People often grow more spiritual as they move through later life, and especially for men, that growth can be halting, timid, and incomplete.
People enter Twelve-Step programs to rid themselves of addictions, and central to the method is acknowledgement of a “higher power,” which may be God for the religious, but may be something else, something people choose or define for themselves.
If people are asked to explain or identify their understanding of God, or their ideas about higher powers, their answers are often unclear. Not too many years ago, after retirement, I happened onto the Catholic catechism, published in English in 1994, and discovered that it presents a clear and concise definition of God. Further, the definition helps a person see the mystery as well as the potential of God, and the definition need not be linked to Catholicism.
In the catechism, paragraphs 212 through 221, God has three elements: God is everlasting—transcendent in space and time; God is truth; God is love.
Transcendence is at once simple and complex. It is simple in that a person can think of any events and say, “God existed before that, or God will exist after that.” Similarly, like the atmosphere, God exists here and there, simultaneously. Transcendence is complex in that the scientific and philosophic notions of time and space extend into worlds most people are unfamiliar with.
“God is Truth itself,” says the catechism (¶ 215). There is no falseness, and where we find falseness, that is not of God. Most of us find truth appealing. We want to hear truth, speak truth, and live truly. If God is truth, then it’s easy to envision abandoning oneself in Truth, or God.
A good way to look for God is to look for truth. In Christianity, of course, Christ spoke and lived truly. And He is given to us as the son of God, the embodiment of God in man.
God is also love, and anyone who resides in love is with God. Love is God’s reason for revealing himself to us, and that love is like a father’s for his son.
Again, a good way to look for God is to look for love, for we know that if something is unloving, then it is not of God. Neglect, abuse, exploitation are not of God, but kindness, compassion, and hospitality are.
With this definition of God, coupled to the idea of incarnation in Jesus, we have a perfect vehicle for redemption—an everlasting purity of truth and love in a human, and if in one human, why not in many?
In Today’s World
Where do we find the plainest manifestations of truth and love? I believe in people. That is, we find God in other people to the extent they show us truth and love, and we are God to others in the same way.
Truth and love conjoined in one definition create a rich tension and balance that give both guidance and mystery to ordinary situations. Love is often soft, infinitely flexible, and devouring. Truth is firmer, more detached, and less emotional.
Is love real when it enables dishonesty, as sometimes happens with addictions? Is truth merely spiteful when it offers harsh limits without compassion?
When dealing with problems presented by friends, family, or coworkers, it is not always easy to see the best mixture of truth and love. A religious tradition offers resources to help.
In Christianity, there is the Bible, centuries of theological writing, rich instances of art and music, and the living traditions of the existing church. Perhaps most important, there are people who share foundational beliefs and who can help craft resolutions to particular problems.
But Christianity isn’t the only useful tradition. If a reader were to study Buddhism, for example, he would soon encounter truth and love as dominant themes, expressed perhaps in somewhat different language, yet offering guidance on life’s path.
So older people ponder and search, often focusing on their friends and family, as they look for God’s saving power, which is the power of truth and love in ourselves and others.