Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How Does He Work In Our Lives?

As I said before, I am a deist in my beliefs. I believe that there is a God, I just do not believe that he interacts with us.

How does God work in our lives?

How has he worked in your own personal life?


Flexo said...

How does God work in our lives?

In a word?


OK, fine. Grace. What in the world does that mean?

More on that later (with real life personal examples).

Scott J said...

Totally agree with flexo.

Before proceeding further, Damien, it would be very helpful to have a fuller picture of what you believe now about God. This is very relevant for trying to know best how to answer your question. What can I assume and what can I not assume? What is our real common ground? What do we already share in our understanding of God?

Could you answer please,

1. I assume that by deist, you mean you believe there is one and only one God (not many Gods--polytheism). True?

2. I assume also, that your concept of god would include that God is omnipotent (all-powerful; not limited in ability to do anything), omniscient (all-knowing; there is nothing true or real that He does not know), and entirely self-sufficient (there is nothing beyond Himself that He needs in any way; he is not dependent in any way upon anything beyond himself). True?
[You probably realize all this is eventually attainable through careful philosophical reasoning. Plato did not have faith in the way we speak of it; yet his understanding of "god" included these qualities. For, any concept of God that does not include omnipotence, omniscience, and total self-sufficiency, is a self-contradiction--no God at all]

3. As a deist, I assume that your idea of God precludes any belief that he has genuine interest in our lives--that he neither cares for us nor thinks ill of us--i.e., he is indifferent about us. True?

4. However, I also assume that deism includes the belief that God is the origin of all creation. He made everything that exists that is not himself. He is the creator. True?

5. I also assume that deism excludes pantheism: Eastern notions of a unity, or oneness, between all that there is and God. The idea that any real distinction between God and creation (including mankind) is an illusion, that all is just a part somehow of the One, is what I would call pantheism. You do not believe this. True?

So, to sum up, when you say "deist" I take this to mean that you already believe that there is only one God, that this God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and self-sufficient. This God is neutral about anything beyond himself/itself--and in particular is indifferent to man and has no communication with or personal relationship with mankind. This God is the creator of all the cosmos (of all things material and immaterial). And the difference between God and not-God is real, not an illusion.

Is this all included in what you believe? Any error on my part as to what deism implies for you would require a readjustment in how I think about trying to answer your question. Every one of the above aspects effects what you see now as within the realm of possibility of how God "works in our lives."

I want to verify that indeed you are not some form of polytheist or pantheist, and that you are at least reasonably certain about this. Standing together on the platform of monotheism is a significant shared foundation from which we can proceed. Large swathes of human civilization, historically and currently, do not share this foundation.

And here is a bonus question: Does your concept of God include that he is some sort of a person? Or, rather, is he an impersonal being (albeit with the above qualities)? I do not know if deism always includes that God is a person, or, if some deists think this way and some don't, opting for an impersonal force of some sort.

Thank you!

Scott J said...

How does God work in our lives? How does He work in my life?

Well, the most fundamental start of an answer to this question, though perhaps not what you are thinking of, is: God created us. He made us.

When I say 'created,' I don't mean in a distant, aloof sense. He created each one of us deliberately of His own free will as a unique, individual, unrepeatable person with the nature of a body-soul unity. He created (brought into being) each of our souls out of nothing, and in the same act of creation, joined our unique soul to our unique body as it was coming into being in our mother's womb.

Every other way in which God works in our lives (and my life personally) builds upon this. You can't be much more involved with mankind, right off the bat, than to willingly create us, each unique persons, out of nothing. God brought us each into being by a deliberate and free act of creation. We exist because He wants us each to be, and made it so.

Damien said...

I am very I just woke up so if this gets weird... I may have to elaborate later.

You are correct Scott in your questions.

I believe in one God and I believe that he is a person, however very impersonal.

I believe that he wants us to live morally with one another and yet I believe he has very little if any interaction with us.

The reason I believe this is that I fully believe that God works within the rules he himself established.

Science is what I mean.

I believe that God created science and that his only interaction in all of history is that he gently nudged the atoms and molecules and offered suggestions for them to behave a certain way.

Instead of acting out as Yen Sid and tossing planets about and waving his hands and poof things happened.

Not that I do not believe he could do so, oh I believe that he could... but that, to me, it was very illogical.

I cannot speak with authority on what other deists believe because honestly... I did not really understand what a deist was until a few months ago. I had my beliefs... and I was all alone in them for many years. It was a friend of mine who listened to my beliefs and told me that I thought and believed like deists do. When I looked them up... it was almost exactly what I believed.

You can imagine the conversations the wife and I have about this one... her being a full card carrying Catholic.

I find Catholics more logical, so that is the basis for this blog. I want to understand more of this viewpoint.

Bender said...

Some things to reflect upon --

St. Augustine, Confessions (A.D. 397-98)

Book II, ch. 2-3
-- I was in a ferment of wickedness. I deserted You and allowed myself to be carried away by the sweep of the tide. * * * But in my mother’s heart you had already begun to build Your temple and laid the foundations of Your holy dwelling * * * How presumptuous it was of me to say that You were silent, my God, when it was I who drifted farther and farther away from You! Can it be true that You said nothing to me at that time? Surely the words which rang in my ears, spoken by Your faithful servant, my mother, could have come from none but You? Yet none of them sank into my heart to make me do as You said. * * * It all seemed womanish advice to me and I should have blushed to accept it. Yet the words were Yours, though I did not know it. I thought that You were silent and that she was speaking, but all the while, You were speaking to me through her, and when I disregarded her, your handmaid, I was disregarding You, though I was both her son and Your servant. * * *

