God, Invisible and Inaudible

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.

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photo credit: (nz)dave via photopin cc

About willduquette
  • LFCasey

    God spoke to Mary through Gabriel and spoke directly to many others through angels and prophets. Even though we may not be the superstars of those stories, God can still work through us and speak to us in ways that are not so apparent. The more we seek God by researching others’ works, and our own prayer, especially asking God and the Holy Spirit into our lives, there comes a re-shaping of our lives for the better. Humbly, I offer that’s been the case for my own story. God speaks and provides in the way of a subtle warrior, just as the Christ who went to the cross in a supreme act of non-violence was not the physical conqueror that the Jews so wanted.

    Part of the problem is that in our time of convenience and instant self-gratification we have no time for God. Is it that God is not speaking or that we do not even bother to wait on God? If someone were to put the time and effort in they might be surprised at what they found.

  • Alex Symczak

    Unfortunately, faith is blindly believing in something without good reason. I would not want to posses such a trait, and I do not know why anyone else would either.

    • Will Duquette

      On the contrary, faith is trusting in a person who has introduced Himself. I have good reasons for my belief; they simply aren’t all reasons that you would find persuasive, absent that same introduction.

      • Alex Symczak

        Please, I would love to hear your reasons. Also, what about all those people who, by their own accounts, have seemingly been introduced to a completely different deity or deities? Are they just as justified as you in their belief?

        • Will Duquette

          As for my reasons: all I can suggest is that you make the attempt to find out for yourself, as Marshall McLuhan did:

          http://happycatholic.blogspot.com/2014/03/well-said-testing-truth.html

          • Alex Symczak

            You realize that these supernatural reasons are not good reasons, right? You cannot claim you are more justified in your belief than someone else who claims a different experience with a different deity. Obviously these personal revelations are terrible for finding truth because they lead to many conflicting but equally justifiable claims.

            It’s okay if you don’t have good reasons for your belief. Just concede the point that faith is belief without good reason.

          • LFCasey

            Start with creation and go from there. How do we even exist at all; the Earth, it’s proximity to the Sun, life on Earth, this is not random. Science doesn’t fully understand how a bicycle works. Science cannot tell us if there are other livable planets like Earth. They can only say “probably.” That’s a faith jump. If you can’t get past this hurdle then why bother with the rest-

            Fr. Robert Barron turns the “opiate for the masses” around and says that you would need a drug to be an atheist. Life is meaningless so do whatever you want. You are diminishing your own spirituality and ignoring what you are geared for. Geared for God.

          • Alex Symczak

            I’ve been waiting to hear good reasons for your beliefs. I still haven’t heard any. This is making me doubt your ability to provide any.

            You’ve gone to from “how do we exist” to “there is a god with very specific traits that does very specific things.” That is a major non sequitur.

          • LFCasey

            What are the rules to this game and why should i bother playing them?

          • Alex Symczak

            It’s simple, you just have to justify your beliefs in whatever god claim you have chosen. Or, you can just admit they are entirely unjustified. Justification is not hard, you just have to give the reasons that have led you to adopt your specific beliefs and reject all the others. Keep in mind that any reasons that can be used to equally justify another position are not good reasons to choose your specific position.

            Why would you want to do this? Well, most people don’t like the idea of admitting they just believe something for no good reason. But, if you have no qualms about realizing you have no basis for your belief, you’re welcome to concede that.

          • LFCasey

            There was a great comic back in the day called Calvin and Hobbes. In it, Calvin and his buddy played “calvinball,” where he’d make up a game that was never the same twice and made up the rules as he went along. This is like a less fun version of that.

            Since I’ve pretty much laid out what I believe in previous posts, I would be interested in knowing what you profess without trying to pick it apart.

          • Alex Symczak

            This is not something that changes all the time. The concept of justifying claims and beliefs has been an important part of science and philosophy for thousands of years.

            I would still like you to give me your good reasons for belief if you can. You see, the important question here is not what you believe, but why you believe it. Although, stating your definition of “god” and giving his properties is useful for evaluating your reasons.

