REV. FRANCIS J. RIPLEY
GOD IS INDIVISIBLE
GOD IS TRUTH
GOD IS GOODNESS
GOD IS ETERNAL
GOD IS LOVE
GOD IS UNCHANGEABLE
GOD IS SPACELESS
GOD IS MERCY
GOD IS HOLY
GOD IS ALMIGHTY
GOD IS POWERFUL
GOD IS STRONG
GOD IS JUSTICE
BELIEVE IN GOD
How do you think of God? I do
not mean of God made Man, Jesus Christ, Our Lord. It is easy enough to
think of Him. I mean of God as God, existing for all eternity before He
created anything. The great masters, whose works fill the world's art
galleries, seem to have thought of God the Father as an old man with a
beard, up in the sky, where the wind always seems strong enough to blow
the beard about. You might think of God like that. Or you might think
of His eternity like time doing a two-way stretch - going backwards and
forwards through ages and ages yet never beginning and never ending.
You might think of God as being so big that He not only fills all the
space He has created but has no limits of any sort.
The truth is that we just
cannot imagine God. Our little minds are imperfect and limited; God is
perfect and unlimited. So we cannot comprehend Him for the same reason
that we cannot put a ton of coal into a hundredweight bag.
WE KNOW GOD
As Catholics we are bound to believe that God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty by
the natural light of reason from created things. I am not going to give you here the proofs that there is a
God. Fr Redmond has done that magnificently elsewhere. (The Existence of God, by
Rev. R. P. Redmond D.D. (C.T.S. 6d.)) I
to help you to know a little more about God, because the more you know
Him the more you will love Him.
The Book of Wisdom tells us
that 'by the
the beauty and of the creature, the creator of them can be seen' (Wis.
13:5). St Paul said there can be no excuse for those who live like
atheists: since the world began, God's invisible attributes, for
example His eternal power and divinity, have been plainly discernible
through things which He has made and which everybody sees and knows, so
men who live godless and evil lives are without the rag of an. excuse
Rom. 1:20). The pagans had not the revelation God gave the Jews, but by
their conduct they showed that God had written His law in their hearts
From this we gather that, without any
revelation, the essentials of the law of the Old Testament are known to
heathens. There is a law in their hearts - and that means that there is
a supreme Lawgiver. It is so easy for men to know of God's existence
from the things about them that some people, amongst them even Catholic
theologians, have mistakenly concluded that the idea of God is inborn
and not acquired from experience.
In the oath which the Church
requires people in
certain positions to take against the heresy of Modernism (The
synthesis of all
destroyed many basic Catholic doctrines by trying to reconcile them
with modern scientific thought and contending that they are merely
products of the subconscious, developed under the stimulus of religious
sense. It was condemned by St Pius X.), there is
a statement that God's existence can formally be proved through reason
by means of the principle of causality.
What do we mean by the
principle of causality? This simple
statement: What begins to be has a cause. That is the starting point of
St Thomas' arguments for God's existence. They begin with first
principles of reason; they proceed from certain facts, e.g. that
nothing within the experience of man can be the cause of itself; they
follow the accepted laws of reasoning; therefore, the conclusions are
absolutely true. You would be justified in rejecting them only if you
could prove that what is called a first principle is not such at all,
or what is said to be a fact is not a fact, or if there is some breach
of the laws of logic.
It would be against the
Church's teaching to argue that
our knowledge of God comes, not from natural reason, but from a
primitive revelation by God which has been handed down by tradition.
Agnostics and sceptics
maintain that God cannot be
known or His existence proved with certainty. Some of them say they
believe in a supreme Being, but they 'just do not know'. There are too
many degrees of these fashionable errors to describe here. The Church
condemns them because they are diametrically opposed to he truth of
Scripture, tradition and reason.
Can there be a convinced atheist?
Yes, because we are
members of a fallen race and it is always possible to yield to
temptation. In theory and in his own mind a person may succeed in
convincing himself that there is no God - but, note this, that does not
excuse him. The Church has always taught that a man cannot really
believe, without blame, that there is no God because, as St Paul taught, the proofs
of God's existence are too obvious and elementary.
In a book called The Faith, History and Practice of the Church of England (an
official correspondence course) Canon Eaton wrote this: 'Let us be
quite clear at once that we cannot prove the existence of God; and it
is no part of the duty of those who teach the Christian Faith to prove
- in the strict sense of the word - the existence of God' (p.25). That
is heresy. It follows the teaching of Immanuel Kant, the German
philosopher who died in 1804 after he had decisively influenced
Protestant theology to reject the rational foundation of religion, in
favour of the idea that religious truths must be received not by reason
but by feeling which demands God.