Book IV, ch. 12
-- When He made the world, He did not go away and leave it. By Him, it was created and in Him it exists. Wherever we taste the truth, God is there. He is in our very inmost hearts, but our hearts have strayed from Him. Think well on it, unbelieving hearts, and cling to Him who made you. Stand with Him and you shall not fall; rest in Him and peace shall be yours. * * *
-- Our Life Himself came down into this world and took away our death. He slew it with His own abounding life, and with thunder in His voice He called us from this world to return to Him in heaven. From heaven He came down to us, entering first the Virgin’s womb, where humanity, our mortal flesh, was wedded to Him, so that it might not be forever mortal. * * * He did not linger on His way but ran, calling us to return to Him, calling us by His words and deeds, by His life and death, by His descent into hell and His ascension into heaven. He departed from our sight, so that we should turn to our hearts and find Him there. He departed, but He is here with us. He would not stay long with us, but He did not leave us. He went back to the place which He had never left, because He, through whom the world was made, was in the world, and He came into the world to save sinners.

Matt G said...

The reason I believe this is that I fully believe that God works within the rules he himself established.

Science is what I mean.

I think you'll find that most Catholics agree with this--up to a point. God certainly works within the rules He created. If He was just going to cheat all the time, why make any rules at all? The sticking point is that, as humans, we don't know all of the rules He created. We can talk about force and momentum and waves and particles, but how much do we really know? Quantum Physics was just invented/discovered in the last 60 or so years and string theory is even newer than that. I think it's a mistake to say that simply because God may influence something one way or another that He's automatically not staying within the realm of science.

You say:

I believe that God created science and that his only interaction in all of history is that he gently nudged the atoms and molecules and offered suggestions for them to behave a certain way.

If God is omniscient and transcends time, have you thought to consider how much influence this could really have? How God interacts with His world is a mystery. Maybe He did set everything in motion right at the beginning. Surely someone with infinite power and understanding could set the molecules at just the right speed and distance not only to create our world, but even influence the very path of the lives that He created.

That having been said, while I think that the deistic view of a "fire and forget" universe may be more compatible with daily influence than most people admit, I also think that God does sometimes "break the rules" a little bit. Consider an analogy. Let's say I have a fish tank. I set up the pH and put algae and organisms and fish in a perfect balance to create a completely self-contained ecosystem. I never have to do anything else with it. I can watch it day after day and it will keep going forever. How boring is that!?!? Would you watch it every day? Would you even watch it for an hour? It would just be decoration.

How does that relate to God, you might ask? Maybe He just likes fish? I think that when we look at the universe, for the same reasons that we can tell it was created by an intelligence, we can tell it was created by a creative intelligence. An artist. Is it more reasonable to believe that this eternal being, in one great display of power would perform a single creative act and then do nothing else forever, or is it more reasonable to believe that an eternal creative being would go on being creative eternally? That an infinitely creative being would go on being creative infinitely.

One final thought that I would offer is that we get so hung up over our concepts of beginnings and ends that we forget that God doesn't have any of that. We exist for Him in the eternal Now. There is no yesterday or tomorrow or last week. God perceives us in our entirety of being, more so than we will ever be able to do ourselves. If God created us then He created us in our entirety -- past, present and future. We're simply still discovering what He already made!

So this got a lot longer than I thought it would, and I'm afraid I didn't touch on my experience of how God has interacted with me in my life. But I hope this helps you see the rationality behind belief in a personal God. In my own experience, it just seems to fit how the world works.

Scott J said...

Thank you, Damien, for confirming my assumptions above. This is very helpful.

The reason I believe this is that I fully believe that God works within the rules he himself established.

As with Matt G, I can go a long ways in agreement with this. But not completely.

First, I think it is very crucial to call to mind the differentiations among types of created beings. Classically, the most basic strata into which the created realm falls are: a) inert (non-living) things, b) vegetative things (non-animal living beings), c) animals (non-persons), d) persons who have bodies (i.e. human beings), e) persons who have no bodies (i.e. angelic beings).

Among this stratification, consider the nature of the differences among these types of beings. And consider, what would we mean in referring to each level, when we speak of the "rules" that each level of being obeys--i.e. the 'nature' of each basic level of being. Notice that as you go up the hierarchy to more complex levels, the "rules" of nature become more complex and sophisticated and nuanced.

And, finally, note the huge difference between a-c (non-personal beings) as a single group, and d-e (personal beings) as a contrasting group. The rules of nature that non-personal entities in this world obey are of a far more restricted and predictable sort, than the rules that specifically pertain to creatures that are that most enigmatic of beings--persons.

Sure, we can discover the rules of chemistry and attain great mastery over the interactions of molecules of various sorts. We can plumb the secrets of DNA and the internal physiology of living cells and understand many things about how they work. We can discover the instinctive behavior patterns of animals and know the how and why of much of what they do.

But persons--this is another thing!

Isn't it so, that the nature of personal action is not simply a more complex sort of living realm of action as for, say, dogs or horses? There is a whole spiritual universe, of a realm of existence of creatures who are awake to themselves as conscious, unique, self-possessed "I's", that you encounter with persons that is not so for non-persons. I, because I am a person, have an independent, conscious, awakened relationship to myself as one who truly owns my own actions. And I am aware that my own actions are actions born of my own interior freedom as a person, and of my own reason, and of my own desires. I personally own and know these things as my own, in a way that separates my universe of existence radically from the universe of existence of beings who are not persons. Agree?

