is tantamount to killing him, making him sterile.
He cannot do anything. It is said that children with rickets
scratch lime from the walls. People who are not accepted
scratch acceptance from the walls. And what are the symptoms?
I am accepted by God
as I am--as I am, and not as I should be. To proclaim the
latter is an empty message because I never am as I should be.
I know that in reality I do not walk a straight path. There
are many curves, many wrong decisions which in the course of life
have brought me to where I am now and Scripture tells me that
"the place on which you stand is holy ground" (Ex 3:5).
God knows my name: "See I have branded you on the palms
of my hands" (Is 49:16). God can never look at his hand
without seeing my name. And my name--that's me! He
guarantees that I can be myself. St. Augustine says, "A
friend is someone who knows everything about you and still accepts
you." That is the dream we all share: that one day I may
meet the person to whom I can really talk, who understands me
and the words I say--who can listen and even hear what is left
unsaid, and then really accepts me. God is the fulfillment
of this dream. He loves me with my ideals and disappointments,
my sacrifices and my joys, my successes and my failures.
God is himself the deepest Ground of my being. It is one
thing to know I am accepted and quite another thing to realize
it. It is not enough to have but just once touched the love
of God. There is more required to build one's life on God's
love. It takes a long time to believe that I am accepted
by God as I am.
How often have we been
told that it is important that we love God. And this is
true. But is it far more important that God loves us!
Our love for God is secondary. God's love for us is first:
"This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God's love
for us" (1 John 4:10). This is the foundation. Karl
Rahner once made the remark that we live in a time when there
is much interest in Church politics (e.g. the pill, the reform
of the curia, celibate priesthood). This may be the sign
of a deep faith. It can also be the sign of a lack of faith.
The basic faith is that I know myself to be accepted by God:
"We ourselves have known and put our faith in God's love towards
ourselves" (1 John 4:16). This is the content of our faith--"God's
love towards ourselves." The whole Apostles' Creed is nothing
but a statement twelve times over of belief in this very love
which God has for us.
On the night before
he died, Jesus prayed to the Father: "that you love them
as you loved me…so that your love for me may live in them: (John
17:23, 26. NAB). It seems incredible that God loves us just
as much as he loves his son, Jesus Christ. Yet that is exactly
what Scripture says. We human beings are divided in many
ways: 1) in time--For us, one minute comes after the other
and our time is spread out. It is not so with God.
God lives always in one ever present now. There is no division.
Eternity means that the whole of time is condensed in this one
moment which lasts forever; 2) in space--We have certain limited
extensions It is not so with God. God is completely
one; 3) in love--We are divided in our love. We like a person
very much (90%) or in an ordinary way (50%) or very little (20%).
God does not measure love. God cannot but love totally--100%.
If we think God is a person who can divide his love, then we are
thinking not of God but of ourselves. God is perfectly one,
the perfect unity. We have love, but God is love.
His love is not an activity. It is his whole self.
If we but grasp some idea of this, we understand that God could
not possibly give 100% of his love to his Son and then 70% to
us. He would not be God if he could do that. When
we read the dialogues of St. Catherine of Siena, we get the impression
that God has nothing to do but simply occupy himself with Catherine.
And that is right. The undivided attention of God is with
her and with each of us.
Tillich defines faith
as "the courage to accept acceptance" and he means acceptance
by God. We may think that such faith does not demand much
courage. On the contrary, it may sound sweet and easy.
But courage is required and very often it is courage that is lacking.
Why is it courageous to accept acceptance: Firstly, when
things happen to us which disappoint us, we are inclined to complain
"How can God permit this?" We begin to doubt the love of
God. It takes courage to believe in God's acceptance no
matter what happens to us. Such an act of faith goes beyond
my personal experience. Faith is then an interpretation
of life which I accept. Secondly, God's love is infinite.
We can never grasp it, never get hold of it, much less control
it. The only thing we can do is jump into its bottomless
depth. And we do not like to jump. We are afraid to
let go. The Swedish convert Sven Stolpe says that faith
means to climb a very high ladder, and there while standing on
the very top of the ladder, to hear a voice which says, "Jump,
and I'll catch you." The one who jumps--he is the man of
faith. It is courageous to jump. And there is the
third reason which is more subtle but nonetheless real.
It is fairly easy to believe in God's love in general but it is
very difficult to believe in God's love for me personally.
Why me? There are very few people who can really accept
themselves, accept acceptance. Indeed, it is rare to meet
a person who can cope with the problem "Why me?" Self-acceptance
can never be based on my own self, my own qualities. Such
a foundation would collapse. Self-acceptance is an act of
faith. When God loves me, I must accept myself as well.
I cannot be more demanding than God, can I?
S.J., Peter G. As Bread That Is Broken (Denville, NJ: Dimension
Books, Inc., 1974) p.9-15.
1 (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1958), 118.