Thursday, September 25, 2008

God and Man -- CCD Class Three

On the Existence and Nature of God (CCC 26-50; 198-278)

The unavoidable question of life is whether or not God exists. To arrive at a correct answer to that mystifying question, one must, of course, have a proper conception of whom or what God is. It is quite easy to reject any belief in God if all you know is a caricature of Him, rather than the reality. The problem is that, while the mere existence of God is knowable by reason, reason is necessarily limited by what is already known or by what can be imagined. However, reason can be enlightened by revelation, helping us to know who and what it is that we seek, that is, helping us to have that proper conception of God, at least to the extent that we can comprehend, conceding that the full extent of the nature of God is beyond our limited human comprehension, which we call “mystery.”

Faith and reason are not incompatible. Faith helps reason to discover itself. As Pope Benedict has pointed out, the search for truth never starts from zero, but always presupposes a trust in knowledge, ideas, and data which we cannot always control by ourselves. Faith implies reason and perfects it, and reason, illuminated by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and of spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing when it is open to the contents of revealed faith.

Also, when one simply "takes it on faith" that God exists, then it all starts making sense. As St. Augustine discovered, belief leads to understanding, which in turn leads to greater belief. Once we simply flip the switch of faith, the light comes on, and we can see, thereby confirming that we were right to trust. Thus, in answering the question of God, it is good to consult revelation as a starting point from which our reason can determine whether this is a truth to which we should give our assent.

Revelation informs us that:
(a) God told Moses that He is the “I am.” (Ex 3:13-15) What does this reveal about God? It means that God, as the “I am,” is the Ultimate Reality, complete in Himself and, therefore, One. He is Being itself and is therefore Truth itself. Indeed, if something lacks truth, it lacks reality and existence. This Truth is the first principle, from which all else follows. Referring to Himself as the “I am,” shows that God is a transcendent conscious reality that has a name, an identity, that is, He is not merely philosophical truth, not merely a cosmic force, but a personal being. He is not merely a what, but a who.
(b) God, that is to say, Jesus Christ, is also the Word (Jn. 1:1-5), that is, Logos (Creative Reason), and as such, is again Truth itself from which everything that exists proceeds. And yet again, He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. (Rev 21:1-7) In Him, all things are made new.
(c) However, Revelation informs us that God is not merely Truth, He is also Love. (1 Jn. 4:8) And this is demonstrated again and again in salvation history. Now, love is by its very nature relational, that is, love is not self-oriented, but must extend outward -- an “other” is required for love to exist, one who loves and one who is loved. Love does not exist in a vacuum. And total perfect love, love in its truest and fullest sense, involves not merely a relation of persons, but a communion of persons. Accordingly, God is not a one-dimensional being who exists in solitude, but, rather, He is three persons in one God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a Holy Trinity, an everlasting communion of three distinct persons in one undivided divine nature, substance, and essence. Each possesses the fullness of the other, and each has always existed. It is love, which is relational, which is the key to understanding the paradox of how He could be Three, yet One. In God, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and Son, and this love proceeding from and to each of them is not merely a sentiment, but is a person as well, namely, the Holy Spirit.

This One Truth who is also Love is pure, infinite, unbounded spirit, eternal and transcendent, not bounded by time or space. That is, He is able to be omnipresent and eternal because He exists beyond and outside of space, i.e. the physical universe, and because time is a measurement of changes in space, being outside of space, He also exists outside of time. For God, time is not linear, as for humans, but is both a singularity and a totality – all moments exist simultaneously and each moment exists in perpetuity. As a result, He transcends the universe and is eternal.

The Existence and Nature of Man and the Meaning of Life (CCC 355-384)

If the question of God is unavoidable, so too are the questions: Where do we come from and why do we exist? Again, revelation assists reason in answering these questions.

Revelation informs us that, in Love and in Truth, God created “man,” male and female, in His image. Man is a created being; he is not self-actualizing, he did not create himself. He is not accidental, and he is not the product of spontaneous animation of matter. We were and are created by a thought of God; each of us is willed by Him as an act of love. Man exists, man lives, only because God the Ultimate Life has breathed into the body of man (Genesis 2:7), thereby giving him life by His own Holy Spirit. This also shows also that man was created not merely as a physical entity, like a stone, and not merely as a spiritual being, like the angels; rather, God created us with a unified soul-infused body, which comprises one nature of spirit and matter, transcendent and temporal. To be made in the image of God also means that we are persons with an inherent dignity, not things, and that we are possessed with sentience and free will, as well as the capacity for reason and for love.