Why do I go into this? Because, do persons always act in predictable, rule-based ways? I am not just speaking here of acts that have a clear moral value to them (as good or bad acts). I mean any sort of act that is done in a fully human mode--with one's reason and will engaged. Creatures who are persons, unlike the migrations of geese, for example, do not always act in predictable ways. Why does Joe fall in love with Mary and not Jane? Why does John play the guitar the way he does? Why does Sue the painter paint the unique images that she paints? Why and how does a poet compose the particular poems he composes?

I think, with careful reflection, peering into the universe of personal action involving as it does the engagement of the human mind and will (as well as imagination, memory, desire, and 'heart'), we can admit that persons often act in ways that are unique to them as a unique individual. Put two different persons in the same situation, and you will get two different courses of action chosen. The basic goal may be similar, but the precise course and manner of getting there will be different. We don't do things just the same, according to predictable patterns.

Common language reveals that we know this: "They broke the mold when they made him"; "He moves to the beat of his own drum"; "She is one-of-a-kind", etc. How often we surprise each other! Think of spouses you know that have been married many years. Can they not still act in ways their spouse does not expect? ("after 50 years, I still can't figure her out")

Now, consider God. What sort of being is He? Does he have a mind this is alive to itself--self-aware and self-possessed? I think we agreed above, God is a person. He is not merely an impersonal force existing without the living self-knowledge of a personal being. He knows Himself as do all persons--but perfectly.

So, I am suggesting that when you speculate as to how God might act in reference to creation, and the implications of the rules of nature, don't forget that God's own nature is not merely on a par with the chemical characteristics of the elements. He is a person. And His actions manifest this reality. And persons, by nature, do not have the same sort of sure predictability as do lower realms of existence after we come to understand their natures in scientific depth. Persons, even putting aside sin and evil, just in ordinary life, are always a bit of a mystery to ourselves and to each other.

God, though He cannot be a mystery to Himself (for then He would lack knowledge and thus not be omniscient), is certainly, as a person always is, a being whose actions it is natural not to be fully predictable or understandable to others. This does not necessarily, that He is breaking His own rules when He surprises us.

When God does something we could never have predicted, it could be that He is acting beyond the usual realm of the rules He set up for beings below the level of persons. But, it could never be the case that He breaks the rules for specifically personal actions. For actions qualify to be natural as personal actions, if they are clearly understood and freely willed by the person doing them. (sin, or evil action, is never applicable to God, so this is not part of the picture of divine action). A person who acts in such a way that he intends what he does, understands his goal and the reason for the act, knows that he desires to do the act, and engages himself in carrying out the act freely from a motivation interior to himself--is acting naturally. With this understanding, God never acts in a way that is outside what is natural to Him as God. He acts in the mode of divine personal action.

If any act were done without understanding of the means and the goal (i.e. irrationally); or not out of an interior motivation (i.e. by an exterior motivation); or not in freedom (i.e. coerced by another)--it would be unnatural as a personal act. Such an act is not properly personal--it would break the rules of what personal action is as personal action. God never does this. He always knows perfectly what He is doing, how, and why; always acts from within Himself; and always in total freedom.

So, when we dare to tread upon the deep waters of trying to define how God should act in reference to creation, we must be constantly on guard to recall that His natural rules are the rules of a divine person! He is not the same sort of being as we are--not subject by nature to the very same limits as we are. What would be unnatural for us is not necessarily unnatural for almighty God. We should not accuse Him of breaking rules irrationally on the mere discovery that He sometimes does things that we could not do, that fly above and beyond the realm of merely human personal action.

And let's not forget, as well, that God does not have His being from within the created cosmos. He is not a resident inside, as though a mere part, of creation. He stands--by nature--above, beyond, apart, from creation. When we analyze whether a being is acting properly according to the rules of nature, we must use the criteria appropriate to the sort of being that is doing the acting. And in the case of God, we should not consider His acts in the light of human nature. For He is no mere human being. But, consider His acts according to divine nature. Otherwise, we make Him into a mere resident alongside us, and not the creator of the entire cosmos as He truly is.

I think if this train of thought is truly pondered and plumbed deeply, a great deal of what we are tempted to think at first are problems of God "breaking rules" are not such at all. We and He have different natures. And if we are to analyze actions in the correct context we must consider them according to the nature of the doer.

So long as we have clearly in our noggins that God is not a human being, we cannot shout at the universe that God cannot "break" the rules of science. We, by nature, live and have our being in a way that is circumscribed within the rules of the created universe. God, by nature, lives in a divine mode, totally unbounded by the rules that bind us. This is natural to Him.

[and as an aside, I believe all these considerations do not stray beyond a deist concept of God as explored above]

Scott J said...

What law of science allows for the creation of something from nothing?

None. This is impossible from a human scientific point of view. Yet, God created the whole cosmos out of nothing. Was He breaking science even as He brought into being the very realm within which what we call science could even exist?

And, keep in mind as well, that "science" as we speak of it today, pertains to the investigation of the material universe--things in creation that can be quantified and measured. But there is an entire realm of existence that is completely inaccessible to empirical science as we speak of it--the realm of the spiritual--the realm of immaterial reality.

Human souls are immaterial. God is immaterial. Angels are immaterial. All of this, science cannot see, cannot investigate. No microscope or spectrometer or scale, etc., will directly reveal anything about the realm of the spirit.

To find out about the part of creation that is spiritual--unavailable to scientific investigation--we must use reason. (a spiritual instrument for a spiritual object) And this, is the practice of philosophy and theology. If we insist on holding the spiritual aspect of existence captive to the rules of material existence, we are comparing apples to oranges. We are attempting to look at the whole of creation only from within the natural context of half of it.

