It is often claimed by vociferous atheists that the concept of faith is an offence against human rationality. There was a time a few years ago when I was roped into an atheist group on Facebook comprised of all sorts of atheists from Gibraltar—my hometown. I was the only “theist” in the group and I quickly became the piece of meat that one lion had brought for the others to feast on. What fun it was!
I quickly realised that the concept of faith, as a basis for anything, was going nowhere. It was just simply not common ground, without which no debating or arguing can progress. I did, however, employ numerous arguments, from the basis of reason alone, that gave strong suggestions for God’s existence. Such arguments however, while necessary and effective, only dispose the person who accepts them to believe that theism is “reasonable” or, at best, help the person to come to believe in the existence of a God, but not which God—a stance called “Deism.”
How to convince an atheist of God’s existence, however, is not the subject of this article. But rather, what I am going to look at is the role of divine revelation and faith in the day-to-day lives of those who live their lives on such a basis.
I Need Light!
Human reason is a marvellous thing; it’s what begins to drastically separate us from animals, plants, and rocks! Even after that, human reason has much to show for itself and can go a long way in helping us on to our final end as human beings—total and unending happiness.
The Greeks saw that this was our end as humans and so they left their posterity with volumes and volumes of wisdom on the matter. They did an excellent job in advancing the pursuit of happiness for the human race (even if few people today pay attention to them).
However, a serious inner search of yourself will tell you that there is no happiness in this life which is unending or total, as in—there could not possibly be anything better. But again, one cannot deny the natural inborn desire for complete and eternal happiness that we find within ourselves. What’s the deal? C.S. Lewis said it best. He said:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
My own human reason, however, cannot tell me much about this other world. It might be able to suggest to me that such a world exists, but it leaves copious amounts to be desired in the way of detail about that world and, more importantly at the moment, reason cannot tell me the whole story as to how one makes sure that he gets there.
Believe in the Way!
What is required when humans need the very thing that they can’t access themselves? Somebody to give it to them! This is where divine revelation comes to the rescue. God reveals Himself to us and slowly teaches us about who He is.
The Bible is one long love story where God takes a simple and patterned approach: Step one, He reveals Himself a little; step two, He gives us a little of His grace; step three, He waits for a little response of faith. Once He gets a response of faith from His people: Repeat in a wider circle!
An interesting thing about this, though, is how His self-revelation is always bound up in some way with a moral imperative for those He reveals Himself to. For example, in Genesis 17:1, God says to Abram, “I am God Almighty (revelation); walk before me, and be blameless (moral implication).” Similarly, when God delivers His “first-born son,” (cf. Exodus 4:22) the nation of Israel, from Egypt, He reveals Himself as their deliverer but also gives them what we know as the Ten Commandments. Again, revelation of who He is, which requires a necessary manner of life and of worship.
What we begin to see is that these two things, divine revelation/faith and morality, are two inseparably bound facets to a relationship with God.
As you look further and further down the Scriptures, what you find is a greater and deeper revelation of who God is, partnered with an ever-more specific instruction on how we ought to live if we are to become the beings we are meant to be.
Finally, in the New Testament, God’s definitive self-revelation comes to ‘full-filment’ in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Son of God ushers in the fullness of God’s revelation to man by taking on human flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and walking among us. Rightly is He called by Isaiah “Emmanuel”—God with us (cf. Matthew 1:23); a God that we could see and touch (cf. 1 John 1:1).
What we see in the person of Jesus Christ, is that our twofold path of knowing who God is and acting differently because of it, find their completion in Him—the two paths converge and become visibly one in Christ.
In John 3:16 Jesus Himself tells us that we should believe in Him (this implies revelation). In 1 Corinthians 11:1, St Paul tells us, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” and thus we have the way we are to act—like Christ! (See also Catechism of the Catholic Church, 459).
In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Looking at this sentence, which contains in a nutshell what we’re seeing, one by one we could rephrase it like this: “Live your lives the way I live mine. I am the truth that you should believe in. If you do both of these things, you will find eternal life in me.”
There remains, however, a missing link.
What I have said above requires a clarification that is quite crucial. You might think that I am saying that human reason will get us so far without any help and then faith will take us the rest of the way. Although it looks like that, it’s not so simple. You see, our reason, because of the fall of man with Adam and Eve, suffered a darkening. Our reason is not as perfect as it should be and so without faith leading it, it will, almost inevitably, go astray.
Don’t think of it like faith taking over where reason meets its end. Rather, think of it like reason being enlightened by faith from beginning to end. Faith is the guardian, if you will, providing light to our darkened intellects that we might see the way home clearly—reason and faith make the journey from beginning to end together.
Here’s a parallel point. St Thomas Aquinas famously said that “grace builds upon nature.” But again, this is not to be seen as grace taking over where nature can do no more, but instead grace descending, penetrating and transforming nature, and taking nature to heights it could never have attained on its own—heights where we are made partakers of the divine nature in Christ (cf. 2 Peter 1:4).
You’ll remember what I said above: God’s pattern of doing things in salvation history is: Revelation, grace, response of faith. Grace, then, is the connecting principle between knowing who God is, and knowing what we have to do because knowing what we have to do does not make us able to do it.
In Deuteronomy 30:6, after a long moan by Moses about Israel’s constant and never-ending rebellions, Moses says that one day “the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring.” In Jeremiah 31:33, we see clearly what this means: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Just to be sure, we’ll have Ezekiel bring it home for us: “I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God,” (Ezekiel 36:27-28).
Sons of the King
What God says He will do is give us the Holy Spirit! It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, that will be poured into our hearts. This is the New Law! Through Baptism, we will die to our old way of life (putting off the works of the flesh—Colossians 2:11) and through our reception of the Holy Spirit, we will rise to new life in Christ (cf. Romans 6:4)!
Through grace, then, we take on a new identity while retaining our own—Jesus Christ reveals who we are to ourselves (Gaudium et Spes, 22), i.e. a son of God (cf. Galatians 3:26)—and we take on a new way of living because of it: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:34-35; emphasis mine).
As “sons in the son,” (CCC 537) we become sons of the king. We are no longer orphan paupers and so we must live in a way befitting of royalty! We are to wake up early in the morning and put on the whole armour of God ready for battle:
Stand therefore, having fastened the belt of truth around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the Evil One. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14-17)
What Shall We Say Then? (Romans 6:1)
To bring the point home, St Paul poses a simple but effective question: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2). Here we see that by becoming “a new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) “through faith” (Galatians 3:26), brings a non-negotiable requirement of living and acting like it.
Therefore, divine revelation and faith—the only passage to becoming the beings we are meant to become—has a contribution of the most important kind to our moral lives. The kind of contribution without which we would be lost to darkness.
It is on this plane of the Father-Son relationship that we now participate in and through Christ that we see morality, for we now know that it is exactly this personal relationship with our Father in heaven that is at stake.
It is no longer outward religious observance that compels us, as in the Old Law of the Old Testament, but instead filial love and obedience, the very obedience of Christ—our divine standard of morality—who was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” (Philippians 2:8).