Man is naturally drawn toward God -- even if he does not realize it or argues against it -- because man is naturally drawn toward love and truth, and this love and truth that man seeks has a name, they are a person -- God. Now, although love is naturally fruitful, God did not have to create the universe or human beings. He was not forced or compelled to do so out of some narcissistic need to be worshiped. Rather, He chose to create the universe and humanity. God is complete in and of Himself, in need of nothing outside Himself. As the “I am,” the Logos, God is the only necessary being – we humans are entirely contingent upon Him.

Our bodies (male and female) reveal that God made us, like Him, to be social and relational beings who are equal and complementary, beings who are meant to need each other and exist both in general society and in a specific loving communion of persons. That is, “man” as an individual, is incomplete. We are in need of an “other” to complete and fulfill us.

This truth is further explained by scripture, which presents us with a “theology of the body.” Genesis (1:26-28) informs us that “God created Man in his image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them.” To be made in God’s image means to be made in the image of truth and love. As demonstrated in the Trinity, this love is not merely relational, but spousal in nature, in other words, a love that draws the individual toward a communion of persons. By the words, “He created him; male and female He created them,” we see that there was an original unity of male and female, man and woman; that they are designed to be complementary and intended for each other in equal dignity.

In another account of the same truth, (Gen. 2:18-25) describes how God said "It is not good for the man to be alone.” To demonstrate this, God first had the man exist in an original solitude, so that we could see how much we are in need of other persons. Although the man had the company of plenty of animals, he saw that none of them were like him, he was alone. Having demonstrated by experience that it is not good for him to be alone, God then took a rib from the side of Adam and, from that rib, made Eve, leading Adam to exclaim joyfully, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This describes how, as individuals, there is something missing in our very being. For both men and women, there is a gaping hole in our side, and we desperately need an “other” to fill that hole. Without that other, there is a void, an emptiness. We need to have that rib returned to our side to be whole again, to be fulfilled. We need the “other” to be one and complete, to be true to ourselves, and the other can fill the void only with and by love.

We cannot be fulfilled if we are left to ourselves in solitude. We can fill part of that hole with a spouse, as with the first spouses, Adam and Eve, but even then God needs to be part of the relationship to bind them together and to fill the remaining void. Indeed, we see that “man” manifests an image of the Trinity, a communion of three persons in one, when man (male) and woman (female) are joined together with God, as husband and wife, by the Love that is the Holy Spirit. Moreover, love in its fullest sense being not only unitive but naturally fruitful, we have the ability to share and participate in God’s procreative power of creating new life and have been explicitly commanded by Him to “be fruitful and multiply.”

For those who are permanently single, God is the only one who can fill the entirety of that void because He is the One who is Love, the One who is Completeness. Unless and until the heart is thusly filled, there is a restlessness and a hunger.

Indeed, we exist to love and to be loved in truth. That was, and is, God’s plan for humanity; that is the meaning and purpose of life -- to live in the truth and love and be loved. (Mt. 22:37-40; Jn 13:34)

After creating mankind, God did not simply withdraw into heaven, sit back, and do nothing. That would not be love. Rather, in Divine Providence, He continues to interact with His creation, sustaining and caring for it by His Love and Truth.

At the same time, love is not truly love if it is not freely given, and love does not force itself or impose itself upon the other. As such, God does not force Himself or His Love upon anyone. He does not force anyone to love him in return. God is not a puppet master.

Thus, He gave us free will, which is the metaphysical truth of independent agency and elective power, including the ability to exercise autonomous and rational control over one’s decisions, thoughts, and actions. The existence of free will means that the actions of the body, including the mind, are not wholly determined by physical causality; rather, one’s thoughts somehow go beyond and transcend the physical body, demonstrating the existence of an extra-corporeal aspect to the person, which we call the spirit. It is because we are both body and spirit that we are able to transcend and overcome the mere biological electro-chemical reactions in the brain. Free will, an ability to choose, includes the ability to freely choose to return God’s love, or the freedom to reject Him and live our lives apart from Him.

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