This has an important
Booth Luce explains it. When we are trying to explain our Faith to a
Protestant she says we must remember:
'First, that where religion is concerned
non-Catholic seldom uses his mind. Second, that the heart is the main
organ with which he approaches questions of Faith. Third, that in order
to make the non-Catholic bring his mind to bear on religious truth, the
Catholic has got to use both mind and heart ... To him (the
non-Catholic) what feels right is right. What appeals to his emotions
as true is true. His religion has become a throb in his breast, a lump in his throat, a twinge of his consience,
a hunger of his spirit, but a vacuum in his head'. (Bringing souls to
'I believe in God', we say in the Apostles' Creed.
Theologians discuss whether one and the same person can at the same
time have knowledge and faith in God's existence. St Bonaventure and St
Albert the Great taught that he can; St Thomas Aquinas disagreed with
them. But he did teach that the same person at the same time can know
God naturally as the originator of the natural order but
believe in Him supernaturally as the originator of the supernatural
order. What is of Faith is that God's existence is not only something
we know by reason but is also something we believe with supernatural
faith. St Paul taught that without faith it is impossible to please God
and that before we approach Him we must have faith in two things -
'that He is; and that He is a rewarder to them that seek Him' (Heb.
We do not know God in this world
immediately, directly, without analysis or reasoning (apart from a
special revelation); we know Him only through the medium of what He has
created. St Paul said that God dwells in 'light inaccessible; whom no
one has seen nor can see' (1 Tim. 6:16). Moreover, when we think of God
we can only do so by means of our natural ideas. We know that
what is created must bear the stamp of the Maker. So we look around and
see what God has made. 'Nobody can give what he has not got', we say,
'therefore, if I see any perfections in creatures I know God must have
those perfections. In creatures they are limited; in God they have no
limit.' On the other hand, if I find any blemishes in created things, I
say: 'That cannot be in God because He is infinite perfection. For
example, there can be no limits in God and no parts.' We must never
forget that the gap between our human ideas and God is not only great,
it cannot be measured; it is infinite. 'Say we much as we will, of what
needs to be said our words come short; be this the sum of all our
saying, He is in all things. To what end is all our boasting? He, the
Almighty, is high above all that He has made; He, the Lord, is terrible
and great beyond compare, and His power is wonderful. Glorify Him as
best you may, glory is still lacking, such is the marvel of His
greatness; praise Him and extol Him as you will, He is beyond all
praising; summon all your strength the better to exalt His name,
untiring still, and you shall not reach your goal. Who can tell us what
He is from sight seen of Him? Who can magnify His eternal being? Much
more lies beyond our ken; only the fringe of creation meets our view;
and of all things the Lord is maker' (Ecclus 43:29-36).
We can never fully understand God:
'How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways'
(Rom. 11:33). Only God knows God fully; for the infinite Being can be
fully known only by an infinite intellect. Nevertheless, such knowledge
as we have of God from what He has revealed and what we discover in His
creation is true. God really possesses the perfections we say He has,
even though we know Him only from comparison with created things. Our
ideas of Him are infinitely less than the reality, but they are true.
The blessed in heaven know God immediately, directly and
supernaturally, but not fully. There is a boundless abyss between God
and creation; even our Blessed Lady is a creature and, therefore, as
Queen of Heaven she cannot fully comprehend the Godhead. She and the
Saints do not have to reason about God as we do, but their
ideas of Him are limited.
If we cannot adequately comprehend the nature of
God, we cannot find a perfect name for It. That is why the Fathers of
the Church called Him 'inexpressible'. When the Bible seems to give
names to God they apply primarily to Him as He is seen to be doing
things. So, if it is describing God's relation to the world, it might
call Him 'The Strong', 'The Powerful', 'The Lord', 'The Judge'. When it
thinks rather in terms of God's perfections in His own Being it names
Him 'The Mighty One', 'The Highest', 'The Holy'.
But God has one real name - Jahweh (or Yahweh). It
is the name He gave Himself when He spoke to Moses from the burning
bush: 'I am who am' (Exod. 3:14). It means 'HE IS'. Our Lord claimed
title when He said: 'Before Abraham came to be, I
AM' (John 8 : 58). But He taught us to address God by that term of
love, 'Our Father'.
