Is what one chooses to believe merely a matter of personal preference? Does God exist? These are two of the key questions F.X. Cronin discusses in his new book, The World According to God (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press. 2020).
Cronin starts by discussing his conversion to Catholicism. “Even some of the Catholics I knew saw my move to Catholicism as a change based merely on personal preference, a decision arising from my desire for spiritual comfort and my need for philosophical certainty, and practical closure” (4, my emphasis).
Is faith really just a matter of personal preference? While we each have some preference for some things like style of music and how long a homily we want to here, faith is not just a personal matter. In fact, personally, I want to believe that faith is more than just what I think. I want to belong to something larger than myself. I want to belong to a church that helps me know what God teaches. The Catholic Church is not perfect but I believe it is led by the Holy Spirit.
For Cronin, his conversion to Catholicism was led by truth. In response to his friends who saw his conversion merely as a matter of personal preference, he writes, “For I explained to them that my decision was based on truth, on the truth of our factual existence and experience, on the truth of reason, the truth of history, the truth of our common sense” (5). Cronin was looking for answers. He was looking for “truth”. He found it in the Catholic Church.
Truth is not arbitrary. Truth does not change. Our perception of what the truth is might change but not the truth itself. Truth is eternal. For instance, Cronin writes, “either God exists or He doesn’t. This cannot be a matter of perception. It can and must be a matter of fact. God can’t exist for me and not exist for you” (24). Whether a person knows God exists or not does not change the truth of God’s existence.
Why is it hard for people to understand and accept that God exists? It is not easy to fully understand God on our own. In fact, it is impossible for us to know for ourselves that God exists. Through our reason and our experiences we can come to see God in what we experience. However, reason is not enough.
In fact, if you think you are capable of fully understanding who God is, you miss what God is. Cronin writes, “We are trying to explain the infinite, even though we are finite and limited – limited by our language and intelligence and limited in our capacity to juggle ideas simultaneously, to comprehend the physical, the mental, and the spiritual dimension of life and living all at once” (44, my emphasis).
This is the story of Job told in the Old Testament in the book that bears his name. Job was a rich and prosperous man till the devil took away everything he had. Well, almost everything. The devil could not take away Job’s faith. After losing everything, Job says, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21). While Job has faith, he wonders why God allowed this to happen. In chapters 38 and 39, God addresses the point that we cannot expect to understand everything God does and allows. It is beyond us. Job responds in 40:4-5, “Look, I am of little account; what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, I will not reply; twice, but I will do so no more.“
Does this mean that our Catholic faith is a blind faith? No. Cronin writes, “For the Catholic faith is neither a faith of the blind, nor a mindless leap, nor a kind of willful hope, nor a form of knowing based solely on personal revelation or experience of God” (44). He goes on to say, “Our faith uses and integrates all of our God-given means of knowing” (45). This includes our reason and faith. Our reason takes a long way. Faith makes our knowledge of God certain. Cronin continues, “It is this small degree of uncertainty that faith finds its rightful place within our growing understanding, not as blind faith, but as informed faith; not as a leap, but as a bridge. Faith doesn’t rest on irrationality or mindlessness or sheer will, but on reason, science, and revelation; it doesn’t come from confusion, but from the gift of faith that God bestows on each person who sincerely seeks him” (45).
God gives us the gift of reason. God wants us to ask him questions (see Cronin, 45). Yet, we must understand that in our humanness we are not going to understand everything. We cannot and do not know everything as fact. It is like trying to predict the weather. Meteorologists use extensive historical data and science to predict the weather. It is all based on hard science but it is no guarantee of what the weather will do.
Likewise, dealing with COVID involves medical science including our understanding of how viruses work as well as how the human immune system works. Yet, COVID brought many unknowns. We did not know with certainty what to do. However, social distancing and facemasks offered protection. How much was uncertain but we accepted it, some more willingly than others. We trusted in what the medical scientists said. Because people were willing to do this, things are better than they were.
If we trust in them, all the more we can trust Jesus as the Son of God who laid down his life for us. Have faith in God as the one who loves you.