Wednesday, November 22, 2006

God by the points

What follows is a probably disjointed set of thoughts that keep coming back to me as our RCIA team and our inquirers go through the process. I'm hoping that by writing down the thought process and with any gracious pointers anyone in St. Blog's might have to nudge me back on track I might be able to make use of the points I am trying to connect to make the reality of the God these folks are trying to understand more apparent, more real to them. I don't think anything I write hereafter is anything but orthodox Catholic faith, but if it is I certainly implore anyone who notes such to let me know where I have erred, that I might both correct my error and assist others from following the same path. But enough. Without further adieu...

What is God? John tells us (1 Jn 4:8,16) and Benedict reminds us that God is Love. And what is love? Jesus tells us, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay his life down for his friends" (Jn 15:14). Now, with those definitions, we can look further.

God is love. It's a phrase we hear quite often now, particularly so since the publication of the Holy Father's first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, God is Love. It seems a perfectly innocuous statement, but yet it is truly deeper than can be seen at the start. For when we are saying "God is Love" we are not saying "God feels love" or "God is loving" but rather that He is Love. It is the definition of who and what He is and reflexively He is the definition, the embodiment if you will, the fullness and completeness of what the very word "Love" means.

And so we come to the problem of our second definition. God is Love. Wonderful - but what is this love that we say God is? For without knowing the meaning of the latter, defining the former as it is an exercise in futility. Love is, as we are told, exemplified by giving of what one has, be it one's time, talent or treasure for the benefit of the beloved. Pure love, then, would be the complete giving of something one has - even more truly, it would be the complete, the utter giving of what one is. The contrast of has and is in this case is the difference between something one has received and that which is the very essence of one's self. It strikes me this may come as somewhat circular logic and perhaps it is, but follow me if you will - if God is Love, then the essence of God is to give that which He is, to give Love and to give it completely in its fullness. In that end, the essence of God is to give Himself.

In the Old Testament we read the Israelites made sacrifices to make reparations for their sins, their trespasses against the God who is all-good, all-loving and all-powerful. But they knew even then that these sacrifices were insufficient to truly expiate those trespasses completely (Lev. 16:6,16; Heb 9:13), for reason tells us that greater offenses against greater parties require greater and more pure sacrifices (Heb 9:14). And what greater a party can there be than the omnipotent, omnipresent God through whom all that is "lives and moves and has its being"? And what greater offense to God than to take the gift freely given and disrespect it? It is of sufficient magnitude it would take the perfect sacrifice to make up the fullness of the debt, if you will. But who is able to make this perfect sacrifice, for we know "no one is good but God alone" (Mk 10:18)? Indeed then the only one capable of making this sacrifice is God Himself. Would that be out of character for God? Not at all for as we established above, the essence of God is to give Himself.

So now we have the perfect offerer (God) combined with the perfect offering (Himself). But there is one step further yet. Though we have offerer and offering, we have not yet made the offering act. This is critical because Love is, itself, an act - it is not passive, it is not static, it does not sit by and merely allow any and everything to happen around it. As we stated above, Love is the giving of one's self for the loved - note the active tense - it is not merely in a willingness or intent but indeed the act, or rather the continual act, of giving. This meshes cleanly with the theological assertion that God is pure act - if God is Love, and love is an act, God's very essence must be to act, to perform the action that is Love. This correlation then between God, Love and Act meshes also with what we find in 1 Timothy 1:13, "if we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself"; in other words, if we say God is Love then He must be that which is Love, which means to say that His essence is the continual act of giving Himself and in the particular case in question, giving of Himself in the greatest fullness possible.

I'll stop here before I go any further than I already have. If you have come this far, I congratulate you on your courage and fortitude to deal with my discursive discourse for such a long time. Do let me know if I have gone off to the left, or to the right, or off the tracks entirely. Of course, if you got this far and I haven't made any egregious theological errors, do let me know that too since this is the furthest I have delved into this topic in a single sitting.