III. The Ineffable Mystery of God: That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought

This volume is a little more intellectually challenging to follow but the author essentially takes a look at the mystery of the nature of God apart from the Incarnation.
Average Time to Read: 8 minutes

A. Knowing God Through His Creation

God reveals some things about himself through his creation and the natural order. It is something like leaving a fingerprint. Through observation of the order of nature we can make some educated guesses about God indirectly in the same way that we can make some educated guesses about the likes and dislikes and personality of an artist by studying the entire body of his or her work.

1. See Romans 1:20 –25 “God’s eternal power and divinity have become visible, recognized through the things he has made. Therefore these men [unbelievers] are inexcusable. They certainly had knowledge of God, yet they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks…They claimed to be wise but turned into fools instead; they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images representing mortal man, birds, beasts, and snakes…These men who exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator.”

B. Knowing God Through the Use of Logic / Reason / Philosophy

1. The great Catholic philosophers of the Scholastic Age believed that through the careful use of reason, a person could also come to some basic knowledge of the existence of God and his divine nature, even without the divine revelation of sacred scripture. If Jesus is as he claimed to be “the way, the truth and the life” then it would follow that by pursuing truth through any academic discipline what-so-ever (e.g. art, science, logic, etc.) one could eventually touch on shadows of the truth of God.

2. Some saints, such as St. Anselm and St. Thomas Aquinas even set out to devise philosophical proofs of God’s necessary existence. Aquinas, for example, came up with five proofs of God. The following are a few examples:

a. Argument from Change – We observe change in the world in many forms. For example, the acorn has the potential to become a great oak tree if all of the proper conditions are in place. However, the changing thing (the acorn) does not have the power to change itself and the potential end (the oak tree) cannot be reached without outside help. Other agents acting on the thing bring about the change (rain, sunlight, etc.). These agents, however, are also subject to change and therefore, they also cannot be the ultimate cause of the acorn becoming an oak tree because they, in turn, also need some outside agent acting on them to bring that change about. The universe as a whole is the sum of all these changing things and it, in turn, is also changing. Therefore, the ultimate cause for the sum of all change within the universe must ultimately come from an unchanging agent that exists outside the confines of the universe. We may call that unchanging agent “God”. (In other words, it is not sufficient to say, as many scientists do, that “everything was caused by the Big Bang and that’s that” because something had to cause the Big Bang as well. Ultimately this logically has to take you back to the first cause or agent (God). Thomas Aquinas calls God, in philosophical terms, “the unmoved mover” or “the uncaused cause” or similar things.

b. Argument from Existence / Contingency – Everything that exists is caused by something else. For example, music is caused by a musician, etc. If the musician stops playing, the music stops. Life exists through some reproductive act brought about by other living things that exist. Everything we can list that exists today only exists because some other event or thing caused it to come into existence. If we think of the universe as a collection of existing things, once again there must be at least one uncreated being that has always existed outside the bounds of the universe that caused the other things to exist. We may call that thing or being “God”.

c. Argument from Degrees of Perfection – Without being instructed, we as people seem to have the ability to sense perfection in things. We can rank one thing as being stronger or more beautiful than another or more intelligent or faster or older, etc. These better and better versions of things are not simply ideas but things we can often easily discover in the world. The ancients determined that because we have this sense that these better and better versions of things could ultimately lead to the best version possible (i.e. perfection / “that which nothing is better than”) then perfection must also exist somewhere. Further, they posited that the most perfect thing possible would be the sum of all possible perfections contained within one entity or being. And if we can imagine this being then it must also exist. We may call this sum of all perfections “God”.

d. Argument through Intelligent Design / Consciousness – When we carefully observe the universe we do not observe chaos or randomness but order and intelligence. We see this with ecosystems, star systems, biological systems, etc. Also, a shocking number of these systems cannot be explained by processes of evolution / the survival of the fittest. One example of this phenomenon are the so-called irreducible systems such as the human eyeball. Individual parts of the eyeball (e.g. rods, cones, lens, cornea, etc.) have no purpose or function on their own and so could not have collectively combined in some Darwinian way for competitive advantage. Other complex systems such as the existence of geometric fractals in nature offer no competitive advantage which would tend toward the more simple rather than the more complex. All of these phenomena point to an intelligent designer behind the intelligent design. We may call this intelligent designer “God”.

e. The Ontological Argument – This argument for God’s existence was put forth by St. Anselm and is mainly included among the examples because it is the inspiration for the title of the video. It initially appears to be very simple and easily dismissed but some of the greatest minds of every generation, including our own, have continued to defend it as sound and irrefutable. The logic of the argument goes like this: 1) Things may exist in two ways – either as a concept, in the mind and/or in reality, 2) It is superior or more perfect for a thing to exist in the mind and in reality than to exist only in the mind, 3) “God” is the name given to describe that to which nothing greater can be thought, 4) If God is only a concept of the mind then that concept cannot be God because to exist both in the mind and in reality is greater than to exist in the mind alone, 5) Therefore, God exists.

