“Ask a Priest: Why Doesn’t God Reveal Himself Directly?”

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Q: Is faith (that is, I have faith that God is there, but I don’t know it) the same as knowledge (example: 2+2=4)? If not, why do you think God does not reveal himself directly? Why is faith the better option? Are there any clues in Scripture? – D.J.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Faith brings us the highest form of knowledge, since by faith we can be sure of things that are beyond what our intellect can grasp on its own.

For instance, the deepest mystery about God, who is Truth itself, is that the Almighty is a Trinity: three divine Persons in one divine nature. We could never attain that knowledge on our own; it had to be revealed to us. Which is what God did, through his son Jesus Christ.

But let’s back up a moment.

There are different kinds of knowledge.

There is the basic kind that we can achieve with our reason, such as 2+2=4.

There is experiential knowledge. We know by experience what thirst or hunger is.

Some knowledge we can obtain through experiments and observation, such as the efficacy of penicillin or the workings of an internal combustion engine.

Whereas know-how about medicine and engines can make life more comfortable, it won’t answer our deepest questions, such as why we are here in this world or whether there is an afterlife.

Those are the kinds of things that God has revealed to us. We are told that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and that, depending on how we live our lives, we face either eternal punishment or eternal life (Matthew 25:46).

And while these and other tenets of our faith are beyond the reach of scientific verification, they are not unreasonable.

But back to your question: Why didn’t God reveal himself directly?

If we did see God face to face, we wouldn’t survive. It would overwhelm us. We can see him in heaven, however.

On the other hand, God reveals something of himself in the beauty and immensity and unity of the universe. ”Ever since the creation of the world, [God’s] invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made” (Romans 1:20).

He also revealed something of himself slowly and progressively. One reason is that he wanted people to exercise their faith in him. This gives room for a relationship of love to grow.

We can think of how God tested Abram when he asked him to leave his homeland at the age of 75 and set out for a new land (Genesis 12:1-4).

Later, God asked the then Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God was testing Abraham, not because God didn’t know what the patriarch would do, but because he wanted Abraham to know what it meant to make a deeper act of faith in the Lord.

Ultimately, God revealed himself in Jesus Christ — which also requires faith!

Jesus in turn gave his apostles and others room to make an act of faith. He didn’t reveal or explain everything at once.

Think of when he talked about giving his Body and Blood as food (John 6:22-71). After many disciples expressed disbelief and left him, Jesus turned and challenged the Twelve. “Do you also want to leave?” (verse 67).

Why might Our Lord work that way? One reason is that it gives his followers a chance to show their trust in him.

An analogy might help: When we are little, our parents might not explain their every decision. Rather, they give us a directive and hope that we have enough faith to obey them. That climate of trust helps foster love and harmony in a family.

Another analogy: Imagine that you have a friend who suddenly starts asking you to prove everything you tell him.

“You say that you visited Paris. Prove it!”

“You say that your mom loves you. Prove it!”

“You say that you’d didn’t see my laptop computer in the library. Prove it!”

“You say that you’ll pick me up at the airport tomorrow. Prove it!”

Little wonder that such a friendship starts to deteriorate quickly. Your friend no longer trusts what you say. There is little room for love (or faith) in the relationship.

Another consideration is this: Our intellects are limited, and our natural reason can only carry us so far. To go beyond the limits of what we can figure out on our own, we need faith.

In the case of God, this faith isn’t baseless. We can have faith in him and what he says because we already see how many gifts he has given us: our lives, our health, our families, our Catholic upbringing, etc.

Faith in what he reveals can give us a grasp of truth that is far deeper than 2+2=4. In that sense faith is stronger than reason, even though reason doesn’t lose its value. Faith and reason go together, for truth cannot contradict truth.

Above all, faith requires love and trust. No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

For more insight, check out Bishop Robert Barron’s short video on faith and reason.


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