I Want You to Be: On the God of Love

By Tomáš Halík, translated by Gerald Turner. University of Notre Dame Press, 2016. 189 pages. $25/hardcover; $11.99/eBook.

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Tomáš Halík, a psychoanalyst and “a hidden priest” of the Roman Catholic Church during the Communist years in Czechoslovakia, is currently a professor of sociology at the Czech Republic’s premier Charles University. In reading this fine book, I have come to see him as a theologian for Friends, especially Friends in the unprogrammed worship tradition of many of Friends Journal’s readers. I count it a blessing indeed that I was asked to review this book and thus introduced to the wisdom of Tomáš Halík.

I Want You to Be is all about love—not the love of adolescent infatuation or romantic fiction, not the love of the narcissist, nor the love of possessions or their acquisition—the deep love in which the ego is transcended and we come into the power that unites without destroying or appropriating. To put it so succinctly is to give you a puzzle, a question, in the guise of an answer because so much needs to be unpacked before the author’s position becomes clear. Halík carries the reader gently and surely through reflections and meditations toward this end, yielding no final answers (as he warns in the first chapter) but only an “interim report” of his own journey. It is well worth accompanying him.

At the outset, Halík tells us that he has come to understand that “God approaches us more as a question than as an answer.” He writes that he now reads scripture with an eye to its questions and finds them more frequently than he finds answers, noting that God’s utterances in scripture are often ambiguous and paradoxical. This last is not a complaint but reflects the ambiguity and ambivalence that are characteristic of the human condition; it also recognizes that ambiguity and paradox manifest God’s remoteness from human frameworks of understanding (God’s transcendence) combined with God’s profound immanence.

Friends have learned by experience how attentive, patient listening in the course of deep sharing can build loving connections among people with manifestly different understandings and commitments. One may initially communicate effectively through one’s silence the willingness to listen respectfully to the whole person, not just to the words uttered. Halík sees this dynamic at work in our relationship with God: “It is clear that God’s hiddenness is the first word God speaks (or more precisely, is silent, because silence is an important form of communication) to those who ask about him.” We need in turn to wait in trusting, hopeful, and loving silence upon God to hear God’s second word. Halík offers guidance for our hearing that second word. He finds his clues in scripture: in Jesus’s two great commandments and in the theology of love in 1 John 4: “We cannot see God and God is no object of our perception—or even of our love—because God is no object at all, but we are asked to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as [we should] ourselves. To really ‘hear God’ is to open ourselves to fully embrace this ‘second word.’” By so doing, Halík holds, we come to love “in God” and in so doing to know and love God. The book unpacks this claim in words that are clear and powerful, though written with humility and without minimizing God’s hiddenness nor God’s amazing closeness, both of which are cloaked in mystery.

Halík writes for a European audience and works to reconcile two European traditions that seem to have drifted into mutual antipathy: Christian and secular humanisms. He sees them as linked, like quarreling brothers, each with something valuable to offer the other, but each no longer seeking the truth the other holds. Their reconciliation, he thinks, is critical for Europe’s future.

I regard Halík as a theologian for Friends because much of what he has to say will resonate with many readers of Friends Journal: his appeal to spiritual experience, his recognition of the importance of silence and waiting upon God, the emphasis on love as the doorway to God, recognition of several varieties of atheism, the role of science as “a necessary ally” of theology, and the necessity of a socially engaged spirituality. He writes of continuing revelation, the imperative to love one’s enemies, of apprehending things in the light, and of being oneself searched by the light. The book is not written in professorial language nor does he write as a theologian addressing other theologians. The theme of each chapter is addressed by a collection of discontinuous but deeply connected reflections replete with many highly quotable sentences. It was a joy to read I Want You to Be.

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