That does not mean that when we
contemplate God we
should not think of Him as what He is, absolute Being or subsisting
Being Itself. He is the reason for His existence; He cannot owe it to
anything else. Existence tells us that a thing is, while nature tells us what
a thing is. Creatures may or may not exist;
God must exist; He cannot not exist.
Creatures can have existence; God is existence. His nature commands
existence; it is such that He must exist. You cannot separate God and
His existence; He and His existence are identical. All other things
exist because they receive existence. In many cases
that from our own experience. It is not so with God. He does not
receive existence, because He is existence. In Himself is the reason
why He exists. He is BEING, perfect, limitless, infinite, subsistent
Being. The philosophers had a Latin term for Him Ipsum
Esse Subsistens. This
distinguishes Him fundamentally from all creatures. At the same time,
it is the root from which we rightly come to think about all the other
perfections of the Godhead.
Let us think now about the attributes of
God. We read
about His absolute perfection, His infinity, His simplicity, His
oneness, His truth, His goodness, His changelessness, His eternity, His
immensity, and so on. Can we discover much about them? (
also Who is God?, by Mgr
P. E. Hallett (C.T.S.
6d). The reader will be
helped if he has a Bible at hand and refers carefully to the texts
Attributes are properties. As we have
seen, we can only
think of God by comparing Him with creatures. St Paul says we know only
in part (1 Cor. 13:9). All our concepts are inadequate. Using this
imperfect way of thinking, we see these properties as belonging to
God's Being. Really they are His
Being, all of them, and they are identical with one another. It is an
imperfection to be made of parts. In the words of St Augustine: 'What
God has, that He is'. Yet, as we shall see, Holy Scripture vouches for
many attributes in God; the distinction between them is not only in our
minds. God is the primary author of the Bible; if He tells us that He
has these attributes we must believe Him. He is Good, He is Love, and
so on. These attributes are not just words all meaning the same thing.
As St Thomas Aquinas wrote: 'If all names applied to God mean the same,
we cannot properly say " the Good God" or the like, and yet it is
written, "O most mighty, great and powerful, the Lord of Hosts is your
name" (Jer. 32:18). These names spoken of God do not all mean the same
... they indicate the divine subs
tance, but in an imperfect way
... they have diverse meanings. Although the names applied to God mean
one thing, they mean that
one thing under many and different aspects; therefore they do not all
mean exactly the same.'
GOD IS PERFECT
God is absolutely perfect.
do we mean by perfection? Think of yourself: you are perfect if you
lack nothing which you, a human being, should possess. There is a
standard by which your perfection is judged. Your perfection is relative to it. In contrast to
this is absolute perfection
which unites in itself every possible perfection and excludes every
possible deficiency. Our Lord said, 'Your heavenly Father is perfect'
(Matt. 5:48). The Bible tells us that God is entirely self-sufficient
and independent of all other substances; therefore He is perfect. So,
'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counsellor? Or
who has first given to Him, and recompense shall be made to him? For of
Him, and by Him, and in Him are all things' (Rom. 11:34-35). Also, that
He possesses all perfections: 'He is all' (Ecclus 43:29 ... Is. 40:13).
Christian writers through the ages
base God's absolute
perfection on the infinite fullness of His being. St Thomas says that,
as the first Cause of all created things, He virtually contains in
Himself all their perfection: He includes in Himself every being and
God is actually infinite in
every perfection. The
infinite has no end nor bound. There is nothing which can limit or
bound perfect being. So, to quote St Gregory of Nyssa, God is 'in every
way without limit'. 'Of His wisdom there is no measure; of His
greatness there is no end' (Ps. 146:5; 144:3)
GOD IS INDIVISIBLE
God is absolutely simple. Simplicity
here has a technical meaning - that which is not made of parts,
composed, or divisible. God is a pure Spirit; He has no body nor a
composition of body and spirit. The Old Testament speaks of God in a
human way, as if He had a body, but it asserts that He is the supreme
Ruler over matter (Is. 40:18). The New Testament asserts simply, 'God
is a spirit' (Jn 4:24), and 'The Lord is a spirit' (2 Cor. 3:17).
The Nicene Creed
teaches that there is only one God. It
is a basic doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, repeated so often
that it is necessary to quote only a few of the more obvious texts:
'The Lord, He is God
in heaven above, and in the earth beneath, and there is no other'
'Hear, O Israel, the
Lord our God is one Lord' (Deut. 6:4).