            What to I profess? Are you asking me what my beliefs are? I’m an atheist. An atheist is one who lacks a belief in any god claims. This is the logical opposite of theism, which is the belief in a god claim. Atheism does not mean the stance that there is no god, which is a tricky question to tackle, and depends greatly on the definition of “god.” I simply remain unconvinced by god claims. There are thousands upon thousands of extravagant, varying god claims, and I have never come across a good reason to accept any of them, even from talking to theists of various stripes. So I don’t.

          • LFCasey

            Ok, I am under the impression that atheists believe that there is no God and that agnostics differ and are the most borderline people; for them there may be a God, but unproven. People may be justifying claims for thousands of years but not strictly logical on/off capacity in a way that would suit you.

            The universe is expanding outward from a single event, the Big Bang. That single event came from God. Everything comes from God, the creator with intelligence and so our planet is special and placed with precision. God does not have to maintain a physical presence within it’s creation to be a thing captured and dissected. Our existence is proof of God as well as miracles. A miracle attributed to God must meet certain criteria.

          • Alex Symczak

            Okay, this is good. We’re getting to some real arguments.

            Could you please define “God” a little more precisely? You’re a Christian, right? And you believe in the god of the bible? What denomination of Christianity? This will help me understand more precisely what you are saying.

            Also, could you please define what a “miracle” is?

            Let’s start with that. I don’t want to make any wrong assumptions about your arguments. I’ll address them after our terms are properly defined and understood.

          • Will Duquette

            Hi, folks!

            First, I’m sorry I’ve not been more involved in this thread; my back went out while I was in the security line at the airport Monday morning, and muscle relaxants make me dopey.

            Second, Alex, thank you for keeping it polite. I very much appreciate that.

            Third, on reflection, I’m not going to get involved in this thread; it’s hard to be perfectly clear in a combox. But you’re giving me lots of questions to address in full blog posts, and I appreciate that as well.

            Finally, Alex, a question for you: are you at all open to the possibility that God might exist?

          • $96852301

            Hi Will,
            Forgive me for jumping in, but since Alex hasn’t responded for a while I’d like to take a crack at your question and I’d love to see a well thought out response.

            Firstly, having had been a believer most of my life, I think I understand quite well to your initial take, that God is manifest in the inner life and seen with the eyes of faith.

            However, as Alex has been trying to ascertain, the big question is what makes me or you so special, that our inner lives are more true than the inner lives of others who believe quite differently, indeed assert that God or gods are not who you assert? Is it that they are dishonest? is it that they are mistaken? If mistaken, by what measurement would you determine that? Can you do any more than say “I feel you are wrong, and feel I am right.”?

            As for myself, I came to see that my sincere beliefs were no more or less reliable a guide to truth than the sincere beliefs of those with whom I vehemently disagreed. I love that Pope Francis quipped “Who am I to judge?” It captures the essence of the debate quite nicely.

            Am I so special that God has revealed himself to me, and not to those others? Shouldn’t there be a better measure, more reliable and understandable less open to personal interpretation, more universal, than my personal feelings, powerful as they may be?

          • Alex Symczak

            Hello Tiny68, welcome to the discussion. Thank you for trying to clarify one of my arguments. I like what you’ve said, so I’m not going to add anything. I’ll just leave it for Will to consider.

          • $96852301

            Hey Alex, I appreciate that. I think the “I’m not special” concept is a hard one for most people, but especially for believers as it gets right to the heart of the matter. I hope Will responds. I’d like to hear his take.

          • Alex Symczak

            You’re welcome, Will. I usually try to keep my discussions somewhat civil.

            As for your question, once again you have to be careful with a vague term like “God.” But for most definitions, and for the one I think you’re using, yes, I am open to the possibility. I am happy to change my position given good reason and evidence. However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And god claims are particularly tricky, because you have to substantiate a particular claim. Many arguments for theism fail to distinguish between the many god claims that exist out in the world.

            I try to be a rational person, and I will give compelling arguments the credit they are due, even if they lead towards some sort of god.

          • LFCasey

            Right, so I call myself Christian, Catholic, although I have a mainline Anglican/Protestant background.

            God is one, but also three in one, the Trinity. A miracle from this God is a divine act that can’t be explained naturally, confirms a truth or prophesy, and must be moral. So this is a supernatural thing that is instantaneous and gives glory back to God.

            For instance, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Why do we know that? Because of eyewitness accounts. The prophesy that the Son of Man will be raised from the dead came true, to the glory of God. I’ll reference Mark 10:34, Matthew 20:19, Luke 18:33.

          • Alex Symczak

            Okay, I’ll take a crack at those arguments now.

            The main problem is that you are making seemingly baseless assertions. I agree that the universe is expanding outward from an event we call the big bang. However, we know little about the actual nature of this event right now. “That single event came from God,” how do you know this? And why should I accept this? I might hear this same statement from a Jew or Muslim or Pagan, but it would be a very different claim due to a very different definition of “God.” What makes your claim the correct one? Why couldn’t I say that the event came from many gods?

            “Our existence is proof of God.” How so?

            Finally, since you mention the gospels, you do know they are very unreliable, right? Since we started to criticize the Bible like we do other historical documents, it’s reliability as an historical account has withered away.

          • LFCasey

            From nothing comes nothing. Everything comes from something. The big bang had a beginning and came from something. The something is God. And the incredible nature and complexity of the universe; the Earth in perfect position for life. God is that something, so our existence and all of existence is proof of God. This is the original and most amazing miracle. The universe is still being made; creation is still happening.

            Also, you can’t find God by looking through a telescope or venturing out into space. God does not have to be in the universe, just as an architect does not have to be in her creation.

            Christ is the fulfillment of the Jewish prophesy, so one follows the other and refers back to it for the prophesy. Islam does not believe in messiahs, only prophets, and ignores the Trinity and it’s meaning. Pagan- Greek and Roman gods act like humans, always in competition with each other. The Judeo/Christian God is not like that. Worship of the golden calf was just another idol; can i say Wall Street?

            The gospels are unreliable because of the oral hand me downs of the contents or? What about Mark written 65 AD ? Please deconstruct that for me.

          • Alex Symczak

            There’s a lot to address here, but I don’t want these posts to be too long. So, I’m going to start by addressing just the first paragraph.

            There are several problems, but I think I’ll tackle the most obvious. There is still a problem with baseless assertions. You have a very specific meaning for the word “God” and I don’t see how all that the word entails follows from your arguments. Imagine if I were to replace “God” with something else and leave the rest the same:

            “From nothing comes nothing. Everything comes from something. The big bang had a beginning and came from something. The something is Thor. And the incredible nature and complexity of the universe; the Earth in perfect position for life. Thor is that something, so our existence and all of existence is proof of Thor. This is the original and most amazing miracle. The universe is still being made; creation is still happening.”

            How is this wrong? To me, it has the exact same validity as your paragraph.

          • LFCasey

            The God that I’m describing doesn’t have the traits of Thor. This God is intelligent, self existent, immaterial, timeless, infinite. Powerful, since created the universe out of nothing. Personal, to convert nothing into something.

            This describes a theistic God which is described by the Bible. The oldest portion of the Bible is the Jewish pentateuch, so this makes sense that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam follow in sequence and history.

          • Alex Symczak

            I think you’re missing the point. You just keep asserting that your God created the universe. Why should I accept that? Why should I believe that over “Thor created the universe?”

          • LFCasey

            You can fill in “carrot” and what I’m describing isn’t a carrot and keep narrowing it down if you want to compare other gods. You’re ignoring what i’m describing isn’t what you are filling in and ignoring that this could be a reality. Why not start with why is there something rather than nothing? At least tell me it’s gravity or something, geez.

  • george-a

    “… in what way could God manifest Himself to my interlocutor that he would necessarily accept as a manifestation of God?”

    This is the crux of the problem. For all of us.


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