We should investigate the reality (and the rules) of the spiritual part of creation with that which is capable of seeing in this mode--the mind. And leave the investigation of the rules of the material part of creation to the empirical sciences.

So, what would our reaction be if someone were to say that "This person's living out of human friendship breaks the rules of nature because his friendship violates the norms of quantum physics." We should be puzzled because it wouldn't make any sense. This would be trying to judge a higher nature (personal being which can enter into friendship) by taking it only in the context of the rules of a lower nature. Let's not make the same mistake in regard to God.

Flexo said...

I had meant to come back earlier, but I've been (unsuccessfully) trying to find a couple quotes directly on-point.

How does God work in our lives? How has he worked in your own personal life?

Let's consider the possibilities here --

(1) God does not exist at all, and thus does not work in our lives -- we are all alone in the universe and must create our own meaning of life (the existential and nihilistic views, e.g. Satre, Nietzsche)
(2) God exists, and as a person, not merely as "the Force." However, once He created the universe governed by certain truths/laws, He basically receded to heaven, where He is sitting with His feet up, enjoying the show, but with "very little if any interaction with us." This is the clockmaker hypothesis.
(3) God exists, but not as a hands-off clockmaker, but as a puppet-master. Everything that happens and everything we do is the result of God pulling the strings.
(4) God created the universe, and interacts with creation, but while at the same time respecting the autonomy of certain creatures who have been given free will, i.e. humans, such that sometimes He interacts with us, either directly or indirectly, and sometimes He remains hands-off.

The Catholic view, of course, is the fourth possibility. But even there, the nature of God's interaction with us and creation can be broken down even more. The possible kinds of divine intervention could include -
(a) direct action on the physical world, e.g. causing or preventing weather events;
(b) miracles in the physical world, overcoming the usual laws of the universe;
(c) interaction with human beings, either on a physical or metaphysical level, which might include both God acting and God speaking to us.

As for (a), the Catholic Church says that God has, indeed, set up this complex machine with certain laws that allow it to operate without further intervention, but the Church does not go so far as to adopt the clockmaker hypothesis. God has done more than set up the dominoes and started them tumbling. He can intervene in large-scale physical events, if He so chooses, but how often He does so, rarely or frequently, is beyond our ability to know. That said, the Church, by and large, does not take the position of some that, if someone suffers some disaster or catastrophe, that God caused it. As for (b) miracles, again, how often He does performs them, rarely or frequently, is beyond our ability to know. This much is clear though, God interacts with humanity (c) on a far greater scale than in either of the other ways of intervening in creation.

In considering the matter, however, we are confronted with an immediate problem. And that is our level of competence to see God in action.

Sometimes it only appears that God does not and has not acted. That is because of (1) our original limited human capacity and (2) the added limitations to perceive the divine that resulted from "the Fall" of man (Original Sin). Not only do we not know what it is we are looking for, but mankind as a whole now has a kind of tunnel vision, as if we go around like a horse with blinders on or by seeing life through paper-towel tubes. Moreover, we have cotton in our ears and prefer to listen to our own music. It is like being in a club -- the music is blasting, the lights are low, the people are speaking in a roar over the music, and we've had a few adult beverages. God could be standing ten feet away, shouting at us, and we would never realize it. This can be a problem at times even for the believer.

However, the believer, having learned to see with his heart, every now and then can look around, or more often, look back, and see God in action. Many people could testify to reviewing the events of their lives and seeing, in retrospect, the guiding hand of God, prompting and pushing here or there.

But these are all merely prefatory comments, they really do not get to the crux of the matter. More on that later.

Bender said...

On God's Active Participation in the World: From the Catechism of the Catholic Church --

God upholds and sustains creation

301 With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end. Recognizing this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence: "For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured, if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living."160


302 Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. the universe was created "in a state of journeying" (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call "divine providence" the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection: "By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, 'reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well.' For 'all are open and laid bare to his eyes,' even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures."161

303 The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God's absolute sovereignty over the course of events: "Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases,"162 and so it is with Christ, "who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens."163 As the book of Proverbs states: "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established."164

304 And so we see the Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributing actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes. This is not a "primitive mode of speech", but a profound way of recalling God's primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world,165 and so of educating his people to trust in him. the prayer of the Psalms is the great school of this trust.166 * * *

Providence and secondary causes

306 God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures' co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God's greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan.

307 To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of "subduing" the earth and having dominion over it.168 God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbours. Though often unconscious collaborators with God's will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers and their sufferings.169 They then fully become "God's fellow workers" and co-workers for his kingdom.170

308 The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."171 Far from diminishing the creature's dignity, this truth enhances it. Drawn from nothingness by God's power, wisdom and goodness, it can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for "without a Creator the creature vanishes."172 Still less can a creature attain its ultimate end without the help of God's grace.173

Scott J said...

I think a really key issue here in a discussion of how God works in the world is the question of human freedom: are we truly free creatures, who genuinely own our own actions--who choose in freedom and then carry out what we freely choose to do? Is it really possible for us to do otherwise than what we do? Or, is the appearance of freedom merely an illusion?

Given the following two possibilities, what sort of a creature would be a more noble, greater sort of being? (a) a being who has a kind of conscious awareness, and a sort of mind, but, whose acts are not genuinely free choices arising from within itself, although, it believes it is free (though it is not in fact), or, (b) a being whose actions are truly free actions owned by the individual, coming from a genuinely interior originating motive?

So, (a) would correspond to the puppet-master God flexo mentioned above. And (b) would correspond to flexo's autonomous creature with free-will.

As a matter of sound philosophical reasoning, wouldn't we agree that (b) is the more noble, greater sort of being? It is far greater to be a creature who has authentic free-will, than to be a creature who does not truly have free-will (even if he has been tricked to think he does). True?

