Thursday, April 19, 2012

Love and Truth – the Nature and Attributes of God

Adult Confirmation Class One (Part Two)
April 19, 2012

A. Knowledge of the Nature of God

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 -- someone simply revealing truth to us -- 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."

Of course, to accept such revelation as reliable, one must necessarily have faith. That said, faith and reason are not incompatible. Faith helps reason to discover itself. As Pope Benedict has pointed out, the search for truth in any endeavor 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 the transcendent, God and other 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. It is only by Divine Revelation (the Bible and Sacred Tradition, as authoritatively interpreted and understood by the Magisterium, which is guided by the Holy Spirit) that we can have a greater and proper understanding of the mystery of the nature of God.

B. Divine Revelation – God Reveals to Mankind What and Who He is
(1) The Fullness of Being – Truth itself – “I am” – God is
Ex. 3:13-15 – Moses said to God, "When I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' if they ask me, 'What is His name?' what am I to tell them?" God replied, "I am who am." Then He added, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you." God spoke further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. "This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations.”

(2) The Word – Logos – Creative Reason
John 1:1-4 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.

(3) Deus Caritas Est – God is Love
1 Jn. 4:7-9 – Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.

(4) Creator – source of all that exists
Gen. 1:1-3 – In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

(5) Beginning and end of all, making all things new
Rev. 21:5-6 – The one who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Then He said, "Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true." He said to me, "They are accomplished. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
As set out above, Divine Revelation informs us that:

(1) God told Moses that He is the "I am." 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.
(2) God, that is to say, Jesus Christ, is also the Word, that is, Logos (Creative Reason), and as such, is again Truth itself from which everything that exists proceeds. And yet again, He is (5) the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. In Him, all things are made new.
(3) However, Revelation informs us that God is not merely Truth, He is also Love. And this is demonstrated again and again in salvation history, in our creation and in our salvation. And it is in and by the power of that Love, that He is (4) the Creator and ultimate source of all that is.

C. The Nature of God

From Revelation, reason allows us to discern the nature of God --

    (1) One and Complete in Himself – noncontingent, dependent upon nothing, in need of nothing beyond Himself
    (2) Only Necessary Being – the creator, source and sustainer of all that exists

      (a) God created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing)
      (b) Divine Providence – God continues to sustain and interact with His creation
      (c) God is Life itself – we are not the accidental products of an impersonal universe, rather, we are each created by the thought of God as an act of love, and we have life because He has breathed His Spirit into us.
    (3) God has a Name – He is not merely a what, but is a who, that is, God is a conscious, intelligent, and personal being; He is not a mere cosmic force.
    (4) Transcendent Spirit

      (a) noncorporeal, nonmaterial
      (b) God exists in and beyond space (the physical universe) and time
    (5) God is Truth – God "is"

      (a) His name reveals Him to be Being itself, existence itself – Ultimate Reality
      (b) The Word – Logos, a Greek term meaning “reason” (from which we get “logic”)
      (c) As truth, God embodies justice and order
    (6) God is Total Perfect Love in Person

      (a) The Love of God is total and perfect love in its truest and fullest sense, a “spousal” type of love that is unitive and fruitful/procreative, encompassing both the unconditional, gratuitous, and sacrificial love of agape (caritas), and the joyous wanting love of a purified and ennobled eros.
      (b) The Love of God is unitive - love is by its very nature relational, and total perfect love in its truest and fullest sense involves not merely a relation of persons, but a communion of persons, whereby many become one.
      (c) The Love of God is fruitful (procreative) – love in its fullest sense is naturally fruitful, it is not stagnant or sterile, but instead seeks to spread outward and grow and generate new love and life.
      (d) Divine Mercy – God is ever merciful
D. The Perfections of God

Assisted by Revelation, reason also informs us of certain perfections of God --

    (1) Holy and All Good
    (2) Omnipotent (almighty, all powerful)
    (3) Omniscient (all knowing)
    (4) Transcendent and Infinite

      This One Truth who is also Love is eternal and transcendent, not bounded by time or space. He is pure, infinite, unbounded spirit. The only “limit” to the all-powerful God is that He cannot be contrary to Himself – He is not and cannot be or act contrary to truth or love because He is Truth and Love. Thus, He cannot be unreasonable or irrational or unjust or the source or cause of evil.
    (5) Omnipresent - God transcends and is not bounded by the physical universe, such that He can and does exist in all places
    (6) Eternal – God transcends and is not bounded by temporality

      God exists beyond and outside of space - the physical universe - and because time is a measurement of changes in space, He exists both in and outside of time. He is simultaneously the beginning and the end. For God, time is not linear, as for humans, but is both a singularity and a totality. All moments are for Him in the present. "Eternity" does not mean "forever," but instead means being above and beyond time. Thus, God is not some ancient being who is more than 20 billion years old, but is instead always "new." For Him, all things exist simultaneously, and each moment exists in perpetuity -- thus, for example, Jesus was not merely crucified 2,000 years ago (as it appears from a human perspective), but rather, being eternal, He is hanging on the Cross even now and yet, He is simultaneously also rising from the dead, and leading us into the New Jerusalem.

E. The Holy Trinity – one God in three persons

Most importantly, Revelation informs us that the Lord God is a Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here we see the necessity for revealed truth, for this could not be known purely by observation and reason. But having been revealed to us, reason allows us to now have a greater understanding that God is a loving communion of three distinct persons in one undivided nature, substance, and essence – each possesses the fullness of the other and each has always existed.

The Trinity is a mystery - one that we should always respect in trying to understand it, so that our imperfect attempts at explanation do not inadvertently lead us to stray into error. Nevertheless, since ours is a faith that seeks understanding, we should not simply come to a halt when confronted with a mystery, but should instead proceed ahead to seek understanding, but with caution.

Although a mystery, we can begin to grasp some understanding of the Trinity by understanding that God is Truth and Love. Because God is Truth and Complete, He is One. But He is also Love and love is by its very nature relational – it requires an “other.” 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.

Accordingly, God is not a one-dimensional being who exists in solitude, but, rather, being Truth and Love, and complete in Himself, He exists as one person (Father) who loves and is loved by a second person (Son), and this everlasting love proceeding from and to each of them is not merely a sentiment, but is a person as well, namely, the Holy Spirit.

Such complete and perfect love, love in its truest and fullest sense, is both unitive and fruitful. It involves not merely a relation of persons, but a communion of persons -- three are one. This love is also fruitful, that is, it is creative. Love is dynamic, not static, and it bears fruit. Thus, this loving communion of three persons in one divine being, although complete in Himself, chose to share His love even more and create mankind.
There is only one source of true love, and that is God. Saint John makes this clear when he declares that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8,16). He was not simply saying that God loves us, but that the very being of God is love. Here we find ourselves before the most dazzling revelation of the source of love, the mystery of the Trinity: in God, one and triune, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and the Son, and this love is not an energy or a sentiment, but it is a person; it is the Holy Spirit.
--Pope Benedict XVI, Message for World Youth Day 2007
Thanks to the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand Jesus' words and guides us to the whole truth (cf. Jn 14: 26; 16: 13), believers can experience, so to speak, the intimacy of God himself, discovering that He is not infinite solitude but communion of light and love, life given and received in an eternal dialogue between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit - Lover, Loved and Love, to echo St Augustine.
--Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 11 June 2006

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