Sunday, June 11, 2017

The reality of God is bigger than our perceptions

Homily: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – Cycle A
          I love science!  As a former engineer, my brain is wired for science.  What I mean by that is that it is wired in such a way that, when I see something that I don’t understand, I automatically begin to wonder about it and try to figure it out.  Quite frankly, most of us are wired for science in some way: usually in a very practical way.
          Here’s what I mean.  Say that you enter a room with which you are unfamiliar.  It’s a little bit warm in the room and you observe that there is a ceiling fan.  You know a thing or two about ceiling fans, but you’ve never turned on this particular fan, so you set yourself to figuring out how to turn it on.  You think, “Maybe the wall switch will turn it on”, and so you flip the wall switches.  If that doesn’t work you think, “Maybe I need to pull the chain on the fan to turn it on”, and so you reach up and pull the chain.  If that doesn’t work you think, “Maybe there’s a combination of the wall switches and the chain that need to be aligned to turn it on”, and so you begin to turn switches on and off, pulling the chain at each setting.  If that still doesn’t work, we think… what?  That it’s broken… of course!  We’ve observed, hypothesized, tested each hypothesis and observed some more, and when we’ve run out of hypotheses we draw a conclusion.  That, my friends, is science; and we do it almost every day.
          As much as I love science, because I love figuring out how to make things work, I have one big problem with it.  You see, the problem with science is that it equates perception with reality.  In other words, science makes conclusions about reality based solely on what it can perceive.  In my example above, we concluded that the fan was broken because no switches or combination of switches would start it spinning.  We made a conclusion about reality based solely on what we observed.  The reality, however, could be that the fan functions perfectly well, but that the switch may be broken or maybe electricity wasn’t flowing at all to the system.  In other words, there could be factors beyond our perception that could contribute to the reality.  Science does not admit these factors and so sometimes draws incorrect conclusions about reality.
          For people of faith there is no other proof of the limitations of science than when we think about God.  Imagine for a moment that you didn’t know much about God (and let’s assume that you at least give credence to the fact that there is a God: that is, an all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe).  What would you do to figure out more about him?  Well, you’d observe, I suppose: you’d listen to what people said or wrote about him.  Then you might hypothesize about what he’d be like, followed by observing to see if you’re hypothesis was correct.
          Doing that you’d find out that people say that God is loving, kind, and merciful; that he has the power to control everything that happens in the universe; that nothing happens without his knowing about it and either making it happen or, at least, permitting it to happen.  Then you’d say, “Well, if that’s the case, then things should be pretty good around me.  People ought to be living in harmony with one another and there should be peace, because a God of love and kindness, who can control what happens in the world, would surely desire there to be love and kindness throughout the world.”  Having formed your hypothesis, you then observe the world and what would you see?  Love and kindness in many places, for sure; but also hatred, violence, and discord in as many, if not more places.  Having observed this, your conclusion might be: “God is not who people say he is, because what I perceive does not conform to that proposed reality.”  This is the error that many people in our society make today: they perceive a world broken by sin and they conclude that if God was who people say that he is, he wouldn’t allow the world to be like this.  Since the world is this way, God must not be who people say that he is; rather, he might be nothing more than a mythical creature meant to make people feel better about living in this broken world.
          The problem with this, of course, is that there are factors outside of one’s perception that contribute to the reality.  In other words, reality is greater than our perception.  Thinking theoretically, we can somewhat easily come to the conclusion that there must be a God: an all-powerful being—the uncreated creator—who created all things.  In order to know that God is benevolent, however, we would have to do a lot more work.  To see that all creation works towards the propagation of life, instead of against it, and that this propagation is a good thing, could lead us to conclude that God is good and has the good of creation in mind.  But to know God as we know him, as loving, kind, and merciful—or, as we celebrate him today, as a communion of persons—is something that we can know only if he, himself, has revealed it to us.
          Thankfully, this is something that he has revealed to us; and it is not something that he has revealed by some sort of divine declaration (even though he has done that).  Rather, he has revealed this to us by his actions.  In the book of Exodus, we read that God declared himself before Moses to be “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” and he proved this as time and again he spared the Israelite people from destruction, even though they had repeatedly offended him.  So gracious and merciful is he—and so deeply in love of his creation—that, as we read in the Gospel, he “gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  In doing so, he not only proved, once again, that what he said about himself is true, but he also revealed that he is a communion of persons within himself.  And how do we know that Jesus truly is the Son of God and, thus, God himself?  Because of the works that he did: most prominently his resurrection from the dead.
          Thus, the celebration that we come to today: the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  Today we celebrate who God is in himself: not because we somehow perceive this with our senses, but rather because of the gift of Faith that has been placed in our hearts and because of the works that he has worked in the past (and continues to work today) that go beyond our ability to test scientifically.  In celebrating God as Trinity, we not only celebrate who he is, but also what that means for us.  We know that God is Love and so is a community of persons.  Because of this we know that, when God creates, he creates in love.  We know that, having created human beings to be persons, like himself, he created us solely so that we might share in his divine life, which is love.  Finally, we know that, when we turned away from him in sin, he did not shun us, but rather came close to us, becoming one of us in his Son who would make atonement for our sins and, thus, make it possible for us to share in the divine life once again.
          And so, my brothers and sisters, as we celebrate today who God is in himself, let us rejoice also in who we are in him: beloved sons and daughters destined to spend eternity with him; and let us commit ourselves, therefore, to follow the admonition of Saint Paul to the Corinthians and “mend our ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, and live in peace” so that “the God of love and peace will be with us” and all those scientific skeptics might begin to see the truth that we proclaim: that the reality of God is much bigger than their perceptions, but that he nonetheless cares about each and every one; and that he desires that each and every one dwell with him in eternal light, happiness, and peace: the very same light, happiness, and peace that we experience, under sacramental signs, here at this altar.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – June 10th & 11th, 2017

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