Now, I don't know, Damien, if this applies to you. But, I would imagine that an issue for someone attracted to a deist-like point of view would be a tendency to conclude that because it can seem like God is not directly present and active in the world, that He in fact is not.

So, for someone with inclinations to this way of seeing the world, there is a kind of challenge for Christians to show how it is so that God is present and active in the world, when, in the ordinary experience of daily life, it can seem like He is not involved ("God, where are you?").

Well, I won't try to give an answer to this fully right now (for it's in the background, connected to everything we say on this topic). But, I do, with this introduction, want to raise this very (I think) important, key question: What sort of a created living being would evidence a greater and more awesome act of creation on the part of God? Theoretically speaking, is it greater to create a living creature that is in reality a kind of puppet of its master (i.e. not really free)? Or, is it a greater act of creation to make a living being who truly possesses interior freedom?

If we would agree that the latter is a greater and grander and (I would say, far) more noble creative act, then, this immediately suggests a further question. How could any god create free creatures and still have a real guiding, formative influence over them? How could god offer them ALL (assuming he wanted to) an opportunity for salvation, without, in that very offer, degrading their grandeur as free creatures?

Presuming for a moment the Christian claim that God not only creates, but loves His creation (mankind especially), it would be contrary to reason to think that He would create in love and then stand back aloof (given the reality of sin and evil). In other words, the Christian confidence in God's loving disposition toward His creatures makes intolerable a belief that He would stand aside and do nothing to help a world into which sin and darkness had entered. An uncaring God, perhaps, could. But a loving God, no.

But, here again we rejoin the issue of freedom. Even just in theory, using our reason, how could God do both of the following: 1) truly help us to come out of the mess of sin and evil we find ourselves in, and, 2) help us in such a way that our authentic freedom is not removed? (i.e. that God, in helping us, does not reduce us to automatons)?

If you agreed above about what sort of living being is a greater, more noble creature, then, you would surely agree that to take a free creature, and in the process of interacting with him for the sake of helping him, reduce him to an automaton, would be a huge offense against the original nobility and greatness of the creative act; to reduce a creature so noble (as a free human person) to something far less great.

This sort of consideration is very relevant to how Christians see the mysterious and subtle and almost endlessly-various topic as how God works in the world. This is because, at the foundation of all of it, we Christians (and I think the Catholic tradition is especially adept at taking this sort of philosophical look at the world) realize that however God does indeed interact with us during our life here on earth, He does so in a way that permits our acceptance of Him and His saving graces and all this entails, to be a truly free (thus, human and personal) act. He has not abandoned us, yet, He will not save us without our free cooperation. For to save us without leaving our freedom intact would be to reduce us to a lower sort of creature, in fact, into non-persons.

I wanted to take this line of thought because I wonder if a barrier to Christianity for a deist-minded person, would be the seeming absence of God (in other words, the non-obviousness of God's action upon casual observance). To me (and I say this as someone who before my conversion to Catholicism, did not think one could ever know with certainty that God even exists), the seeming hiddenness of God's presence in the world (actually, the more one lives as a person of faith the less hidden God seems--but only experience teaches this) is a powerful testament to how truly great He is and how awesome is the manner in which He guides, and, ultimately, saves, us.

I think about it like this. Any 'ole second-rate god could whip up some spectacular show stoppers and plant simultaneous locutions and voices into our minds and so forth, etc. ("I am the great and wonderful . . . come to save you . . ." Pow! Whoooosh!, etc.) that would knock us all off our feet and have us all joyfully accepting him and then all is happily ended. But, this would only be a second-rate god. For only a truly sublimely great and awesome God, beyond all imagining, could save us in such a way that we actually participate (please note: participate/take part in NOT be the source of) in our own salvation through the authentically free (not forced) acceptance of His guidance and grace. Saying "yes" to God after a grand, obvious, world-stopping show, might look at first like free acceptance. But, in fact, it is not. Such an act, in response to an overwhelmingly irresistible display of greatness, would not be free!

The maintenance of the great gift of authentic human freedom has consequences for how God works in the world. It does not mean, by any means, that He never does "miraculous" things or that He is always hidden. But, it would suggest that often, His ways are indeed subtle, gradual, like a soft wind, rather than a hurricane. We Christians rejoice in the thought that our God is so great, He has established things such that when we get to heaven by His grace, we will have the glorious gift of the realization that He thinks so highly of us, despite our many failings, that He enabled us to have such nobility as to be able to freely take His offered hand and walk with Him as junior partners as He guided us into heaven (as a Father His children), rather than being inert passengers as He simply lifted us there with no participation on our part.

It may sound strange for me to say this, but, I am thankful to God for the usual absence of unnaturally spectacular shows of divine greatness. Because, I am grateful to God He has not only created me free, but wants me to stay free, even as He loves and saves me!

Scott J said...

Again, as is so often the case, an analogy to the human family is helpful. How does a good father raise up his children? Even granted that no earthly father is perfect, he has instincts and a conscience about what is better and what is best in regard to raising his children (even when he doesn't do what he knows is best).

So, in the case of a family with more than one child, does a good human father react to each child exactly the same way? Or, does he respond to different children differently, because each child is unique? I think fathers recognize the latter.

With some children, merely a stern glance can set them back on the right path. With others, harsher measures are required. Some children are naturally quiet and reserved. Others are headstrong and like hurricanes. They have to be handled differently. Each one, given guidance and discipline and love in ways tailored to the child according to who he is as a unique person. Each child has different set of strengths and weaknesses that need to be taken into account.

