Understanding God

24-08-2022

In some literature, religiously inspired people are classified as belonging to the sort “homo religiosus”. It sounds like a name from the biological taxonomy of Carolus Linnaeus. In the completely maddened Neo-Darwinism (this almost inexhaustible source that provides many contemporary intellectuals with the intended “scientific explanation” for anything and everything) that designation suggests that within the human species a variety has arisen with a tendency towards religiosity that offered a temporary “evolutionary advantage”. However, according to many liberals, this branch of Homo sapiens will not survive modernity, since it will not be able to adapt to the cultural evolution that will rid mankind of all religious delusions once and for all. Anthropologists, on the other hand, guided not by ideological bias but by archaeological reality, point out that religious expressions were part of typical human behavior from the earliest stages of modern Homo sapiens sapiens (and even in some Neanderthals). Contemporary reality also tells us that those who seek the standards of their thinking and morality only within themselves and  have declared God (or the gods) “dead” are only a rather small minority on a global scale.

Objectively speaking, everything indicates that the average person naturally possesses a spontaneous inclination or predisposition to religiousness and that ungodliness can rather be regarded as a deviation from the general rule. Atheists look at it differently than people who believe in the supernatural. They seek an explanation for human religiosity in man’s basic instincts, such as his fear of the unknown and of his own death. They consistently ignore that man may experience another and even greater need than the comfortable preservation of his mere physical existence. Man, however, in an almost instinctive and coercive way, seeks after something that is completely incomprehensible to animals, as well as seemingly irrelevant to humans who assume that they only belong to an intelligent animal species. It is as natural for man as breathing and eating that he searches for the MEANING of his life. Even if for some reason he stops that quest and, like Nietzsche, embraces the belief in meaninglessness, he remains deeply restless within himself. It is an unrest that prompts him to get involved in theistic discussions and to impose his anti-religious vision on others with proselytism, despite the fact that for a follower of senselessness and wickedness this is, after all, just a waste of time.

Jesus put it this way: “Man lives not only by bread, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). As He walked along Lake Genesareth, some fishermen heard Him speak such words. They responded so much to a deep desire in them, of which they were perhaps not or barely aware, that they spontaneously left all their work and worries behind them to follow that strange Man, with his all-penetrating look full of love. His message touched the essential core of their life questions and of their own being. Much later, when Jesus asked them if they wanted to go too, like so many others who had already left Him, Simon spoke in their name and in his own: “Lord, where shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” (Jn, 6:68). The Christian faith is a choice, a decision of free will that leads to the deeper understanding that every human being craves.

Atheists see it completely differently. According to them, the need for religiosity arose from basic existential needs. Their thesis is that it is not God who created man in his image and likeness, but that people create in their imagination a God or gods that meet their needs. They are partly right: the gods of the ancient world and pagan cultures do represent the main concerns and fears of the peoples who worshipped them. The sun was needed for the life energy, the thunder frightened them, the rain brought fertility, the moon helped regulate the time schedule, etc… But in all of this, these peoples were usually also aware that there is a Supreme God, who is at the origin of all that exists and that their short-lived earthly life has a sequel in an afterlife.

One can also easily think of a reverse explanation: atheists create an image of man that best corresponds to their own world, governed by the humane or inhumane gods of the motives that animates themselves. In Nietzsche’s philosophy it was power, in others, self-indulgence and ambition determine their actions, among other things. When those “deities” fail them, they end up in a pointless void from which there are not so many escape routes. They are then mainly faced with the choice between hopelessness, madness or suicide. Nietzsche lost himself in madness. Our acclaimed Flemish writer Hugo Claus chose the gods of personal fame and pleasure over a tribute to the Creator who gave him his talents. When those gods dropped out as a result of Alzheimer’s disease, he decided to “step out of life with dignity”. He was assisted in this by the pagan jurisprudence of our country. It classifies the situation of a successful person who becomes mentally and physically dependent on others as potentially “unbearable suffering”. The doctor who, together with a colleague, “established” this “unbearable nature” (how? based on their personal or ideological parameters?) is allowed to kill his patient, pardon, to euthanize him.

