Have You Seen God Lately?

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.

A Catechism

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.

 

6 thoughts on “Have You Seen God Lately?

  1. I wonder whether the official Catholic view on who is God and what is creation would accept the rather defused description that you provide above. The God that you describe would be more of a “universal” concept of a higher power than the God of Genesis and the God of the Christian church who has a plan and who dispenses rewards and punishments based on each and every move that a human makes.
    I am 68 years old who was brought up in a Catholic household but has become increasingly disenchanted by organized religion in general and the Christian God in particular that I have become not only an agnostic but an atheist for that matter. I only wish that Christianity and other organized religions would be so enlightened as to modify their stories to describe God as love.

    • Hi Ghassan: If you really wonder how consistent my writing is with the official view, then click on the link to the Catechism, which is one official Church view, and compare. Let us know if you think I abused the Church’s official view.

      I can’t quite accept your characterization of my concept being much different from that of the Christian church (depending on what you mean by Christian). I wrote my interpretation of relevant paragraphs of the Catechism, which is Catholic, and therefore Christian.

      It is fashionable for people our age to be disenchanted by organized religion, and it’s especially fashionable among college faculty. But if you set aside much of the other Catholic doctrine, especially the parts you particularly don’t like, and look instead for core teachings that seem to fit modern times, then a God of lasting truth and love has much to recommend it, I think. From there, you can begin a search of religious resources, including literature, history, art, music, to find other elements that seem useful and valid to you, based on your experience.

      Some deride that approach as “cafeteria Catholicism,” but I would argue there really is no other reasonable way. Every Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, and so on, I think, must build a personal faith from the array of resources his religion presents.

      Of course, you can reject God, claim God does not exist, and therefore reject religion. But can you reject lasting truth and love?

      • Warren: I enjoyed your essay, especially since it reiterated our recent conversation. Great food for thought and further discussion. “Living Buddha, Living Christ” by Thich Nhat Hanh is worth the read. It supports your contention of Truth and Love within these two traditions.

      • Warren,
        I am not going to get into a theological argument whether there is a difference between your description and my understanding of Christianity. I was merely wondering out loud whether your description is too wide for the specificities of the Christian churches. Hey I like the God that you have described. Not many people will disagree with a higher power that is truthful and loving. It just strikes me, without doing any research, that such a description does not meet some criteria of God in the Old Testament as personal, judgmental and even vengeful neither does it speak to the God of the New Testament , especially the trinitarian one. It is not a Christian religion without a Christ is it?
        One more last thought, isn’t the biblical agape the same as the Budhist advesa? I guess that what I am saying is that the God described essentially by the love attribute becomes much more universal, becomes more Budhist?

  2. Keith, thanks. I’ve read that book and thought it was very good.

    Ghassan, thanks again. But I urge you again to click on the link in the above post and read the Catechism, paragraphs 212-221, which is an official statement by the Church of Catholic faith. It is not the only official statement, that’s for sure, but as I read it, it seems to be a wonderfully flexible statement, yet offering guidance. For sure, the Church will expand on that faith in ways I and others find unattractive, but I’m long past looking for total agreement with institutions I associate with.

    The Catholic church is slow to abandon the old and take up the new. Its doctrines on sex are difficult for many, me included, its rules on celibacy and male-only priests are difficult, and many others. Still, since Vatican II, much has changed. It’s a different church from what we grew up in, and I find much in it now that is life giving and helpful.

    Good luck in your own journey, and thanks for your engagement here. I always enjoy your comments and enjoy thinking about them.

  3. Pingback: Has God Changed for You? | Later Living

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