The American writer Mark Twain once quipped, “God made man in his own image and man is forever trying to repay the favor.” The preeminent and observable sign of humanity’s fallen nature is our constant drive to refashion, redefine, or – in popular jargon – “reboot” God, into our own image and according to our own sinful and broken worldview.
Shouldn’t God, however, be allowed to “self-identify”? Shouldn’t God, infinitely perfect and blessed in Himself, be allowed to be Himself – “I AM who I AM” – and shouldn’t He be permitted to speak and act in reference to Himself – “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”? Who are we to change God?
And yet, the drama of remaking God continues. Ironically, at a time when every interest group wants the power to self-identify, we rob this ability from God.
This is irony at its highest. Irony, by definition, is something that is deliberately contrary to what is expected. Irony abounds in this oddly cultural phenomenon. Why?
God is Absolute Being, which means His essence is His existence. That’s the philosophical definition that basically means that nothing and no one makes God Himself. He relies or depends on nothing to be Himself. He is perfect and, therefore, completely knows Himself. In light of this understanding, God is the only being who could realistically and accurately “self-identify.”
Every human person is a “contingent” being, which means – again philosophically – that we are unable to hold ourselves in existence. We rely on a bond with Absolute Being to sustain us. We have insufficient knowledge to self-identify since we do not possess a complete grasp of ourselves. We are a mystery even to ourselves and, to the degree that we want to grow in an authentic knowledge of who we are, we must turn and seek enlightenment from God (and not our own isolated selves).
Such an enlightenment requires us to broaden and mature our own interiority and emotional preferences and assume a more universal understanding of ourselves and of the human family.
And so, such an enlightenment from God, which is eminently practical, comes through a discernment and respect for God as Creator, from our essence and gender as human beings, from nature and its laws, from our bodies and their male/female complementarity, and from our responsibility to one another and the common good.
This elementary logic shows us that only Absolute Being can self-identify. And yet, Westerners are completely convinced that it’s just fine to refashion God in ways contrary to His self-identification.
These observations indicate the intellectual sources of cultural chaos, gender confusion, social tension, and the false sources of credibility for homosexual or transgender ideology and the politically correct public policy that comes from them.
Such a state of affairs is not doomed to a continual downward spiral. It can be remedied by divine revelation, which is the unveiling and disclosing by God of His own divine knowledge of Himself to the human family. Simply put, it’s God sharing of Himself with us.
The very assertion of a divine revelation manifests several truths, some of which include: God is real; He is perfect and able to communicate with us; He does not need us to improve or update Him; We can know Him and transmit His self-communication to others.
The challenge in any age, especially in our own, is to leave our small enclosed world, discard our incomplete or mistaken views of God – “We know and have come to believe” – and to integrate these truths into our own life of faith and then teach them to others. As Saint Paul writes: “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thess. 2:7)
The rub, therefore, is whether we will surrender our cultural obsession with radical autonomy, with what the philosopher Charles Taylor calls the “sovereign self,” and accept God’s revelation. The challenge is whether we will acknowledge reality and seek enlightenment beyond ourselves. The pressing question is whether we will turn to God.
Summarized biblically, we would ask: Will we make an obedience of faith or will we worship the idols of our self-identification?
Revelation is a spiritual gift and a practical necessity. Its importance can be seen in the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. In the Day Books of the Second Vatican Council, the entire arena of revelation was at the heart of the debates and discussions. These efforts culminated in Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, which is one of the most extensive summaries of revelation in our theological tradition.
Vatican II emphasized revelation because it is precisely what’s most needed today. In seeing God as God, we can realize His intimacy and love, as well as his desire for us to know Him (and ourselves), and hear his call for us to accept who we are in His image, and enter into a personal relationship with Him.
The bottom line, therefore, is whether we will surrender to the revelation of God, and allow Him to change us and save us from our own fallen efforts to self-identify ourselves, or whether we will rebel against God, shape Him into our image, and self-identify ourselves into oblivion and chaos. The choice is ours – as are the consequences of our decisions.
Images: * Moses and the Burning Bush by Marc Chagall, 1958 [Jewish Museum, New York]
** Moses and the Burning Bush by Marc Chagall, 1963 [Musée Marc Chagall, Nice]
*** Yellow Crucifixion by Marc Chagall, 1943 [Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris]