"Time to Think About God," Says Cardinal Lehmann

German Bishop Publishes New Book

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ROME, JUNE 11, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Karl Lehmann goes back to basics in his new book, devoting a section in which he reflects on God.

In «È tempo di pensare a Dio» (It Is Time to Think About God), published by Queriniana, is the latest work by this one-time assistant to Father Karl Rahner.

The cardinal borrows the title from a phrase of Andrei Sinjavski that he quotes: «There has been enough talk about men. It is time to think about God.»

Interviewed by journalist Jürgen Hoeren, the cardinal who is bishop of Mainz addresses thorny questions, extending from the relation of the Church and contemporary culture, to the burning question in Germany of priests´ ministry and the role of the laity, to the complexities of ecumenism.

On the topic of God, Cardinal Lehmann recalls a story told to him by a rabbi.

A Russian Jewish youth came to his school of religion and, while the rabbi was teaching, asked him point-blank: «But, of what God are you talking? That God is dead.» The youth was referring to a concept he had learned in his atheistic education. «Or, do you have another?» the young man asked.

«I think this second question is very broad and very profound,» Cardinal Lehmann said. «Atheism and the distancing of oneself from faith in God makes a continuous purification of our image of God that much more necessary, a purification that, moreover, is exacted by the Bible.»

The president of the German bishops´ conference continued: «We must constantly ask ourselves: What God do we preach? Sadly, when I was a child, between the ages of 6 to 9, I constantly saw these words, on the buckle of the soldiers´ belts: ´God is with us.´ However, I think that today we men know very well that we must constantly distinguish God from gods and idols.»

The cardinal continued: «And yet, when we often make God the guarantor of the fulfillment of our hopes, then we are terribly disappointed if things go otherwise than what we expected. To this must be added the fact that we do not sufficiently go over the path of the experience of God that Jesus did.

«According to our faith´s tradition, we constantly pass through the night, the desert, aridity. In keeping with this spiritual experience, at one point it occurred to me to write a thesis for the teaching licentiate on ´The Hidden God.´ I worked for a whole year before I was called to Mainz in 1968.»

«Has God continued to be hidden for you?» journalist Jürgen Hoeren asked him.

«I wouldn´t go that far,» the cardinal responded. «I would rather say this: I must constantly grope toward him. For me, seeking God and finding God are both essential.

«Both the Bible as well as the great seekers after God, Augustine or Pascal, confirm that both things are intimately connected, much more so than is normally thought. Then, when I find him, I feel satisfied and full of happiness in a totally different way.»

The cardinal was then asked about Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher and theologian, who said that no word or concept has been so trampled, drained and humiliated as that of God.

Cardinal Lehmann answered: «I know this passage from ´The Eclipse of God,´ according to which God´s word is the most trampled of all human words, and it must be raised from the ground and made to shine again. However, [this can be done] only if there is also awareness of the way it has been abused.»

«This is why the language of mysticism, where the word is silenced and the real quality of silence prevails, is important for me,» he added.

Cardinal Lehmann ended the book with a challenge: «More than ever before, the time has come to think about God.»

He added: «I think that in the near future we must relegate many things to a second or third plane and make a unique and radical effort to show in a convincing way to other men, who God is in our life, and that he also lives in us. He always tears us away from ourselves. We are always on the way with him, in a phase of the exodus. I think that only this will succeed in convincing others.»

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