Not that the count was a drone. At last reports, he had been involved in some highly esoteric tampering with the Haertel equations—that description of the space-time continuum which, by swallowing up the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction exactly as Einstein had swallowed Newton (that is, alive), had made interstellar flight possible. Ruiz-Sanchez did not understand a word of it, but, he reflected with amusement, it was doubtless perfectly simple once you understood it.
Almost all knowledge, after all, fell into that category. It was either perfectly simple once you understood it, or else it fell apart into fiction. As a Jesuit—even here, fifty light-years from Rome—Ruiz-Sanchez knew something about knowledge that Lucien le Comte des Bois-d’Averoigne had forgotten, and that Cleaver would never learn: that all knowledge goes through both stages, the annunciation out of noise into fact, and the disintegration back into noise again. The process involved was the making of increasingly finer distinctions. The outcome was an endless series of theoretical catastrophes.
The residuum was faith.
[James Blish, A Case of Conscience]
Christians speak easily of the “need to have faith.” Indeed, faith is one of the three theological virtues, the most important ones of all for any believer to maintain. And faith – I shan’t attempt to soften it – is necessary to anyone who seeks to live in accordance with the dictates of an unverifiable, unfalsifiable creed: i.e., a religion. Our ability to reason things out cannot be founded on vacuum. At the base of any skein of reasoning there must be a set of assumptions – premises – and these, being neither provable nor disprovable, must be accepted on faith.
Yet even the most sincere, devout Christian will bump up against questions that try his ability to answer. There aren’t many Aquinases among us that can go lifelong in serene, unperturbed faith. Therefore it behooves us to talk to one another, and to offer perspectives on our individual journeys to faith that might be of use to others in coping with such questions.
This is Christian inreach: the pooling of our observations and ponderings to create an ever-greater sense that our faith is reasonable. Inreach is a requirement of any coherent set of ideas or convictions. The whole of what we call science is an inreach process. It’s no less important to the Christian religion.
Among the reasons I write fiction, this one is critical: I seek to show thoughtful Christians dealing with their faith, its dictates, and the questions it sometimes poses them. How we deal with such questions and the doubts they sometimes engender is a major part of our life adventure. I selected the word adventure for its etymology: “a journey to.” Every life is a journey. How successfully one navigates that journey depends on the soundness of his beliefs and his confidence in them.
The Christmas season is now behind us, and the liturgical journey toward through Lent to the Passion and Resurrection lie ahead. When I was groping my way back toward faith, one of the questions that most beleaguered me was this one: Why was all of that necessary?
Jesus is the Son of God and as fully divine as His Father. Surely He didn’t “need” to suffer horribly, die, and rise from the dead to redeem Mankind from its sins. Omnipotence, baby! God merely needs to say “Let it be so,” and it is so. He’s not constrained by the sort of laws that constrain us. After all, He wrote them!
I demand intellectual consistency from the propositions I’m asked to believe. If I hadn’t wrestled successfully with that question, I could not have come back to faith. I think that’s true of millions of others who grasp how beautiful Christianity is, but who have a hard time accepting it lock, stock, and barrel.
Fortunately, I managed. Perhaps my journey through it will be of some use to you.
In In Vino, I wrote:
“A simple old hymn,” Ray said as Lundin circled the table refilling glasses, “one of the oldest and simplest, goes like this.” He sang softly.
“God is love,
“And he who abides in love,
“Abides in God,
“And God in him.”
“We’ve talked about God’s reason for creating the Universe, and how He must have done so to have something to love, other than Himself,” Ray said. “But there’s a minor misconception in there. Yes, God loves His Creation. But He would have been love itself even had He never essayed to create anything. It’s incorrect to imagine that God ‘needed’ us to express His love. He’s outside time, remember. Because we’re within time, we can’t really grasp what Divine existence is like. It certainly doesn’t have anything that resembles the human concept of ‘need.’”
“Are you quite certain of that, Ray?” Monti said. The Piedmontese priest appeared vaguely troubled.
“I am,” Ray said, “because our concept of ‘need’ is founded on our temporal nature—our innate tendency to look forward in time, and to say to ourselves, ‘What do I need to stay alive and healthy, and accomplish the things I’ve set out to do?’ A Being outside time, inherently eternal and without survival requirements, wouldn’t have such impulses. So human notions of ‘need’ would not apply to Him.”
Need – the perception and acknowledgement of a necessity – arises from being mortals embedded in Time. We conceive of a need because we have an as-yet-unexplored future. We sense or foresee certain prerequisites to the goals we hope to achieve, and others to getting there at all. Were it not for Time and our mortal nature, the concept of need would not apply to us.
Therefore, it doesn’t apply to God in any of His Three Persons.
Poof! “Why was all of that necessary?” It wasn’t. God is unburdened by necessity in any sense. Christ’s acceptance of His Passion and Resurrection was a course chosen for a particular effect.
Other questions arise here, of course. But an inreach piece must respect the limits of its readers’ time and patience. We all have lives to live and necessities to be met. Such things demand that we not spend every waking moment pondering lofty abstractions. Therefore, as I’ve said at other times and in other contexts: More anon.
For now: May God bless and keep you all.