More depends on the answer to this question than any other. What a pity, then, that it remains so rarely discussed! I mean, of course, the reality of God, to which all Catholics must bear witness. Ours is a time which is in such desperate need of recovering intimacy with the God of Love. That makes it all the more sad to think that so often, when the topic is broached, it becomes an occasion for animosty and antagonism rather than for the truth of the Gospel to be depicted with clarity and charity.
The story of God and His Love needs telling. Hopefully, the following thoughts will help somehow in that.
“Does God exist?”
It can be easy, because the question continues to be debated generation after generation, with so many on either side and with so many different arguments and counter-arguments, to lay the question aside, or else to throw up our hands like Socrates at the end of a dialogue and say, “I guess we can’t know after all.” Perhaps it starts to look like a court case, and the “evidence” just doesn’t seem worthy of conviction. Perhaps the apparent futility of the whole back-and-forth leaves us thinking the question isn’t worth pursuing.
But this question is worth pursuing, like no other. Let’s take a step back here. The living God we proclaim is not a kind of superman, basically like us but a spiritual being of much greater power and intelligence. The question “Does God exist?” does not work the same way “Does Superman exist?” or “Does Zeus exist?” We work with some idea of Superman or Zeus– their essence, what makes Zeus Zeus and not, say, my neighbor’s dog. Then we try to figure out whether Zeus exists or not– he may or may not, and the difference is whether this one property, the property of existing, happens to be true of him or not.
When we ask the question “Does God exist?” it’s dangerous to imagine the answer comes the same way. “Existence” is not some one property we can ascribe to God in the same way we ascribe it to ourselves, or a dog, or a rock, any more than we can say that an author exists in the same way as his characters. The living God is Himself the fullness of Being, whereas our existence is merely participation in God, in the free gift He makes of His Being. It can be helpful, perhaps, to think of it along the same lines as the relation between light and window. A window has no inherent tendency of its own to illuminate or be illuminated, much the same way that we have no inherent tendency of our own, independent and self-contained, to come into or remain in existence. When the light shines on a window, however, the window is filled with light which passes on into the room. The window is illuminated, and the window, in a certain sense, illuminates the room, but the light itself suffers no diminution because the window “participates” in it. In much the same way, when we participate in God thanks to His loving act of creation, God suffers no diminution– or else we would not be talking about God, but some imperfect, imagined image of Him.
This brief consideration can serve as a first step in considering what thinking about the existence of God really entails. To purge our thinking about God of all that is unworthy of Him is a task as important as it is difficult– in fact a task impossible to succeed in altogether, as a consequence of the Fall, but that should not dissuade us from doing the best we can, realistically. God is not one specially powerful being among others but Being Himself, the non-contingent ground of all beings, the creative Reason that imparts His intelligibility upon all His creatures.
We can use this as a starting point, to prevent a kind of idolatry when thinking about God; that is, by ascribing something to Him that is altogether unworthy of Him or by neglecting to ascribe something to Him which must be true. On its own, however, this isn’t likely to produce a new conviction about God’s existence in someone. In future posts, we’ll take a closer look together at why recognizing God’s existence should be so difficult, what the proper attitude of assent to God’s existence consists in, and what some arguments for God’s existence look like.