'There is no other God
'Jesus answered him: The first commandment
of all is, "Hear, O Israel; the Lord your God is one God" ' (Mk 12:29).
'There is no God but one' (1 Cor.
'One God and Father of all,
who is above all, and through all, and in us all' (Eph. 4:6).
'There is one God' (1 Tim. 2:5).
GOD IS TRUTH
God's Being is Truth
sense that He alone, being the sole infinite Being, corresponds to the
idea of God. 'The Lord is the true God' (Jer. 10:10). Our Lord's
definition of eternal life was that 'they may know You the only true
God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent'
(cf. 1 Thess. 1:9)
(Jn 17:3) .
God's power of
knowledge is infinite. This
is another aspect of His truth. In Him there is infinitely perfect
agreement between thought and things. He knows His own divine being; in
that way He knows all created things in their origin. He who knows
(God) is identical with what He knows (God) and with the act of knowing
(God). So there can be no error in Him; He can neither deceive nor be
'Of His wisdom there is
no end' (Ps. 146:5).
'He knows the secrets of the heart' (Ps.
'The Lord knows the thoughts of men' (Ps. 93:11).
You will remember the beautiful passage
from the beginning of the 138th Psalm:
'Lord, You search me and
know me; You know me when I
sit down and when I rise up. You discern my thoughts from afar; when I
walk and when I lie down You do behold and You give heed to all my
ways. When a word is not yet on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know
all. From behind and from before You do understand me, and You lay Your
hand upon me. Your knowledge is too wonderful and sublime for me: I
cannot grasp it' (vv. 1-6).
The whole psalm is a beautiful
meditation on God's knowledge, omnipresence and power.
Truth includes veracity, that is, agreement of what one says with what is in one's
mind. The Holy Spirit thought it necessary to emphasize that God cannot
be responsible for untruth. Our Lord told the Jews: 'He that sent me is
true: and the things I have heard from Him, these same I speak to the
world' (Jn 8:26). To Titus St Paul wrote of 'God who lies not' (1:2).
'It is impossible for God to lie', says the author of the Epistle to
the Hebrews (Heb. 6:18).
Another aspect of truth is fidelity. We
are all only too familiar with the person who has high ideals but fails
to live up to them or whose actions are not in accordance with his fine
protestations. Faithfulness (fidelity) means agreement of action with
speech. In God it is absolutely perfect. 'The Lord is faithful in all
His works' (Ps. 144:13). If we play God false, St Paul says, 'He
continues faithful' because He cannot deny His own nature (2 Tim.
2:13). Our Lord, God incarnate, claimed the same fidelity: 'Heaven and
earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away' (Matt. 24:35),
'Heaven' meaning simply the firmament. 8
GOD IS GOODNESS
God is absolute Goodness in
Himself and in relation to others. He is all
good, the origin of all created things and all created goodness. As is
the case with all the attributes we are considering, there is an
unbridgeable, infinite gap between created goodness and God. His Being,
and only His, is goodness without limit: 'None is good but God alone'
(Lk. 18:9). The goodness of creatures is given to them by the Creator:
'Every creature of God is good' (1 Tim. 4:4). When we think of God
knowing His own goodness, which is Himself, and loving it, we see how
the Fathers came to write so often of the infinite bliss of God as He
enjoys the possession of Himself.
Holiness is moral goodness or
goodness of behaviour. It seems impudent to speak of this in connection
with God, for He is not merely holy (as an adjective), but holiness (as
a substance). His will is the ultimate standard, the final criterion,
of all behaviour. He is intrinsically, by His very Being, incapable of
wrongdoing. 'God is faithful and without any iniquity' (Deut. 32:4) (cf.
Pss. 5:5; 76:14; 70:22; 77:41, etc.).
We may even think of God's
kindness. He has overwhelmed all His
creation with countless proofs of kindness. By creating things He
enables them to share in His goodness; He proves His goodness, too, by
preserving what He has made, governing everything by His providence,
redeeming those who would otherwise have been lost for ever and going
to endless lengths, even dying in torment, to make men holy. Our Lord
emphasized all this so often in His instructions. Remember His words in
the Sermon on the Mount:
'Behold the birds of the air, for they
neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly
Father feeds them. Are not you of much more value than they?' . . .
(Matt. 6 : 26 ff.).
