A Pilgrim's Catechism
The Occasional Thoughts of a 21st-Century Roman Catholic on Journey
Towards the Reign of God
Raphael: Paul Preaching on the Aereopagus London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1513-14
What response can the believer make to the atheist and the agnostic?
To begin, the believer must admit the near futility of convincing the atheist and the agnostic of the existence of God by logical argument. The First Vatican Council defined that the existence of God can be established by the light of human reason but no particular proof has ever been defined. Philosophers continue to argue without resolution. St. Paul learned how difficult it is to present rational arguments in favour of God and his plan for creation when he preached in Athens at the Aereopagus (Acts 12). He made very few converts.
Barnabas, on the other hand, gathered a large number of believers in Antioch because they saw that he was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 11).
Acceptance of God and of Jesus Christ seems then to be grounded in the transformed life of the believer rather than in logic arguments.
One responds best to the atheist and agnostic by allowing faith in God and in Jesus Christ to transform one’s very life.
If the transformed, even transfigured, life of the believer is the one, secure ground for the leap of faith for others, so much confusion about God is caused by poor articulation of their faith by believers that one would do well to strive to clarify certain popular ideas about God that inevitably undermine his acceptance.
Voltaire said that God created man in his own image and that man then returned the favour.
For so many of us who believe, the God we talk about is rather a distortion of God, more like one of us, a creature within the world, albeit of fabulous proportions.
True, anything we say about God is linked to our experience in the world. But when we attribute some higher quality, like intellect or will, to God, we must first deny all of the limitations involve and then assign the quality to God in a super-eminent way, of which we really have no understanding. We know much more of what God is not than what he is.
The first idea that we should recover as far as God is concerned is that he (we say “he” to use a pronoun but obviously there is no gender in God) is completely simple. His act is identical with his being. God does not act here or there, now or then. He just acts. His act is his being. His being is his act.
We say that God is infinite which does not mean that he goes on and on and on. It means that he has no boundaries. Just as he does not act here or there, he is not here or there. To be here or there is not to be some other place which would be a limitation. God just is. He just exists. Sometimes we say that God is everywhere but that refers rather to his effects that are everywhere and which God maintains in existence in the one act that is his being.
We say that God is eternal. Often we say incorrectly that he always was, is and always will be. But there is no duration in God. God exists in an ever-present now. There is no change in God. Again, he just is. God just exists.
God knows everything there is to know. He does not learn because that would be to change and make him dependent on that which he learns. God knows everything because, in the one act that is his being, God causes all. God is the first cause of human freewill acts even as they remain truly free.
God is absolute freedom but he does not choose. Only creatures choose. God, on the other hand, just acts intelligently and freely, again in the one act that is his being.
God’s one act begets but does not create his Son, the Word, who is true God from true God and, in that same one act that is his being, loves the Son as the Son loves him. The Love who thus proceeds is the Holy Spirit, also true God from true God.
The one act of God that is his being generates the Son, the Word, and spirates Love, the Holy Spirit, and, outside of this triune Being, creates the world and all in it, revealing himself once and for all in every moment, calling human beings to a share in divine life, offering them all forgiveness, reconciliation and renewed divine life, also once and for all in every moment.
Since God does not change, God does not have a history. Human beings have a history. The history of salvation is the story of humanity and individual human beings growing in their understanding of the once and for all revelation that God makes to everyone in the one act that is his being and growing in their appropriation of the divine life offered to all in every time and place.
God does not manipulate the world by suspending the laws of nature or human freedom but his one act that is creative supports everything and everyone in the world.
God answers prayer before it is uttered in his one act that offers divine life to all, empowering everyone to do what needs to be done. Prayer opens the person to appropriate God’s life always offered. Prayer to the saints and for one another encourages us to accept the divine life once and for all and always offered.
True sacrifice is not offering gifts to God for forgiveness of sin or to curry God’s favour. True sacrifice is the giving and receiving of being and the sharing in love that is the inner life of God. By accepting and growing in the divine life always offered, the human person gets caught up in the one, true sacrifice. Jesus Christ is the perfect embodiment of this one, true sacrifice.