The Christians’ view of God vs. that of the wicked

Religious people in general and Christians in particular do not claim to know everything or even much about the Almighty who created heaven and earth out of nothing. God remains to them a mystery that is too great for human words and concepts. Man can only make an attempt to understand something of the essence of God. The Muslims express this impotence through a long litany of titles with which they describe Allah. The Jew has only one name for God that he is not even allowed to pronounce and can be translated by the ontological description of himself that God gave to Moses: “I am who am”. Paul explained to his Christian converts that we can perceive God in the temporary at most as in a (copper) mirror on which it is difficult to distinguish a blurred image. The most zealous Christians regularly polish their mirrors, but only the greatest saints, such as Moses, are supposed to have caught a glimpse of God when alive.

Christ said to his apostles, “Whoever sees me sees the Father.” (Jn, 14:9 It should be clear to every reader from the outset that this is a metaphor. Christ did not mean that his Father in heaven is someone with a beard and facial features that resemble Him, but that everything Jesus did and radiated, including his facial expression, referred to his Father. That statement actually alludes to the text from Genesis: “In his image and likeness He created them.” The physical appearance of a man cannot be like God, for it is the result of a biological process in creation that is constantly changing. God is not subject to processes that He himself designed. The parable refers to the inner self of man, which is expressed in his behavior. That inner self has been disturbed by sin, and his actions are therefore no longer in accordance with the will of God. Christ again showed us the man originally intended by God, whose physical behavior is perfectly in accordance with God’s will.

Atheists deny a “god” whose general image and characteristics are the result of their own way of thinking and not that of the religious man. They regard reality as a purely material matter and humans as beings with purely existential needs. So according to them, they have made a “god” tailored to their needs and it is against that deity that they go to war, armed with a specific atheistic jargon. So they are fighting, a bit like Don Quixote, against their own delusion. The basic problem is that they do not seek to know and understand God as He is, but that they proceed from a false image of God which is of course easy to prove that it cannot exist. In short: they reason in a vicious circle, in which they want to prove something, based on a hypothesis that in itself contains all the necessary elements for their proof to be successful.

For example, the anthropomorphic (human-like) character of the “god” they deny is well reflected in a list of more than a hundred “questions to a Christian” that appears on an atheist website. I quote a few, some of which wouldn’t look out of place at the tap of a local pub: Where does your god come from? What does your god consist of? What gender is your god? Why does your god need people to spread his word? Why doesn’t he do it himself? Why do we not disapprove of a god who according to many believers is able to save people every day but does not do so? Why was Jesus not recognized by the Jews as their announced Messiah? Is the Christian faith based on fear? How can a good god punish people just for not believing? Can the dogma around the trinity be reconciled with the Bible?  If its authors were really interested in Christian answers, it would take them only a little effort to find them in Christian literature. A catechism would already help to solve many of their questions. Some other questions are more complex in nature and require a detailed answer. But in order for them to understand those answers, they must first realize that a Christian does not see God as a supercomputer to solve our earthly problems, nor as a spiritualized version of the sun god of the Incas, nor as a super-god of the Celts or the Hindus.

A Christian who speaks of God knows that he/she stands for the Holy. God remains an inscrutable mystery to earthly man, which is probably best expressed by his Trinity. If we could understand and describe God through and through, we would potentially become like Him. That is God’s ultimate purpose for us, but for that we must humbly, as creatures, walk the way He has determined. He has the right to ask us his questions first and not the other way around. They do not deal with the way we seek the maximum “quality of life” for ourselves, nor with our theological knowledge. He asks us what we did to improve the quality of life of others and how we honored Him in word and deed. For our part, we can also turn to Him with our questions, because of course we also have a lot of them as faithful Christians. But we must do this knowing that we owe everything to Him, even our capacity to ask questions. When we look for Him humbly and with confidence, He reveals Himself to us. Sooner or later our questions are solved and even our doubts slowly evaporate. Then we begin to realize that He sympathizes with us in all our pains and fears. Then we begin to understand what it means that He even sent His own Son to show us how to live and pray. If we sincerely believe in His word, He will deliver what He has promised: “Ask and you will receive”. So, let’s pray to God for those who struggle with thought patterns that do not allow to understand Him and for ourselves that we might follow more and more firmly in the trail of Him who has gone before us.

IVH

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