Last week we looked at Man's Desire for God. And GREAT NEWS! God does not leave us alone in that desire--He doesn't leave our atheist or agnostic friends alone either. Outside of Divine Revelation, that is, the things God has revealed to us supernaturally--that we would not know without His revealing (which we will look at next week), God has left us lots of hints about His existence and what kind of God He is within the natural world. Today we'll look at Natural Revelation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it simply:
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for (CCC 27).
One of the ways God draws man to Himself is through the world around us! All we need to do is open our eyes... or ears... or noses for that matter. The order and beauty of the world, as well as all of its quirky functions (like that fun surprise freeze that shut down all of Louisiana this week, or the smell of gumbo cooking, or the sound snow makes when it's melting off your unsuspecting roof), can teach us a great deal about God. Speaking of freezes--have you seen an image of a snowflake taken with a macro lens? Mind-blowing stuff. As Saint Paul points out: "For what can be known about God is plain to them [the Gentiles], because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made (Rom 1:19-20; cf. Acts 14:15,17; 17:27-28; Wis 13:1-9)." The Jews had known about God and His plan of loving goodness because it had been revealed beginning with our first parents down through the line of Abraham. But the Gentiles... those that did not know the plan because they either did not learn about the Divine Revelation from their Jewish neighbors or had rejected it for paganism, could still come to an appreciation of Something Bigger, something MORE, a BEGINNING... that is beyond what we experience in the present moment.
The Catechism goes on to point out a challenge issued by St. Augustine (CCC 32):
"Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky. . . question all these realities. All respond: "See, we are beautiful." Their beauty is a profession [confessio]. These beauties are subject to change. Who made them if not the Beautiful One [Pulcher] who is not subject to change?"
Even if the beauty and complexity of the world outside isn't enough to stir the heart to ask questions like HOW? WHY? WHO? WHERE ARE WE GOING? The complexity of man himself can lead to such questions. Not only the mysterious longings of our heart... the desire for the infinite... the pursuit of happiness... the fact that, as modern philosopher Mic Jagger once put it, we can't get no satisfaction... lead us to seek--something. Beyond our desires we have our convictions, our principles, our sense of right and wrong. Even if you are a relativist, you certainly believe you're right about everything and Hitler is wrong. This sense of moral goodness and conscience, speak to something more. Truth, Beauty, Goodness appeal to man. Truth, Beauty, and Goodness draw man outside of himself. And if outside of himself--then where... to what... to Whom?
The Catechism sums up the idea of natural revelation like this (CCC 34):
The world, and man, attest that they contain within themselves neither their first principle nor their final end, but rather that they participate in Being itself, which alone is without origin or end. Thus, in different ways, man can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality "that everyone calls God (St. Thomas Aquinas)".
Theology Thursdays remind us of some very basic building blocks of our faith--the hows and whys that come before the tenets and the transubstantiations. But theological lessons are as dull as the dictionary if they do not bring us closer to God. So how will you engage with natural revelation today? If you sat down and thought about your life without Divine Revelation... without the Bible, without the faith that your parents, Catholic school teachers, or parish priest have passed down to you... if you only had the world and your own heart to contend with... what would you know about God? What with certainty? Would you believe there is something more? What would you think about the complexity of the birds? the bees? quantum entanglement? Would you have a sense of right and wrong? Could you come to believe that objective truth exists?
YIKES! I don't like thinking about that, Aunt Katie!! It makes us squirm to imagine life without Divine Revelation... but this is the reality of many of our loved ones. By reflecting on natural revelation we not only get an appreciation for this roadmap of clues and hints the Lord has left for us to discover that He does exist. He is a God that is Good + Orderly... but we get a chance to put ourselves in the shoes of our friends that don't yet believe.
If we want to effectively evangelize in today's secular culture, we have to have the ability to empathize. To imagine life without the Gospel so that we can be more effective in sharing the Gospel with others!