We touch God in love, and in whatever concerns us most
However necessary abstract reasoning can be at times, it often fails to convince. It is as if part of the evidence is lacking. It reminds me of the story of an American scientist who took part in the development of the first atomic bomb.
When the ethics of designing such a destructive device were discussed, he saw no problem. It was just a question of clear reasoning, he said. If we make bombs, it makes no difference in principle whether they kill a hundred people in one go, or a million. But then he learnt that his own brother, who had fought in the Philippines, had been transferred to Japan as a prisoner of war. Suddenly the whole perspective changed. The decision now became personal.
Our argument about being takes on a new dimension when we grasp that we are talking about something very personal. The mystery is our existence. And our existence includes all the people and things that are meaningful to us: our close family and friends, our life’s work, our desires and fears, our most cherished ambitions.
To understand what God means, ask yourself: What do I really care about? What matters most in my life? What am I really concerned about? What do I take with absolute seriousness? What would I be ready to suffer or even die for? Whatever stirs you deeply — in that reality you are touching the reality of God.
I will work this out through a powerful example: our admiration for tenderness and love.
Our present secular society is deeply torn by contradictory values. On the one hand, we subscribe to principles of human rights and of respect for the environment. On the other hand, many people adopt a mechanistic view of the universe, in which all is dominated by purely physical forces.
The end result is bare, merciless co-existence. Soldiers are trained in ruthless combat, involving even nuclear and chemical weapons. Politicians ruthlessly disregard the needs of Third World nations. Police officers brutally impose law and order. Banks and businesses pursue a heartless economy in which human beings are just pawns, and in which scarce resources are savagely depleted for short-term gains. Where is mercy, love, respect for what is precious, though delicate?
The answer is that, in a mechanistic universe governed by survival of what is fittest, there is no convincing justification for values such as kindness, love and self sacrifice. What is left are such flimsy motives as: instinctive behaviour, the mutual benefit of cooperation, emotional ties, and so on. There is no compelling rational reason for keeping a cantakerous parent alive, for nursing a mentally handicapped child or for supporting Brazilian natives whose primitive ways of life are threatened.
If mercy and love are real values in the universe, we thereby acknowledge other priorities, and another primacy of being. Love only becomes meaningful if love was meant to be there. Love finds its justification in principles that transcend our narrow existence. Love, too, is an absolute and so it points to God.
Recognise `the thoughts of God’
The Hindu scholar S.Radhakrishnan, who served as President of India (1962 to 1967), recalls the ancient saying in the Bhavagadgita : “Whatsoever being in our world is endowed with glory and grace and vigour, know that to have sprung as a fragment of God’s splendour”. He adds:
Truth, beauty and goodness are absolute values. They point to God. They are the thoughts of God and we think after him.
Truth, beauty and goodness are not existent objects like the things that are true, beautiful and good, and yet they are more real than the persons, things and relations to which they are ascribed.
Truth, beauty and goodness, though not known by the senses or reason, are apprehended by intuition, or faith as believers would put it.
They are grasped as being a reflection of the being and essence of God.
S. RADHAKRISHNAN, Recovery of Faith, Delhi 1955, pp. 82-83; An Idealist View of Life, London 1961, pp. 157-158.
The important thing is not to make God small, not to picture him to ourselves as a Santa Claus sitting high up on a cloud. He/she/it is overwhelmingly greater and all-pervasive than anything we can imagine, and the best way to sense this presence is to probe it in depth.
The name of the infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, or the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation.
Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even the word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about him.
You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: “Life has no depth! Life is shallow. Being itself is surface only.” If you would say this in complete earnestness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not.
The text in this chapter is from How to Make Sense of God by John Wijngaards, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995. Tom Adcock designed the cartoons. The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada awarded the book a prize on 25 May 1996.
View the following film on the meaning of creation
P.TILLICH, The New Being, London 1964, pp. 152-160.