'The Lord is faithful in all His words and
holy in all His works. The Lord lifts up all that fall; and sets up all
that are cast down. The eyes of all hope in You, O Lord; and You give
them meat in due season. You open Your hand; and fill with blessing
every living creature' . . . (Ps. 144:13 ff.).
'God so loved the world as to give His only
begotten Son' (John 3:16).
'He that spared not His own Son but
delivered Him up for us all, how has He not also, with Him, given us
all things?' (Rom. 8:32).
What can we say about God's Beauty beyond the fact that it
is absolute? He is not just beautiful: He is Beauty. It is so excelling
that it encompasses and immeasurably surpasses all other beauty. St
Thomas maintained that beauty included three conditions: (1) Integrity
or perfection; (2) Proportion or harmony; (3) Brightness or clarity. It
is not difficult to see that God is each of them to an infinite degree.
Having written of the fire, the wind, the nimble air, the wheeling
stars, the tempestuous waves, the sun and the moon, the Wise Man asks:
'What of Him who is master of them all; what excellence must be His,
the author of all beauty?' (Wis. 13:1-3). Beauty is described as God's
escort and His clothing (Pss. 95:6; 103:1).
God is absolutely
means going from one condition to another. That God cannot do this is
stated in the original Nicene Creed (A. D. 325), which condemns those
who allege that 'the Son of God is mutable or subject to change'. Holy
Scripture is very clear: 'The Father of lights, with whom there is no
change nor shadow of alteration' (Jas. 1 :17). You shall abide and all
things shall grow old like a garment. Like raiment You change them and
They are changed; but You are the same and Your years have no end' (Ps.
101:27-28). (cf. also Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:17; Is. 46:10; Ps. 32:11.)
Does not God change
example, He creates? No. Change implies having something you had not
before or losing something you had. A teacher does not lose or gain
anything in his nature by giving a lesson; so God neither loses nor
gains when He creates. He cannot because, as we have seen, He is
infinite Being, incapable of division, of losing or gaining anything.
Creation is not a new activity for God. When the universe, wonderful as
it is, comes into existence, God does not receive a new perfection.
He cannot; He is already
absolute Perfection. He simply enters on a new realization of His
Will's eternal resolve. The decree of creation is in fact identical
with God's nature (there are no parts in God), eternal as His Nature is
eternal, free as His Will is free, unchangeable as His Being is
unchangeable. The same applies to God hearing our prayer and any other
appearance of change in Him. God is changelessly whatever He is in any
respect. As St Augustine said: ' "The Being" is a name which means
unchangeableness. For whatever changes ceases to be what it was and
begins to be what it was not. The "True Being", the "Genuine Being", is
possessed only by Him who does not change'.
GOD IS SPACELESS
Now we come to consider two of
God's attributes which will help us to understand His nature more
clearly - His immensity and His eternity. It will be easier to
take immensity first. At once you think of space - and immensity is spacelessness. We are bound
to believe that God is
immensely or absolute spaceless . We find it in the
Athanasian Creed of the 5th or 6th century: 'The Father has immensity,
the Son has immensity, and the Holy Spirit has immensity. The Father is
eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal.
Nevertheless, there are not three eternal beings ... nor three beings
having immensity, but one'.
'If Heaven and the heaven of heavens
cannot contain You, how much less this house', prayed Solomon (1 Kings 8:27).
'There is only one God who encompasses everything, while He alone
cannot be encompassed', wrote Hermas in the second century.
How is God immense? The thought of
your soul's presence in your body may help. It has no parts; wherever
it operates - in your ear or your toe - it is wholly present. So God is
whole and entire wherever He is. Really space has nothing to do with
immensity. We may imagine God in His creation, but He has no limits.
Wherever He is, say in the most inconceivably small point, He is whole
and entire, just as if there were no point at all. Of course, He is
everywhere present in created space, as the writer of the 138th Psalm
so vividly describes and St Paul preached: 'God is not far from every
one of us; for in Him we live and move and are' (Acts 17:27).
He is present by His power, by His knowledge, and by His Being. In all
things, even created spiritual beings (angels, devils, and human
souls), He is present in His Being, whole and entire.
GOD IS ETERNAL
Apply these same ideas to
eternity. Just as you will
understand God's immensity best by stripping it of space, so you will
understand His eternity best by stripping it of time. Time has nothing
to do with it. God is eternal. The
Psalmist tells us He had neither beginning nor end: 'Before the
mountains were made or the earth and the world were formed; from
eternity to eternity You are God' (Ps.