God, as a perfect father, who always does what is best, does the same (but without making mistakes). His relationship to each one of us is unique because we are. Each human person, is a unique individual, with an eternal, unrepeatable soul. God, who created us and sustains us, knows this thoroughly, much more than we do.

And, so, if we could give more than a cursory or superficial answer to a question such as "How does God work in my life?", it is going to involve an awareness that the relationship I have with God has elements that are specific and unique. This is not unlike recognizing that there are especially personal, intimate, very real though intangible and ineffable qualities of every solid marriage.

I think spouses who have a strong marriage realize there are some things about their relationship that are unique and special to them, and that they simply can't communicate or share completely with others outside that relationship. Why does it seem we must turn to that especially human and personal realm of art when we try to express to others the deepest and most real and enduring aspects of our most profound relationships (like marriage)? Mere words fail. Poems; songs; music; paintings; architecture--such things are fueled by the intangible, unquantifiable riches that permeate our most sublime personal relationships.

This is why things like conversion stories or personal descriptions of how we experience God in prayer, how we notice Him in the world, what our relationship with Jesus is like, can be very wide-ranging and different from person to person. They are at once similar and unique. The depths here are as endless as the variety of persons in creation.

Whenever a person of faith is asked to describe his experience of interacting with God, he struggles to do so in ways similar as would be the case for any of his most profound and influential personal relationships. There is an inadequacy of whatever we can say as compared to the fullness of the reality of the relationship. (This doesn't mean we can't say anything meaningful or true about the relationship, but that both the speaker and the hearer realize there are limits to how much one can truly communicate the deepest core of what that relationship is like). In other words, to really know marriage "from the inside," one must be married. This is simply to recognize how profound and rich the deepest elements of living a fully human life are. Yes, the married couple can say much to the unmarried about the treasures of married life. But, there will always be a certain mystery to it that simply must be lived to be known. It is the same with a personal relationship with God. Every aspect of how God works in our lives, does, in a way, pertain to our personal relationship with Him. For we, and He, are living persons.

Flexo said...

OK, I have about three pages of handwritten notes, which I hope to organize into a coherent post soon, maybe tomorrow. (Of course, this would be a lot easier, Damien, if you were here in D.C. because I'd simply talk it over with you over lunch. Yes, the Internet is both a blessing and a curse.)

In the meantime, while we further collect our thoughts and write (I am much slower than Scott), might I suggest something of a timeout for this upcoming week?

As you may know, World Youth Day 2008 is being held in Sydney, Australia this week (it is actually a multi-day event). The theme of this WYD is "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8), which I think is quite timely for this particular discussion.

God actively works in the world by and through His Holy Spirit. And the addresses and homilies that will be given this WYD should be quite helpful for all of us to come to a greater understanding of God's active involvement in creation. So, I encourage you to keep an eye open over at the WYD and Vatican websites for postings of those remarks, as well as video (thankfully the Aussies speak some kind of English and Pope Benedict also speaks fairly understandable English) --

I'll be posting most of the addresses and homilies, together with video, over at my site --

The Message for WYD 2008, which I've posted, is a good place to start.

nightfly said...

Three pages of handwritten notes! This of course in addition to the fine philosophy already on display in the combox.

This is something totally beyond - in fact, I daresay it is the Lord who is behind it. =)

Therese Z said...

When I compared God to the laws of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and got farther in college physics and chemistry and biology, I decided that God couldn't be a personal God, but I did realize that there had to be a Creative Mind and Force behind everything. My science friends and I used to talk about our former religions, not meanly, but in an excited sort of "well, they knew about energy and food and, and, they decided to EAT GOD! Cool!" We had it ALL figured out, and it sort of hung together.

I wish someone had asked me why hundreds and thousands of people went to their martyrdom proclaiming Jesus as Lord, if it was all just Energy. I guarantee you I wouldn't have changed my mind, but the thorn would have stuck, an unanswered question.

I was thinking the whole thing over while I was still in college and suddenly God made Himself known to me. I mean, I was sure that God was not only there, He knew I was here. That there was a Mind. No visions, no stunts, just wisdom and truth.

I spent a bunch of years trying to figure out what to do with the knowledge, a knowledge that could not be un-known. But that's a different part of the story.

God works in my life by teaching me in Scripture, loving me in the Sacraments, showing me His actions in others, in nature. Once I learned that I could trust the Holy Spirit, the movement of the Spirit became more visible. It's totally obscurable by my will and my ego and my demands and greed.

Gail F said...

There are many insightful comments here, let me try a different tack: Why do you think God doesn't interact with us?

If God is indeed all-powerful and infinite, there is no reason he couldn't interact constantly with everyone, everywhere. Infinite means just that -- there is no limit of any kind, not time, not distance, not anything. (Read Frank Sheed's "Theology and Sanity" for a good description of what an infinite God really means).

Granted, that doesn't mean he does interact, but I think we need to start with the idea that he could.

Next, in what way would you expect to find and recognize God interacting with you? In other words, if you think he doesn't, then you must have a good idea of what it is that God isn't doing. And that goes for what God is doing as well. When you say you believe in God, you just don't believe that he interacts with us, what do you mean? What do you think God IS doing?

I find that it helps to define this sort of basic premise before you go on to complexities. Because much of orthodox Christianity is the discovery that things aren't what you think they are. And by this I don't mean any silly "esoteric" stuff (the world is an illusion, etc.) but plain Christianity, which confounded the disciples too.

JimmyV said...

Since I took your question in a more personal way and I can't compete with the philosophy already posted, I'll tell my story.

