If God is not simply a “cosmic CEO”, the n+1th item after the list of n items in the rest of reality (see previous post), then what does it mean to believe in him?
Timothy Radcliffe cites Thomas Aquinas in support of his argument that “belief is not, most fundamentally, believing things about God”. Rather, “God is a mystery beyond our understanding”, and belief is how we are “invited to discover who [we] are in the longer story of God’s friendship with his people”:
Friendship with God changes everything. The persons of the Trinity are not three “imaginary friends” […], three people with whom I can have fantasy conversations [see this post for more on this idea]. Rather, friendship with the Triune God reshapes our perception of the world. (Why Go To Church?, p.72)
Fr Radcliffe expands on this in Trinitarian form:
- “Believing in the Father, the creator of heaven and earth, I see everything with gratitude.”
- “Believing in the Son, I delight in its intelligibility and seek understanding.”
- “Believing in the Holy Spirit, I am thrown beyond myself in love.”
So “the foundation of our friendship with God the Creator is gratitude”, as we “sense the contingency of all things, even of our own existence” (p.75). This can be difficult for those of us living in urban environments that are “entirely constructed by human hands”, but (in Ronald Rolheiser’s words, quoted by Fr Radcliffe) “to be a saint is to be fuelled by gratitude, nothing more and nothing less”.
Faith in the Son of God, the Word, then leads us to see the world as “radiant with intelligibility”. As Fr Radcliffe writes:
We share in the life of God the Son by trying to make sense of everything in the light of the gospel, and by trying to understand the gospel in the light of every contemporary insight. (p.81)
Finally, the Holy Spirit “is the friendship of the Father and the Son”, in Pope John Paul II’s words “the Divine Love in person”:
So belief in the Holy Spirit is finding ourselves within the friendship that is God, the love that can never be defeated and which transforms our perceptions of each other and ourselves. It is the refusal of cynicism, of the temptation to think that deep down we are all just selfish genes, or selfish people seeking our own ends and that love is a momentary illusion in lives that go nowhere. (p.85)
In the end, that is the fundamental difference between Christianity and atheism. It is not, of course, that atheists cannot feel gratitude, know the intelligibility of reality, or experience and demonstrate love. But Christian faith – friendship with God the Trinity – allows us to go further, and to say that these are not human constructs within a universe that is, in the final analysis, impersonal, meaningless and loveless (“nothing but blind pitiless indifference”, to quote Richard Dawkins).
Rather, reality is, at its most basic level, something given, something with meaning and intelligibility, and something both arising from love and in which genuine love can given and received.