89:2). But having no
beginning nor end is not the essence of eternity. Boethius, who died in
524, gave the classical definition: Aeternitas est
interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio, Eternity is the perfect possession of unending life all at
once. The important words are tota simul, all
at once. They mean that God does not have life bit by bit as we do. It
is all His in one act. When I began writing this booklet I had not the
life that I have now; nor have I now the life I had then. Everything
created has life in bits; but in God there are no parts. So He has His
life all at once, as an infinitely perfect unchangeable now, with no
succession or duration, no past or future, no movement or interruption,
no beginning or end. Eternity is not made up of time. That God lives in
this constant undivided now is implied in two famous places in
Scripture: 'You are my Son; this day have I begotten You' (Ps. 2:7);
and Our Lord's 'Before Abraham came to be, I am' (Jn
Peter told his new converts never to forget that time is not the same
with God as it is with us - to Him a day may be a thousand years and a
thousand years only a day (2 Pet. 3:8). St Augustine, for whom eternity
was always 'the great thought', wrote: 'The eternity of God is His
essence itself, which has nothing changeable in it. In it there is
nothing past, as if it were no longer, nothing future, as if it had not
yet been. In it there is only "is" - that is, the present'. (Cf. also
Rom. 11:33; Ps. 138:6.)
God is a living God, said the 1st Vatican Council, following Holy Writ. 'In God,
life and being are not two different things, but being and life are one
and the same', wrote St Augustine. Knowing and willing are the most
perfect forms of life; so we must think a little now about God's
knowledge and His will.
His knowledge is infinite; He is 'the Lord of all knowledge' whose wisdom is without
measure (l Sam 2:3: Ps. 146:5). God has made us who know; therefore He
must have knowledge - but whatever God has, He is ... So He is Knowledge and there is
nothing which can limit His knowledge. The indescribable order and
purposefulness of the universe demand a Creator of highest
When God knows He does not pass
from not knowing something to knowing it as we do. He does not know
successively, by passing from premises to conclusion or from one thing
to another. He knows everything in one single indivisible act. He is
Himself knowledge. He completely encompasses His Infinite knowledge and
in that way fully comprehends Himself , so St Paul could write: The
Spirit searches all things, the deep things of God' (1 Cor. 2:10).
It is far beyond the scope of a
small booklet like this to treat exhaustively of God's knowledge. All I
can hope to do is to outline the Church's teaching. Thus, it is of
faith that God knows all that is merely
possible (cf. Est. 14:14; 1 Cor. 2:10), all
real things in the past, the present and the future (cf.
Ps. 146:4, Ps. 49:11; Job 28 :24 ff ; Ecclus 1:2 ff.; Matt. 6:26 ff.;
10:29 ff.; Acts 15:8; Ps. 7:10; 1 Ch. 28:9; Ps. 68:6; Ps. 138:1-6; 1
Kings 8:39), and He also foresees with infallible
certainty all the things which angels and men will do freely in the
future (cf. Ps. 138:3 ff.; Jn 6:65).
The fact that God knows in
advance does not take away our freedom. Here is what St Augustine
'As you through your remembrance do not
oblige that which is past to have occurred, so God, through His
foreknowledge, does not compel that which shall be in the future to
It is commonly
believed that with infallible certainty
God knows the things we might choose to do but might have done under
other circumstances. There is an example of this in Our Lord's words to
Corozain and Bethsaida (Matt. 11:21).
The books which have been written
about God's Will fill many libraries. Here are the general principles. The divine will is infinite, the final foundation of all
the order in creation and the supreme standard of morality. 'Whatsoever the Lord pleases, He does in heaven and on earth,
in the sea and in all the deeps' (Ps. 134:6). When He spoke to us
during His earthly life He told us to pray: 'Thy will be done on earth
as it is in heaven' (Matt. 6:10).
correspond to His infinite nature. The
basic one is love, which is identical with His being: God is charity'
(1 Jn 4:8). Because of His absolute holiness God hates sin, but there
can be in Him no enmity towards the person of the sinner
Ps. 5:7; Wis. 11:25). In religious literature other affections are
attributed to God - sadness, hope, longing, anger, etc. - but we must
understand them as merely human analogous terms, the writers doing
their best to describe God with the limited language at their disposal.
