A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about discipleship and catechesis; and a commenter suggested (albeit in a rude and dismissive fashion) that the problem with making disciples is that God is silent and invisible, and since no one can see or hear Him naturally it’s hard to get excited about Him. I suggested that perhaps others saw something he didn’t, and the commenter responded with obvious scorn, and said that he was shocked that I didn’t regard God’s silence as a problem.
I rather got the impression that he thought that God is silent and invisible because He’s not there, thought he didn’t say explicitly. Still, I’ve been pondering his question, and I think it’s worth answering. Why is God silent and invisible in today’s world?
On the Catholic view of theology, God is pure spirit, the first cause and ultimate end of all that is. He is not part of the physical world, or bound by it; rather, He is its creator, and sustains it in being at all times. Now, you can see things that reflect light in the visible spectrum; and you can hear things that cause vibrations in the air or some other medium. That is, you can see and hear physical things, things that are part of creation.
For God to speak to us, or become visible to us, he’s got two choices. He can speak to us in the quiet of our inner spirits (which would hardly count as “audible” to my interlocutor), or He can speak to us through some aspect of the physical world. God could cause the air around me to vibrate, so that I could hear His voice. He could create a semblance of a person that I could see. He could even enter into His creation as a human being (as we believe He did) so that we could see and hear him.
And yet, I note that many of those who saw and heard Jesus thought that He was just a man, and was blaspheming when He said he was God; and they crucified him. Jesus predicted this; see the Parable of the Tenants in chapter 12 of the Gospel of Mark.
Given this, I have to ask: in what way could God manifest Himself to my interlocutor that he would necessarily accept as a manifestation of God? Is there anything, anything at all?
And this is why faith, ultimately, is the gift of God to us, the gift of God who is Love and is Truth, and wishes to communicate with us. Faith takes root in our inmost spirit, and by that light we see Him. This is not to say that we can know nothing of God by reason alone; I agree with Thomas Aquinas that we can. But ultimately we depend on God’s own revelation of Himself for our knowledge, and that knowledge comes through His gift of faith.
To the eyes that see with faith, God isn’t invisible; God is ubiquitous. God speaks to us in the beauty of the world around us, and in the regularity of the laws of nature. God speaks to us through our fellow men and women, especially our bishops and pope, but also through our fellow Christians in the pews, and through anyone else who speaks truth. God worked in human history, and is still working today.
I expect my interlocutor to charge me with another attempt to make lemonade out of the lemons of God’s silence. I can’t help that; but I can pray that he will someday be willing to accept the same gift of faith, and I do.