Searching for God? Here’s how one begins to have faith
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June 25, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – According to Aristotle and St. Thomas, there is a natural desire for the truth built into the human soul, together with a natural desire for happiness; but we know from experience that passions, vices, excessive concern for earthly goods, laziness, bad education, and a host of other problems in fallen human nature can interfere with our appetite for the truth and our finding of it.
What are the signs of a person who sincerely loves the truth, or sincerely desires to find it?
Fr. Thomas Dubay addresses this question in his fine work Faith and Certitude: Can We Be Sure of the Things that Matter Most to Us?:
The intellect cannot force one to turn to God and to the Church as a blaze of lightning forces one to the realization that a storm is in progress. God wants this turning to himself to be an act of freedom, a willed choice. It is to be a decision for which one is personally responsible. The good person sees the truth because truth and goodness are connatural to him. Those who really want ultimate truth will find it. Those who love goodness and beauty will find God. They know that the teaching of Jesus is true from the sheer goodness of him and it. Since doctrinal truth and moral goodness are both obediences to the one God, when the latter is lacking over a period of time, the former weakens and perhaps disappears. . . .
Only that man or woman, therefore, is likely to find God and his Church who can answer affirmatively the question, “Would I obey whatever I find God has revealed and what he wants me to do?” If his answer is negative, he is not in harmony with the ways of God. The disobedience prevents the intellectual sight. He cannot see what is there because the moral tenor of his overall makeup as a person blocks it out of view. If the answer is affirmative, he can see what is before him. As Jesus himself put it, the man who is prepared to do the Father’s will is sure to know that Jesus’ teaching is from God (Jn 7:16–17). His intellectual sight is not covered over by volitional desires. Our cognitive grasp of reality is inseparable from the integrity of our manner of life.
It is always healthy—not to say sobering—to pause for a moment and meditate on the kind of sacrifice demanded by a search for God’s Will.
At the start of the road stands the saying of St. Paul: “You are not your own; you are bought with a great price” (1 Cor 6:19–20), namely, the blood of Christ (cf. Acts 20:28); at the end of the road, “with Christ I am nailed to the cross, and I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19–20). Unless we are prepared to surrender entirely to the Truth, without rejecting any of its claims upon our lives, we cannot expect to find “the narrow road” spoken of by Jesus (Mt 7:14). “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will,” the angels sang on Christmas Eve (Lk. 2:14). That good will is the key.
The search for God’s will is not a mere intellectual exercise, a working out of some problems, in which we receive satisfaction from good explanations. Without a doubt, we do need to work out problems and find good explanations: faith is impossible without knowledge of what to believe, and we can learn what we ought to believe only if we investigate the claims brought forward by those who call themselves disciples of the Master.
All the same, knowledge is not the same thing as faith. By faith we confess a creed: we make a decision to adhere to a knowledge beyond our demonstrative reach. Faith has an intellectual content, but results from an act of the will. Faith is itself a work. St. Thomas Aquinas, commenting on 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (“Being mindful of the work of your faith and labor and charity”), says that St. Paul
mentions faith because it is an essential condition for obtaining the things to be hoped for, a means of revelation not based on appearances: “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). This, however, is not sufficient unless the person practices good works and makes an effort; so Paul says, your work of faith and labor. “Faith apart from works is dead” (Jas 2:26). The person who gives up while laboring for Christ is worth nothing: “They believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away” (Lk. 8:13). Paul uses the words work and labor, implying that he is mindful of their active and struggling faith.
“Faith without works” is the same thing as dead faith, for a living confession of God involves conversion of the heart, worship and prayer, charity and penance, love of neighbor and rightly-ordered love of self. When St. James preaches the centrality of works and St. Paul the centrality of faith, they are ultimately preaching one and the same doctrine; for faith becomes personalized, identified with myself as a believer, from an act of the will (a “work”), yet the ability to believe in God is itself a gift, the gift of faith. (For an excellent defense of the compatibility of the soteriology of St. Paul and St. James, see John Henry Newman’s sermon “The Gospel Witnesses.”)
The Catholic philosopher Miguel de Unamuno writes:
In the field of medicine, my doctor’s knowledge can cure me, even if I do not know the whereabouts of my liver; but in the field of religion, my confessor’s faith can scarcely save me. In the life of the soul only my truth saves me, and my truth is not the truth I do not know, though this be the truth of others. . .You describe the Church as the depository of the truths of your faith. The truths that are not deposited in your own soul are not truths of your faith, and are of no use to you at all. (“What is Truth?” in The Agony of Christianity and Essays on Faith)
How does one begin to believe—that is to say, what spiritual dispositions are necessary for making an act of faith?
The beginnings of faith are threefold: seriousness of purpose, integrity of morals, and docility of mind (a willingness to be led and taught). Our power of will extends at least to making a profession of faith according to the letter of Sacred Scripture or of the Creed. Those who sincerely and persistently search for the truth will not be disappointed in their hope. “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3–4). Although this verse is frequently cited, rarely is it pointed out that it evidently applies to those who themselves desire to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.