I am a cradle Catholic but I acted like any secular nerd most of the time, except for an hour at Mass every week and Holy Days. I passed through a deep depression in High School (who doesn't?) and felt one setting in at college. I didn't think I could handle it again so I prayed my first real prayer ever. I cried out from the depths and God saved me through friends, rock and roll, and the Sacrament of Confession.

I then followed God's plan for my life (the moral code of the Church) to the utmost of my ability. When I encountered the biggest decision of my life, "should I exclusively date this wonderful girl?" God answered me while she and I were praying together. I had a thought which was other than my own, and He said, "You are praying together, what more do you want?!"

God isn't always a still, small voice and this story is only my own so don't assume it is typical. But He still guides me, to this day, in smaller ways.

Feel free to e-mail me directly with questions.

Scott J said...

How has God worked in my own personal life?

The following is not exhaustive, and forgive me if there is some overlap, but, gives at least some of the ways God has worked (and continues to work) in my life personally. Perhaps it may not seem like it at first, but, from a Catholic understanding of life and faith, these truly are all ways in which God is active in my life.

God has:

1. Given me life itself; and continually sustains me in life at every moment

2. Given me Himself in the Eucharist in an unspeakably deep, real, intimate, and personal way; and in this gift, heals and strengthens my soul for the better

3. Given me a desire for the transcendent; made my soul to ache for things beyond what I can attain now in this earthly life (things not marred by imperfection and incompleteness)--thus, planted the seeds in my soul of wanting to know Him

4. Given me a desire for what is good, true, and beautiful, and an aversion to what is immoral, evil, untrue, empty, and ugly (and He speaks subtly, sometimes quietly, though persistently, in the "voice" of conscience.)

5. Given me the desire and the grace to pray; for prayer is a gift and without His activity in our souls we could not pray

6. Given me the great gift of divine Revelation--a sure communication from God to man about Himself and about ourselves--so that I can have certain guidance in this life on what is ultimately true about God and about human life in keeping with God's will to guide, form, and save us (and, further, has given this gift in a way that, while sure and certain, enables my genuine freedom as a human person to remain intact)

7. In other words, God communicates to me frequently and in many ways through Sacred Scripture, through the beauty and ways of nature, through the teaching of the Catholic Church, through the voice of conscience, through my own desires, through responses to my prayers, through the sound use of human reason, through careful reflection upon past events, and through other people.

8. Helped me to make sense of this life by enabling me to put my life in a context that makes rational sense; enabling me to realize and to know that this life on earth indeed is not all there is to it, and, by so doing, enabled me not to see human life as a big empty question mark of ultimate meaninglessness, but, rather, to see it as an endlessly beguiling enigma, pregnant with a fullness of meaning (even when not clear to my present perception), inhabiting two worlds at once (material and spiritual), and pointing--in and through this life--to another plane of life and reality as the ultimate home and deepest fulfillment of our being

9. Enabled me to see that my life and all that happens in it is not meaningless, even if I can't figure out to my satisfaction the meaning of every event as it happens now; to know that every aspect of my life now is somehow related and linked to life as it will be in eternity

10. Enabled me to see that the sufferings we are allowed to endure in life are not empty. In Christ, they are lifted out of what formerly had seemed a hopeless realm of a great, opaque void, and woven into the greatest act--the most meaningful act--of all human history: the salvation and sanctification of mankind by Christ's deliberate self-sacrifice for us on the Cross

11. Given me a massively transformed vision of my own (and others') dignity at each moment of my life, for I know that I am a creature who has such dignity that God invites me to participate in and through all the events of my life, with Him, in the work of transformation--the healing and upbuilding--of my own person and of other individual people [note: this, not out of my own power, but, an invitation to actively enter into a work that is done out of His power]

12. Made it possible for me to love others (though when I don't it is my own fault) in a way I could never do on my own power were it not for His grace dwelling in and flowing through me

13. Enabled me, by His living grace, to make positive changes in my life that I know with certainty I could never have made by my own power

14. Interacted in my life through other people in ways that have in the long run worked out to be very beneficial, though at the time I could not have seen it this way (including a serious physical injury that put me in a place in life wherein I would eventually embrace the Christian faith and the Catholic Church)

Scott J said...

My above list spurs me to make the following additional comments on the general theme of God's interaction with us human beings as we live life.

A. When it comes to human salvation, formation, and transformation, God is most interested in the interior of the human person. Sure, He can (and sometimes does) work physical miracles of healing and other miracles; but, He is primarily concerned with the transformation of our minds and hearts. To be "saved" by God, is something that reaches deep into the core of the human person, and into every hidden corner of our selves. We are saved, not just by gaining the possibility of eternal life with God in heaven upon our death, but, we are made a new creature, including the inner transformation of our minds, hearts, and souls.

And so, from the perspective of God (Revelation tells us this), He is interested in physical healing (such as by miracles) in only a secondary way; whereas His primary concern is the interior reformation of the human mind, heart, and soul. Wherever God works miracles in the material order, His ultimate purpose is to lead to healing and growth in the spiritual order.