Anger, for example, cannot be a passion in God like human anger but it
is used to express, as we see it, either His hatred of sin, His
aversion from (not enmity towards) a sinner, His justice seen as
punishing offenders or the results of that justice. Thus sinners are
called 'children of wrath', men liable to divine punishment (Eph. 2:3;
1 Thess. 5:9; Rom. 9:22).
Because He is Goodness without limit, God
is, of His
very nature, bound to love first of all Himself. He is the final reason
and cause of all He has made: 'The Lord has made all things for
Himself' (Prov. 16:4). Freely He brought all creatures into existence;
He loves them all in Himself: 'You love all things that are, and hate
none of those things which You have made' (Wis. 11:25). God does not
love His creatures because they are good; His love is the cause of
their goodness: 'In this is charity; not as though we had loved God but
because He has first loved us' (1 Jn 4:10). Within
God love is always infinite but its effect varies according to the
lovableness of the creature concerned.
The major question of the
relationship of God's will to evil has been dealt with very fully
elsewhere. (The Problem of Evil, by Rev. M. C. D'Arcy S.J. (C.T.S. 6d), which the reader is
advised to study.) All I can say here is
that God cannot of Himself desire
physical evil for the evil's sake or as an aim, but He does will
physical, natural and punitive evils for the sake of the good which, in
His infinite wisdom, He knows will come from them (cf. Wis.
1:13 ff; Ecclus 11:14; 39:35; Amos 3:6). God cannot will moral evil,
that is sin, in itself or as a means to an end; He permits it because
He respects the free will He has given to men and because He has the
wisdom and power to draw good out of all evil (cf. Ps. 5:5; Ecclus
15:15 ff.; Gen. 50:20). The hardening of a man in evil, spoken of in
Scripture, is a punishment, the withdrawal of grace (cf. Exod. 4:21;
God is almighty,
the Lord of the heavens and of the earth. Practically
all the creeds profess their belief in His all-powerfulness. Holy Writ
stresses it continuously; it is one of the divine attributes most
frequently mentioned. In fact, God is given a special name, El,
the Strong One. 'I acknowledge that You can do everything and that no
purpose can be withholden from You' confessed Job (Job 42:2). Nothing
is impossible for God
GOD IS ALMIGHTY
(cf. Matt. 19:26; 3:9; Lk. 1:37). God's
power is identical with His nature, therefore He cannot do what would
be contradictory to His nature. For example, He cannot change, lie,
make something that has happened not to happen, or realize what is
contradictory in itself (a square circle). There are many possible
world orders which God might have made, but He freely chose one from
amongst those known to His infinite wisdom. He has, of course, created
the best possible world order - His supernatural kingdom. Our present
earthly life is a condition for the realization of the perfect life. It
is a probation which enables us to attain the perfect life. Suppose
this probationary period did not exist, a heaven into which we had been
put irrespective of our free wills would not be the best possible
world. To live for ever in God's presence because by His grace we have
merited it by using our free will rightly, is more perfect than to
possess such a life without having merited it.
God's dominion is supreme;
all creatures must acknowledge it. In
practice that means religion - accepting God's revelation, keeping His
commandments and worshipping Him as well as we can. We must have a
reverential fear of God (Jer. 5:22; 10:10); believe that He will keep
His promises faithfully (Gen. 17:1 ff. ; 35:11 ff.; ; Num.
11:23), and trust Him (1 Sam 14:6; Ps. 145:5). Remember how the mother
of the Machabees proclaimed her belief in God's power as she encouraged
her youngest son to suffer death rather than give up his faith (2 Mach.
7:28). Our Lord in Gethsemane appealed to the omnipotence of His
Father: 'Father, all things are possible to You' (Mk 14:36; cf. Rom.
9:19; Eph. 1:5-13; 3:2).
GOD IS JUSTNESS
God is infinitely just. He is infinite Justness. He rewards good and punishes evil
according to merit; He wills that all the requirements of the
moral order He has established be fulfilled. He is the ultimate
criterion of all justice. We must believe that when God freely created
the world He was bound by His infinite wisdom and goodness to give to
His creatures all they need to achieve ,their purpose.
Nowadays there is a tendency to
think of punishment only
as a means of improving people or of warning them. God's punishment of
sinners is to bring about just retribution for the insult sin offers to
Him and the disturbance of the moral order He has set up. On the other
hand, it would be wrong to believe that God owes it to His justice
never to forgive sin until full atonement has been made. Remember that
there is no authority above God; He owes nothing to any other being; He
has absolute right to forgive the sins of the repentant sinner, even
without any atonement.
