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“Ask a Priest: How Do We Know the Compilers of the Bible Got It Right?”
Q: I came across a couple of things I wanted a Catholic perspective on. I couldn’t ask these questions from anyone in my parish or Catholic friends, for fear of judgment. Here are my questions: 1) How do we know the compilers of the Bible were right for excluding some books but including others? 2) “It doesn’t matter how depressing it is that there’s no God, or how sad/depressed atheists are … that doesn’t mean there’s actually a God.” Do you agree with this? Is religion only a “fairy tale for people afraid of the dark,” as one prominent scientist says? 3) Is God personal or impersonal? Why? 4) Can God change his nature? 5) Why do good people, devout Catholics even, get severe depression? If they are devout, shouldn’t the Holy Spirit bring them ultimate joy? One that overcomes depression? In that line of thinking, why, theologically, does severe depression even exist? -C.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: You seem to be doing a lot of thinking lately! An answer to one of these questions could fill a book. But perhaps a few brief responses can point in the right direction.
1) We accept the Bible and its contents based on faith, and that is based on a belief that the Holy Spirit was guiding the whole process. For there is no way to prove that the compilers got it right. The Bible is too complex, and even contradictory in parts, to lend itself to “proofs.”
2) Some religions, indeed, might be little more than fairy tales. Christianity is not among them. There is too much in Christianity that goes way beyond the imagination of the people who first embraced it and preached it; in fact, it shows all the signs of being from Someone way above us. Simple humans wouldn’t have dreamt up the notion of the Trinity, for instance, which is the core mystery of the Christian faith. At any rate there seems to be something buried deep within each of us that looks for beauty, truth, love. We are restless until we find them. St. Augustine said that our hearts were made for God and that they are restless until they rest in him. And that is fitting, since God is ultimate beauty, truth, love.
3) God is personal all right. In fact, he is three Persons (or subsistent relations, in theological terms). But he is one God, one divine essence. We can think of God as a community of love between three divine Persons from all eternity.
4) God is infinitely perfect in himself. Change is impossible in God because change implies imperfection. God can’t change his nature because that would involve a contradiction.
5) Being a devout Catholic doesn’t necessarily spare anyone from pain and suffering. Even Jesus, who is God, suffered as a man. Theologically, depression, like physical illness, exists because we have a damaged human nature. This is a fallout of the sin of Adam. This, too, is a mystery, but one whose manifestations are plain to see.
Two books you might find helpful are Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity and Theology for Beginners, both available at Amazon and for Kindle.