CONCLUSION: From this proof or similar proofs we also come to this list of God’s divine characteristics even without sacred scripture. God must be infinite, eternal, immaterial (spirit), immutable (unchanging), omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (acting in all places at once), transcendent (above all things), etc. As the narrator says, God is “so high you can’t get over him, so low you can’t go under him, so wide you can’t get around him. We should stop trying to run from him and start trying to fall in love with him”.

C. Knowing God Through Divine Revelation

1. St. Thomas Aquinas insisted that some aspects of God’s law / plan for humanity could also be arrived at through the use of logic alone. He said this was a result of God writing his law upon our hearts and he referred to this ability loosely as “Natural Law”. For instance, he claimed that nine of the Ten Commandments could be reasoned out through Natural Law. (e.g. There is a universal sense, for example that such things as murder, incest and theft are wrong). He said that certain “structures of sin” or accepted evils of certain human cultures could confuse matters or make arriving at these truths more difficult. However, other parts of God’s plan could only be known through Divine Revelation. An example of this would be God’s desire to establish a Sabbath Day for worship and the renewal of a covenant. Divine Revelation can be defined as the sum of all words and actions of God throughout salvation history, especially as contained in the public ministry of Jesus (e.g. God is Trinity).

D. The Mystery of God’s Divine Nature

Despite all of our best efforts, the divine nature of God is not a puzzle we are capable of fully solving in this life. At the end of the day, God remains a mystery and so we must approach God with reverence in our hearts and as “humble beggars” with proper awe and reverence.

1. Consider the image of Moses and the burning bush. He was asked to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. When he asked God’s name, God responded with a mysterious one. “I AM WHO AM”, God said (EX. 3:14). It is as though God is saying to Moses, “It is enough for you to know that I exist. Let’s leave it at that”.

2. Consider Job’s debate with God. In Job 38-40, God loses patience with Job’s questioning and lists off a whole series of his own creations that Job is not capable of fathoming the mystery of. What is Job’s response? He says wisely for the first time, “I put my hand over my mouth” (Job 40:4). Before the mystery of God, words do not suffice.

3. Consider St. Augustine’s reflection on the divine nature of God. “If you think you understand it, that is not God”. St. Augustine possessed one of the greatest minds in the 2000+ year history of the Church but ultimately, he had to surrender to the mystery claiming it could not be fathomed.

E. Three Mysteries of God to Consider

1. More About Creation – God did not just create all things as a one-time act. Creation is an ongoing process. God creates anew over and over again and also holds all things in existence. It is said that if God ever forgot you, you would immediately cease to exist. We rely on God for our next breath, our next heartbeat, even for holding our molecules together. This is an ongoing mystery.

2. The Trinity – God is Father Son and Holy Spirit…One being who is at the same time three divine persons. In other words, God is a relationship/family/communion. St. Augustine said that if we are created in the image and likeness of God, then we must also, in some sense, be Trinitarian (Subject – Self-Love – Object??? Intellect, Will, Memory???, Relational beings called to be family???)

3. The problem of Evil / the Existence of Hell and Damnation – Put briefly, if God is at the same time all powerful, all knowing and benevolent how could he allow evil to occur and still be properly called God. This is the most common reason many people give for refusing to believe in the existence of God. The short answer goes like this: 1) In order for love to exist is must be freely given. It cannot be demanded or forced from someone. 2) In order for someone to truly have the freedom to choose good or love they must at least have the option to choose evil or hatred also. 3) Hell is the state that must exist for the choice of evil / the rejection of God to exist because hell is the state of complete absence from God (other than to be held in existence). 4) Evil is the fruit of that rejection. 5) Therefore, if God removed the possibility of Hell / evil in the universe, he would, at the same time, be removing the possibility of love from existing. Also God does not put anyone in Hell. We put ourselves there by choice.

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