Updated: Sep 16, 2022
“Even on the cross He did not hide Himself from sight; rather, He made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker.” — St. Athanasius
Photo from the book Birgitta of Sweden: Life and Selected Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality)
With this writing, I seek to speak first of the abstract and then move onward to the immediate. We will progress from God as a hardly imaginable Being in the heavens to the God-man, Christ, and finally to the human heart, where love resides.
1. God is infinite. We are finite.
Firstly, we must understand that we cannot fully understand God. No one can. We don’t have the words to describe God. No word can do his majesty justice.
So how do we know God? To know is different than to understand. I can know that a tree is in front of me without understanding the biological content of that tree.
God, who wants us to know him, allows us to know Him by faith. Faith can be near infinite, as God is infinite, while our understanding is severely limited. So it is by faith, by prayer, by hope, and by love, that we can come to know God.
Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised,
And His greatness is unsearchable.
— Psalm 145:3
Our goal must be infinite, not the finite.
The infinite is our homeland.
Heaven has been waiting for us forever.
— Blessed Carlo Acutis
Faith lifts the soul. Hope supports it. Experience says it must. And Love says let it be!
— Elizabeth Ann Seton
2. God is good since he sets the standard
By His nature, he is good. What God does, and what He is, is good. He cannot do evil, as it is against his nature. He is God — He sets the standard of what is good and what is evil.
For God is good — or rather, of all goodness He is the Fountainhead.
― Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation
Since happiness is nothing else than the enjoyment of the supreme good, and the supreme good is above us, no one can enjoy happiness unless he rises above himself.
— St Bonaventure
In losing all, the soul has risen
To the pinnacle of the measureless;
Because it has renounced all
That is not divine,
It now holds in its grasp
The unimaginable Good
In all its abundance,
A loss and a gain impossible to describe.
— Jacopone of Todi
Praise you the Lord. Praise, O you servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the Lord’s name is to be praised.
The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwells on high,
Who humbles himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!
He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap;
That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.
He makes the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise you the Lord.
— Psalm 113
3. God is a man. He came to us in the way we could understand best.
So, God is infinite and he is supremely good. How can we, who are finite and tarnished by sin, understand him at all? We are men.
God came to us in the way we would best understand. He came to us as a man.
The physical is what we understand because we are physical. Jesus Christ has physicalness to Him. He is both fully man and fully God. Christ taps deeper into the human condition more than we realize.
He went to the furthest extreme of what it means to be a human. The human was fully made for the highest goodness. But the human often fails to reach the highest goodness. Jesus was man and he was the highest goodness!
Like Thomas, it is by physical signs that we best understand what is spiritual. Think baptism. One is touched by physical water. The Eucharist is the most important sign left behind by Jesus because He is physically present in it. How could we believe that? Because He said so.
So it is by consuming something immortal, the Body of Christ, that we mortals can become immortal. It is our faith in the immortal Christ who beat death that we are made immortal.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us
— John 1:14
The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering men. For one who wanted to make a display the thing would have been just to appear and dazzle the beholders. But for Him Who came to heal and to teach the way was not merely to dwell here, but to put Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him, and to be manifested according as they could bear it, not vitiating the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive it.
― Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation
Invisible in his own nature he became visible in ours. Beyond our grasp, he chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, he began to exist at a moment in time. Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death.
— St Pope Leo the Great
He undertook to help the descendants of Abraham, fashioning a body for himself from a woman and sharing our flesh and blood, to enable us to see in him not only God, but also, by reason of this union, a man like ourselves.
— St Cyril of Alexandria
There is not a soul that can at all procure salvation, except it believe whilst it is in the flesh, so true is it that the flesh is the very condition on which salvation hinges. And since the soul is, in consequence of its salvation, chosen to the service of God, it is the flesh which actually renders it capable of such service. The flesh, indeed, is washed [in baptism], in order that the soul may be cleansed . . . the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands [in confirmation], that the soul also may be illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds [in the Eucharist] on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may be filled with God.
— Tertullian, The Resurrection of the Dead
Formerly there was baptism in an obscure way . . . now, however, in full view, there is regeneration in water and in the Holy Spirit. Formerly, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as he himself says: ‘My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink’ [John 6:55]”
— Origen, Homilies on Numbers 7:2
4. God is love
The Trinity is the basis of love. God the Father and God the Son love one another, thus from their love proceeds the Holy Spirit. This relationship between the Persons is Love.
When the Father gives his only Son, He is giving His love for humanity. It is by loving the Son and each other that we love the Father. Any hate directed toward another, since God is in everyone, is directed toward God.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
-1 John 4:9
… walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
— Ephesians 5:2
Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.
— Mark 10:21
“He loves, he hopes, he waits.
— St Maria Goretti
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (…)
Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him.
— 1 John 4:8, 15–16
Behold, in order that we may love God, we have exhortation. Could we love Him, unless He first loved us? If we were slow to love, let us not be slow to love in return. He first loved us; not even so do we love. He loved the unrighteous, but He did away the unrighteousness: He loved the unrighteous, but not unto unrighteousness did He gather them together: He loved the sick, but He visited them to make them whole. Love, then, is God. In this was manifested the love of God in us, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we may live through Him. As the Lord Himself says: Greater love than this can no man have, that a man lay down his life for his friends: John 15:13 and there was proved the love of Christ towards us, in that He died for us: how is the love of the Father towards us proved? In that He sent His only Son to die for us: so also the apostle Paul says: He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how has He not with Him also freely given us all things? Romans 8:32
— St Augustine of Hippo
But for the searching and right understanding of the Scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul, and for Christian virtue to guide the mind to grasp, so far as human nature can, the truth concerning God the Word,
— St Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word
He did submit himself unto the elements, unto cold and heat, hunger and thirst, and other insensible creatures, concealing His power and despoiling Himself thereof in the likeness of man, in order that He might teach us weak and wretched mortals with what patience we ought to bear tribulation.
— St Angela of Foligno
5. God is barely comprehensible, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t here
St Athanasius, in his Life of St Antony, reports that Antony said: “Some leave home and cross the seas in order to gain an education but there is no need for us to go away on account of the Kingdom of God nor need we cross the sea in search of virtue. For the Lord has told us, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’ All that is needed for goodness is that which is within, the human heart.”
God is within you. You find God within you when you find Him in others.
I repay [the Lord] in my very small way by visiting the poor. The house may be sordid, but I am going to Christ.
— Bl Pier-Giorgio Frassati
Even on the cross He did not hide Himself from sight; rather, He made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker.
― St Athanasius, On the Incarnation
The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension — above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.
― St Athanasius, On the Incarnation
God could, had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him. Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane. Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad, and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any importance. We should also have missed the all-important help of knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin. If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage, that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incarnate at all.
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis
He, the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those other His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognised as finally annulled. A marvellous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonour and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.
― St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation