How old is God? Eternal, you might say. But Pope Francis has another idea.
For many, God is a being the concept of whom is too abstract to picture. Sacred Scripture acknowledges that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12). Biblical narratives of an encounter with the first Person of the Trinity take the form of mysterious manifestations (“theophanies”), often described in terms of natural phenomena such as a burning bush or a tumultuous whirlwind.
Artists have long been inspired to portray God in a variety of ways, usually in accord with the divine prowess and power. More recently, Hollywood directors depict God according to their creative imagination, from a grandfatherly sage (George Burns in “Oh, God”) to a hip helper (Morgan Freeman in “Bruce Almighty”).
Now comes a new image from the Holy Father. According to the title of his latest book-length interview, released in Italian last month and coming out in English in October, Dio è giovane (“God is young”). Based on a line from the biblical book of Revelation (21:5), Pope Francis creates the new image with these words:
God is He who is always renewing, because He is always new: God is young! God is the Eternal One who has no time, but is capable of renewing, rejuvenating Himself continually and rejuvenating everything. The most distinguishing characteristics of youth are also His. He is young because “he makes all things new” and loves novelty; because (He) astonishes and loves amazement; because (He) knows to dream and desires our dreams; because (He) is strong and enthusiastic; because (He) builds relationships and asks us to do the same, (He) is social.
Published in anticipation of the upcoming Synod of Bishops – on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” – the book focuses on a wide range of questions reflecting the realities that they face in today’s world. The papal responses demonstrate well his grasp of the youth culture and his affectionate concern for their well-being. His commentary also discloses his idiomatic thinking, as when he says that youth are different from adults in as much as their feet are not parallel but always one in front of the other, “ready to leave and scatter” and “always launching ahead.”
For Pope Francis, both the “old dreamers” and the “young prophets” are critically important for a society that has lost its roots. He reminds us of the “revolution of tenderness” to which we are all called and offers this enduring plea: “Have no fear of diversity and of your fragility; life is unique and unrepeatable for what it is; God awaits us every morning when we awake to consign this gift to us again. Let us take care of it with love, gentleness, and naturalness.”
It’s is a worthy thought for all ages, whatever image we might have of God.