GOD IS MERCY
God is infinitely merciful. Mercy may be defined as the property by which God shows His
kindness towards men in their sorrows and afflictions and especially
towards repentant sinners. Every page of the Scriptures and many
prayers of the Church's liturgy express belief in God's mercy. In fact,
no attribute is more in evidence. Its manifestation reaches a climax in
His coming amongst us as man to suffer and die that we might live with
Him for ever. The Jews regarded their history as a chain of God's
blessings and favours, proofs of His mercy. They spoke of it as being
immeasurably great (e.g. Ps. 50:3), all-embracing (Ps. 144:9),
inexhaustible (Ps. 29:6), a free gift (Exod. 33:19), and enduring for
ever (1 Ch. 16:34; Is. 54:10; Pss. 117; & 135). It embraces all
men, the just, the suffering, the oppressed, and particularly repentant
sinners. In the Gospels Our Lord's parables, His teaching, His works,
and the sacrifice of Himself, are all eloquent testimony of God's
boundless mercy. When He designates God as 'the Father of mercies' (2
Cor. 1: 3) and as 'rich in mercy' (Eph. 2:4), St Paul sums up all the
Old Testament had to say about this attribute.
Mercy and justice are
wonderfully bound together in God. All His
ways 'are mercy and truth' (Ps. 24:10). Why does God give us natural
and supernatural favours? Because of His love and mercy. He not only
rewards and punishes but rewards merit beyond its deserts (Matt. 19:29
- a hundredfold) and punishes less than is deserved. St Thomas wrote:
'Even in the damnation of the reprobate mercy is seen, which, though it
does not totally remit, yet somehow alleviates in punishing short of
what is deserved.' In the justification of sinners justice is seen,
when God remits sins on account of love, although it is He Himself who
has mercifully infused that love. So we read of Magdalen: 'Many sins
are forgiven her because she has loved much' (Lk. 7:47). Still, even
when God forgives, He shows His justice because He demands from the
sinner repentance and atonement. The perfect identity of mercy and
justice in God finds its climax in Our Lord's death:
'God so loved the world as to
give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believes in Him may not
perish, but may have life everlasting ... Christ Jesus, whom God has
proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood, to the
showing of His justice for the remission of former sins, through the
forbearance of God, for the showing of His justice in this time; that
He himself may be just' (Jn 3:16; Rom. 3:25).
In the mercy of God we see not
only His infinite love and goodness, but also His power and majesty:
'You have mercy on all because You can do all things' (Wis. 11:24). The
Church which prays, 'O God, whose mercy is beyond telling and whose
goodness is an infinite treasure', also prays, 'O God, who displays
Your almighty power chiefly by showing mercy and forbearance'.
Holy Writ reminds us that if we
wish to enjoy God's mercy we must seek it (Deut. 4:29, 31), continue to
serve God humbly in time of trouble (Judith 8 :16ff.), be docile
in accepting His punishments (Ecclus 18:13 ff.; Prov. 3:11 ff.; Ps.
118:73), learn His will, repent of evil and amend our lives (Ps. 50:3,
19; Prov. 28:13; Ecclus 17:20). Above all, we ought to pray for mercy.
'Withhold not Your mercies from
me, O Lord; may Your grace and Your faithfulness guard me always; hear
me, O Lord, for Your mercy is kind; look upon me according to the
bounteousness of Your pity; let Your mercy be at hand to comfort me;
let Your tender mercies come to me; it is not for our justification
that we present our prayers before Your face, but for the multitude of
Your tender mercies' (Ps. 39:12, 68:17, 118:76; Dan. 9:18).
All that I have written about
God emphasizes how utterly wrong is the widespread modern tendency to
think of Him as Something rather than as Someone. Elsewhere I have
tried to explain how God is not one but three Persons. (The
Blessed Trinity and the Life of the Soul
If we try to think of Him as infinite personal
life, who not only has perfections but is every perfection without
limit, and who not only has supreme power over us but loves us with
limitless, merciful love far in excess of whatever the human mind can
imagine, we shall have little difficulty in falling down in adoration
before Him. We must worship Him not primarily for
what He has done for us but for what He is in Himself. If, with Francis
Thompson, we can pray:
O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee,
we should not forget the parallel picture painted in words the poet
attributes to God -
My child, give me thy heart!
For I have loved thee with a love
No mortal heart can show;
A love so deep, my saints in heaven
Its depths can never know.
(ADELAIDE PROCTER: Give
Me Thy Heart)