B. Catholics regard God's activity in creation as very often (though not exclusively) a phenomenon of what is called secondary (or, 'instrumental') causality. In other words, He often acts through the activity of the natural ways that His creatures were made to act in this world. Therefore, His activity can seem hidden, "behind" the ordinary rules of the natural world. So, God's creatures with the nature He has built into them, are secondary causes--instrumental causes--through which He works to carry out His plan. (as a pencil is an instrument in our hands which we use to write: the pencil functions in the way a pencil can according to its nature--within the limits of the natural principles of graphite, wood, etc.--although, when in human hands, it becomes an instrument of human communication, something quite beyond the pencil's innate capacity by itself)

C. Catholics draw abundant meaning from the data of Revelation that we are made "in God's image." In part, this affirms that human beings are persons who have their own individual minds. And, we, though temporarily in a temporal world, are made ultimately for eternity. We, as images of God, have reason and will. We can see (though only dimly) with our minds past the limits of the merely material realm. We have intelligence and the ability to knowingly direct our own actions in the context of a purpose that we understand on some level; and we sense a meaning at the root of life that somehow transcends this earthly life. Because of this, we can see, or, know, God, in and through the created universe (the human person being a part of this creation), in certain (though very limited) ways, even before He was to reach out to us in a more full and direct mode by becoming one of us. This is all part of His plan. He planted traces of Himself throughout the book of creation, which would prepare us to receive the later communication of the book of Revelation.

D. Another way to talk about this, is to say (a line of thought very significant for the Eastern Fathers of the early Church who were conversant with Greek philosophical ideas) that all of the created cosmos is an expression of God's wisdom. Everything about creation as it came from God (i.e. without sin) shows forth some aspect of the mind of God. God's own 'thoughts' within and among the shared divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are interior to the life of the Holy Trinity. The created world is an exterior-to-God, ordered expression of what was and is originally the interior order of the wisdom of God--as good, true, one, and beautiful.

The manifold ways in which nature displays unity (being a part of one interrelated creation), goodness, truth, and beauty (in limited and imperfect forms), are traces of an unlimited unity, goodness, truth, and beauty, which originates and dwells in perfect fullness and completeness in the Holy Trinity.

Creation as an outward expression of the inner reality of God (also conceived of as the divine "logos"--word) culminates in the human person. This most especially includes the interior qualities of the human mind, heart, and soul. The human body, in turn, is an integral unity with the soul, and, is an unique manifestation of its soul.

All of this is implied when, as Christians, we say that God created us and sustains us.

This, further, means that in the very act of human knowing--in all engagement of the human mind in understanding what is true--we (even though we might not be aware of this) share somehow in the act of knowledge which is the omniscient knowing of the divine mind. All that we know truly, is a "seeing" into some tiny but real part of the infinite reality of God. [note: this is not to be confused with pantheism; God, for Christians, remains distinctly "other" and apart from us and all creation]

There is a very interesting body of thought among great Christian thinkers (such as Saints Augustine, Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas; taking up a line of thought in Plato and others) exploring how it is that the human mind can know any truth at all, with certitude. They observe that there is a very serious quandary about this: that all of the created universe changes constantly in some way; that the cosmos, in total, and in each individual creature, is constantly in flux. So, how can a human mind ever know truth? For, genuine truth is stable, unchanging, and never shifts over the course of time. But how can the human mind extract unchanging truths from the observation of a cosmos that is always in flux? We must have some access to stable truth, in order to know it. This access, is, indeed, hidden in the reality of God. We don't see Him directly with our mind's eye. But, somehow, through creation, God gives us access to stable and sure truths about the world. Every real act of human knowing of genuine truth, is a sort of participation of the human mind in the mind of God. This is not to say that God thinks for us, or that His mind replaces ours. But, when we come to know any truth, there is a real contact of some sort between our minds and the mind of God.

This, to me, sheds a whole new and fascinating light on the issue of how God works in our lives! He is involved, present as the foundation of all that is true, in an ever-present way, in the most intimate and interior life our our minds.

E. Also, this all implies that those aspects of being human of our having a sense of moral right and wrong, and a preference for what is right (good) over what is wrong (bad), are manifestations of the mind of God. This is so also in regard to our ability to think about what is true and to exercise our will in freedom. That we desire and can know the truth and that we desire and choose what is good, are included in our understanding of creation as an expression of divine wisdom. The interior workings of the human mind, with its reason and will, and the desires rooted in the human soul, are works of a divine artist, revealing something of the artist himself.

F. The two realms of the natural and the supernatural; and the two natures of the spiritual and the material, interact in very close and harmonious ways. Because God oversees it all, these different aspects do not clash, but, coordinate smoothly together. A miracle which from our point of view occurs in the realm of the supernatural can be intended by God to serve as a substrate for our minds, operating with ordinary human powers of reason, to understand some deeper truth about God and man. The Revelation contained in Scripture often works in this fashion. (For example, the miracle of Peter walking on the water is not simply recorded as an event to make us go "wow," but, all the details of that event are instructive to us such that we are enabled to understand more deeply with our minds, important features of the nature of the relationship between each human person and Jesus Christ that are true for each of us throughout our lives. For example: that we can do anything through Christ if He wills us to do it; but, that we must keep our eyes fixed on Christ. As soon as we look away from Him, we begin to fail trying to go forth doing His work by our own power alone.)

G. Every way in which God acts within His creation in regard to mankind is oriented, ultimately, toward making human persons ready for life with God in heaven. This life, in other words, is a preparation--an antechamber--for our true home which is heaven. We are on a pilgrim journey, guided by God, toward the fullness of human life which will come about in eternity after the resurrection of the dead. This life is a time of formation and maturation so that we can have the most full life possible after we pass through physical death and then receive our bodies again (this time for eternity) upon the resurrection from the dead.

Now, in this earthly life, through Christ, we are to be made able, and to learn what it means and how (with God's help), to truly love, to truly know, to truly be united as a family, and to have a small foretaste of the joy that will fill us to overflowing in the living presence of the beauty that is present in heaven. Our capacity to love and to know in eternity is meant, during this life, through God's many and various ways of interacting with us and pouring His grace into us, to be constantly expanded until we finally draw our last breath and God brings us to our final home.