What most people get wrong when speaking of God is imagining God as a “big being.”
When we look up at the night sky or the people around us, we see beings. So, we think, God must be the biggest being of all — the supreme being of all of the beings in the world.
But this is precisely what God is not. If you imagine God as one big being among us, there is no evidence of that reality. God is the sheer act of existence itself, through which all particular things exist.
BISHOP BARRON: I think what most people get wrong when speaking of God is to imagine God as a big being. I look up in the night sky and I see stars and planets and look around, I see animals and plants. I see the world of beings, of things. The great mistake is to say, well, he must be the biggest being around. He’s the supreme being among the many beings of the world. And that’s precisely what God is not. How often atheists both old and new will say something like well, where’s your evidence for God? If you imagine God as one more big contingent thing among others, well then there’s no evidence for that reality.
They’re operating out of a scientific framework, but see, if you’re looking for God that way you’ll never find him, that’s not what he is. God is the sheer act of existence itself in and through which all particular things exist. But people get caught up in misunderstanding God and therefore seeking him in a sort of empirical scientific way. That’s not gonna work. The theologian, Paul Tillich, who was one of the great Protestant theologians of the last century, he said the word faith is the most misunderstood word in the religious vocabulary and I’ve always felt that’s right. How do people read faith? Through a scientific lens or scientistic lens, faith is credulity, it’s superstition. It’s accepting things on the basis of no evidence. It’s the way a child thinks. That is not faith. That is indeed superstition, credulity, stupidity.
The church at its best is calling people beyond that. We’re not satisfied leaving people in a state of pre-rational superstition. So what’s faith in? It’s something on the far side of reason. When reason has gone about as far as it can possibly go, it looks into a kind of alluring darkness. Faith in a way’s like that. The full presence of God is such that it overwhelms the mind. And of course it does and that shouldn’t be surprising that God, ipsum esse, the sheer act of being itself, the creator of all things, that in whom essence and existence coincide, is not gonna be definable by our minds, won’t fit into our minds.
So what does the mind want? Well, it wants the truth. And so it seeks it. It seeks it scientifically, psychologically. It seeks it through literature. It seeks it through philosophy. That’s the beauty of the mind. I’d be asking people not to close their minds, but to keep opening their minds. I love the sciences, but I don’t like scientism, which is the reduction of all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge. I love the sciences and their success in the technology they’ve delivered to us. But first of all, there’s all kinds of other ways of knowing the truth about the world. Hamlet doesn’t have a bit of science in it, but Hamlet delivers to us profound truth about human life and about love and about frustration and about aspiration. We gotta open our mind- beyond just a scientific vision of reality. So what I would say is religion doesn’t close the mind.
On the contrary- I’m opposed to any system that wants to shut down the spirit and say, no, no, that’s all you can know. No, no, no, don’t go beyond these limits. Blow open the limits, go beyond the limits. See, and that to me is language of faith. Not rational stupidity and superstition, no- but faith is this alluring horizon- this darkness beyond the light, and by God, yes, I want to keep opening that up for people.