By Father Robert Lauder
Third in a series
Reflecting in this series of columns on the mysteries that philosophy can help us understand more deeply, a line from Jesuit Father Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “God’s Grandeur,” has been going through my mind. The line is: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” There are many truths that can help us appreciate God’s love for us and one of them is that all creation is a message of love from God to us, a kind of love letter from God.
Everything that God creates resembles God. It is impossible for God to create any reality that does not resemble God in some way. As soon as some reality begins to exist, it resembles God. Anything that is resembles God because God is Being. God cannot create pure evil because God is Love and Infinite Good. God can create free beings who do evil actions, and limited beings that may contribute to physical evils such as earthquakes and tsunamis, but God cannot create evil as such.
In reflecting on the mystery of God, philosophers have identified five characteristics, which they call transcendentals, that apply to every reality, from God and angels to cockroaches and mosquitoes. Those five transcendentals are being, one, good, true and beautiful.
All creation is speaking to us of God. Believing this should help us to be profoundly joyful and grateful. We are surrounded by creatures that share in God’s being, goodness, truth and beauty. Father Hopkins was right: the world is charged with the grandeur of God. But even more marvelous than what surrounds us as “words or messages” from God, is the truth that we have been created in order to have a personal, loving relationship with God.
Our very being and consciousness is magnetized by God. Commenting on this, Father W. Norris Clarke, S.J., in his book, “Person and Being” (Marquette University Press, 1993) writes the following:
“This innate, unrestricted drive of the human spirit … toward the Infinite Good is the great hidden dynamo that energizes our whole lives, driving us onto ever new levels of growth and development, and refusing to let us be ultimately contented with any merely finite, especially material, goods, whether we understand consciously what is going on within us or not, whether we can explicitly identify our final goal or not. As Augustine put it so well in his classic saying, ‘Our hearts are restless, O Lord, till they rest in You.’” (p. 37)
Because of our openness to God, there is an infinite depth to the human person. Knowledge of self and God can advance together. Unfortunately, they can also recede together. Father Clarke suggests there is a kind of a spiral motion between knowledge of self and knowledge of God. As one pole of that knowledge advances, the other can also advance. If one recedes, the other can also recede.
Knowledge of self seems necessary for any kind of personal growth. I think the more deeply we know ourselves, the better chance we have to know God more deeply. The more deeply we know God, the better chance we have to know ourselves.
Father Clarke’s view of the human person stresses the dignity of the person precisely by stressing the person’s relationship with God. Rather than fostering pride, I think his view fosters gratitude. What God has done and is doing out of love for us is awesome. Gordon Kaufman succinctly and accurately stresses both the freedom and dignity of the human person, and the loving involvement of God in our lives, in these words:
“If man could believe that the historical context into which he has been thrown were meaningful, if he could believe it to be the loving personal decision and purpose of a compassionate Father Who is moving all history toward a significant goal, then anxiety would be dissolved. If he could believe his existence and decisions and actions had an indispensable place within larger purposes shaping the overall movement of history, and that even his stupid blunders and willful perversities could be rectified and redeemed, his anxiousness and guilt could give place to confidence, creativeness and hope.”
This statement reminds us that there is no such reality as an unimportant person. Every person is precious and every person is a gift just by being a person.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Profound Personalism and Poverty” (Resurrection Press).