“Ask a Priest: Can’t We Be Good Without God?”

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Q: Why do we need God? Can’t we just be good humans? What evidence is there that goodness is the result of a higher power and not just human morality? And why is the Catholic faith the true religion? I am Catholic — a convert confirmed as of almost four years ago. I am just undergoing a crisis of faith, spurred by all the darkness in the world right now. Where is God in all of this? – Laura

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s understandable that the problems in the world can leave someone feeling pessimistic.

The world has always been a mess. Amazingly, God hasn’t given up on us.

He even sent his Son to suffer and die for our redemption. Jesus taught us to hope for salvation and emphasized the need for charity.

You ask why we need God. It’s like asking why we need food and oxygen. Without God, we wouldn’t even exist. He holds us in existence at every moment.

He also instilled in us a moral sense – a conscience. The Catechism in No. 1776 says:

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment …. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God …. His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

The Holy Spirit guides the Church, which in turn guides us so that our conscience doesn’t grow flabby and deformed.

This leads to your next question: Couldn’t we be “good humans” without God?

The short answer is no. All goodness ultimately comes from God. God is the very basis for what is good. He is the Good. The idea of goodness apart from God is empty.

Without God, the good simply becomes whatever someone says it is.

Think of the atheistic regimes in modernity that tried to form “perfect societies” without reference to God. Those regimes led to the deaths of probably 100 million people. A world without God would be a dog-eat-dog nightmare.

You ask why the Catholic faith is the true religion. This can’t be proven scientifically, of course; if it could, religion wouldn’t require faith.

But I’d suggest that all the evidence backs up the Catholic Church: Everything that Jesus did and established — including the papacy and the sacraments — is found only in the Catholic Church. Nowhere else.

Perhaps the solution here is to dedicate yourself more intensely to prayer and the sacraments and to learn more about your Catholic faith.

A few resources to be begin with are the Youth Catechism (or YouCat), the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, and/or the Compendium of the Catechism. Tuning into Catholic radio can help you do deeper, too.

Your other question is why God allows so much suffering.

The short answer is: He respects the freedom us, even when we misuse it. And he allows evil because he can bring something good out of it.

A case in point is the crucifixion of Jesus, the Son of God. By human standards it made no sense. Yet that turned out to be the most powerful act of redemption in history. (It’s what we re-present at each Mass: the sacrifice of Jesus back to the Father for our redemption.)

The upshot is that God is close to us, even amid the darkness of the world. We need to trust him and be confident that he has a plan.

Perhaps a lot of what is mentioned here seems a bit abstract or overly idealistic. To help you move forward in your faith, it might help to seek out a solid, regular confessor or spiritual director.

And don’t despair. Jesus loves you.

Count on my prayers.


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