The Art of Living: Wholeness or Completeness?

If one is to express gratitude for the curiosity God has implanted in the human being, one must commit oneself to accepting the urge to inquire, which amounts implicitly to the desire to create. Thus, complementing and supporting the desire to engage in scientific inquiry, there is also the world of the imagination; the arts of poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, and the novel are all dimensions of our exploration of the world as we experience it. It is a demand on the whole self to inquire into the wholeness of God’s creation and into the nature of God himself, the Creator, who has committed himself to making a success of his world. The key is openness to all experience and to the desire to follow knowledge wherever it leads. At the root of this is the human puzzlement about not only what it means to be human but what it, all of it, means and how it all hangs together.

The practical implications of the sheer fact of the world’s existence and its contingent nature have stimulated much reflection. Why is there something rather than nothing? What or who could have brought the world into existence? And we try to settle down with a conclusion by seeking certainty: we want to end the argument and come to a clear, indisputable position. But there is none available, for we are immediately faced with a diversity of religions and philosophical approaches. Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, offers hope: “The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognize God’s image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideals are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his” (Sacks, 2002, p. 201). Above all, in the search for meaning, we are dependent on the experience of others; prejudice, certainty, or indifference will otherwise cloud our minds and make us seek an irrelevant and intolerant utopia to impose on others.

But maybe there are shortcuts, proofs for the existence of God on which we can rely and to which we can commit ourselves wholeheartedly; some have thought so. In Physics, Aristotle bases his thinking on the all-embracing experience of motion, which he states must always be caused by prior movement. But what activated or activates the unending motion we observe? “Since there must always be motion without intermission, there must necessarily be something eternal, whether one or many, that first imparts motion, and this first mover must be unmoved” (Aristotle, 1984c, Phys, 258b, 6). But what evidence do we have for this unmoved mover? He adopts a different approach in the Nicomachean Ethics: “If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain) clearly this must be the good and the chief good” (1984b, 1, 2). Aquinas seems to accept Aristotle’s position in principle, but in his Five Ways (proofs of the existence of God), he recognizes that God cannot himself be within the temporal series as the first cause but must necessarily be outside the series as the one in whom there is the ultimate loving power, which is responsible for the world’s existence (Aquinas, 2006, I, q. 2 a3). But what sort of a proof is this? In fact, as Kenny implies, the so-called proofs are better thought of as ways of thinking about the meaning of “God” (Kenny, 2004, pp. 12-14). As such, they are still potentially illuminating and worth thinking about. For example, the cosmological argument may not be good natural theology: God’s existence cannot be deduced from observations of the natural world. On the other hand, if God’s nature is considered necessary and not contingent, how can we understand the relationship between God and the world? In what sense, if any, can one talk about the activity of God in the world?

Theologians have approached this matter in different ways. Paul Tillich, for example, simply talks of the actuality of God’s presence in correlation with human need: God’s presence is in itself the living activity that encourages humankind to work toward the fulfillment of his true nature. God is the existential “Ground of Being,” who is truly the ultimate concern for humanity. To embrace God is to become a “New Being” established on sure foundations (Tillich, 1953, pp. 261-79). If, however, we determine that our well-being depends on things that are not of ultimate concern, we are in despair. Tillich’s own experience as a chaplain in the First World War and an anxious observer of the turmoil of the Second World War were strong influences on the development of his theology. MacIntyre, as we have seen previously, believes that the Divine Being is that ultimate source of truth and love at which we aim. Pailin talks of the Divine Being as actively luring humankind into a loving relationship with him and with his creation, thus freeing the world to desire to understand. Adams, influenced by Plato, grounds all value, both moral and nonmoral, in the Being of God, who is the Supreme Good and is excellent without qualification. Since every excellence is found in God, any attempt to achieve or move toward excellence in whatever context, when properly understood, is an attempt to shape one’s humanity in the image of God (Adams, 1999, pp. 28-38).

The questions raised for theology by the fact of the world’s existence remain unanswered; however, there is no end to the delight and nourishment that comes from inquiry. For this we can be thankful.

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