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The Right Attitude Before God

1985, July 3

General Audience

Today our catechesis arrives at the great mystery of faith, the first article of our Credo-I believe in God. To speak of God means to treat of a theme sublime, unlimited, mysterious and attractive. But here on the threshold, like one preparing for a long, fascinating journey of discovery-and such is always a genuine discourse about God-we feel the need first of all to take the right path by preparing our minds for the understanding of truths which are so noble and decisive.

For this purpose I think it necessary to respond at once to some questions, the first of which is: why speak about God today?

1. An irrepressible need

At the school of Job who humbly confessed: "Behold, I am of small account.... I lay my hands on my mouth" (40:4), we perceive rather forcibly that the source of our supreme certainties as believers, the mystery of God, is first of all the fruitful source of our deepest queries: Who is God? Can we know him in a truthful way in our human condition? Who are we, creatures, before God?

From these questions, great and sometimes tormenting difficulties have always arisen. If God exists, then why is there so much evil in the world? Why do the evil prosper and why are the just trampled under foot? Does not God's omnipotence end up by crushing our liberty and responsibility?

These questions and difficulties are intertwined with the expectations and aspirations of which the Bible characters, especially in the Psalms, have become the universal mouthpiece: "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and behold the face of God?" (Ps 42:2, 3). From God, the Psalmist expects health, freedom from evil, happiness, and also with a splendid thrust of confidence the possibility of staying with God-"to dwell in your house" (cf. Ps 84:2 ff.). We speak then of God because this is an irrepressible need for us.

2. How to speak of God

The second question is how to speak about God, how to speak about him correctly. Even many Christians have a deformed image of God. It is necessary to ask oneself if there has been a correct course of research, drawing the truth from genuine sources and in an adequate way. Here I think it right to recall above all, as a primary attitude, honesty of intelligence, namely, to remain open to those signs of truth which God himself has left of himself in the world and in our history.

There is certainly the path of right reason (and we will have time to consider what man of his own powers can know about God). But here I am bound to say that God himself offers to the reason, well beyond its natural resources, a splendid documentation of himself-what the language of faith calls "revelation." The believer, and every person of good will who is looking for the face of God, has at his disposition in the first place the immense treasure of Sacred Scripture. This is a real diary of God in his relationships with his people, which has at its center the supreme revealer of God, Jesus Christ: "He who sees me, sees the Father" (Jn 14:9). Jesus, on his part, has entrusted his testimony to the Church which has always with the help of the Spirit of God, made it the object of dedicated research, of progressive investigation and also of strenuous defense against error and deformation. God's genuine documentation, then, passes through the living Tradition of which all the Councils are fundamental witnesses-from Nicaea to that of Constantinople, from Trent to the First and Second Vatican Councils. We will make it our duty to return to these genuine sources of truth.

Catechesis also draws its content about God from the twofold ecclesial experience: the faith as it is prayed-liturgy-whose formulations are a continual, untiring speaking of God by speaking to him; and also the faith lived by Christians, especially by the saints, who have had the grace of a profound communion with God. Therefore we are not destined merely to ask questions about God, thus losing ourselves in a forest of hypothetical or too abstract responses. God himself has come to meet us with an organic wealth of secure indications. The Church knows that it possesses, through the grace of God himself, in its patrimony of doctrine and of life, the correct direction to speak with respect and truth about him. Never as much as today does it feel the commitment to offer to men with fidelity and love the essential answer for which they are waiting.

3. Using Sacred Scripture

This is what I intend to do in these meetings. But how? There are different ways to impart catechesis and their legitimacy depends on fidelity in regard to the integral faith of the Church. I have deemed it opportune to choose the way which while calling directly upon the Sacred Scriptures, also refers to the symbols of the faith, in that deepened understanding received from twenty centuries of reflection in Christian thought.

It is my intention, in proclaiming the truth about God, to invite all of you to recognize the validity not only of the historico-positive way but also of that offered by the doctrinal reflection elaborated in the great Councils and in the ordinary Magisterium of the Church. In this way, without diminishing in the slightest the richness of the Biblical data, it will be possible to illustrate the truths of faith or those which are proximate to the faith, or in any event theologically well founded. By being expressed in dogmatic-speculative language, they run the risk of being less felt and appreciated by many people today with no little impoverishment of knowledge about him who is an unfathomable mystery of light.

4. Docile, grateful heart

I could not end this initial catechesis of our discourse on God without recalling a second fundamental attitude besides that of upright intelligence, mentioned above. This is the attitude of a docile and grateful heart. We speak of him whom Isaiah proposes to us as the three times holy (6:3). We must therefore speak of him with deepest and total respect, in adoration. At the same time, however, sustained by him "who is in the bosom of the Father and has made him known" (Jn 1:18), Jesus Christ our brother speaks of him with tenderest love. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom 11:36).