Sunday, February 19

The big $64,000 question - why are we here?



I posted this question on the DCF boards that I frequent, but I thought I'd go ahead and post it here as well, because they're thoughts that have been going through my mind.

This is one of those "I know the Mormon answer, but don't know the Catholic answer" questions, so I hope you will all bear with me.

The Mormon "Plan of Salvation" is a rather clear-cut example of why we are here, complete with fancy diagrams (see above). When I was Mormon, I knew why I was here - to see if I would pass the worthiness tests so that I could enter the Celstial Kingdom with my spouse, and we could have our own worlds with our own spirit children.

Obviously, there's nothing that clear cut for the Catholic church. The purpose of life, as far as I can tell, is to praise God and to help your fellow man. But I have yet to find a diagram.

What exactly is the point of having us be separated from God on earth? Why did God give us bodies and have us experience life, but leave our dependance on him to be faith alone? Why didn't he just create us in Heaven with bodies? Or why didn't he just create our spirits so we could all spend eternity with him? Why would he create both physical beings and spiritual beings, like angels? What good is Free Will if it just takes us away from him if we make the wrong choice?

Or why doesn't he make himself 100% available to us on earth? Why leave reason for us to doubt his existance?

I can get the whole "evil" concept, but I just don't understand why God didn't just skip the middle man and go straight to the end where we all spend Eternity singing his praises?

Like I said, I was thinking of the Mormon "Plan of Salvation", which has extremely rational lines of thoughts as to why we are going through what we are doing, and I couldn't think of a rational Catholic one, at least not one that I have been taught.

I'll do some reading in my Catechism of the Catholic Church tonight and see what I can find as well. But if anyone has any input, I'd appreciate it greatly.

11 Comments:

At 5:40 AM, Blogger Petra said...

Actually, God did create the World in the way you would like to have it: with Creation singing His praise, most of all His supreme creature, Man.
But it was us who separated ourselves from Him, creating most of the problems you are addressing here. (Am I right to suppose that Mormons don't believe in the Fall - at least not in the way Christians do?)

And if you ask: but why did God let us leave? The answer is: because we have Free Will and we have to bear the consequences of our actions. But God has maintained close connection with men and continuously strived for the ultimate reconciliation that finally happened through Our Lord Jesus Christ....

 
At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Jase said...

What exactly is the point of having us be separated from God on earth?

We may not be with physically with God, but we are certainly not separated from God while we are here on this earth. And if one takes the Eucharist at "Catholic value" then one can even rightly say that we have God in bodily form with us -- even now. Thus, even on this earth there is a physical and real presence of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity among us.

Or why doesn't he make himself 100% available to us on earth?

He does, but only for those whose eyes see with faith.

Why leave reason for us to doubt his existance?

Hebrews (I think ) tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith. If God were an absolute provable, undeniable fact, then faith not exist -- for we would know beyond any doubt. But the fact that doubt can and does come, gives us reason to lean on faith (and hope).

Why did God chose this method? I don't know. But I bet in the end we will see that it was a beautiful plan, perhaps the grooming of the wedding bride -- creating a beautiful bride that has obediently learned to trust in her Groom, long before she ever beholds Him face-to-face.

Jase.

 
At 12:06 PM, Anonymous John said...

The reason you can diagram the Mormon plan of salvation is due to it’s narrowness. You know this from your practice, I’m sure. Do your callings, your visiting teachings, marry a worthy priesthood holder, read the scriptures and the authorities, make your tithe, perform ordinances in the temple, etc. I’m sure it’s a comfort to know if you do A, B, and C, you will achieve D.

I think Christianity is at it’s base much more simple. God is love. In order for love to exist, we must have the freedom to choose love. We are judged on how we love, or in other words, how we submit ourselves to Love Himself. Where’s the cutoff? That’s anyone’s guess.

But due to it’s simplicity, there isn’t a formula for salvation. What I mean by that, there isn’t anything you can do to ensure your salvation. Mormons came to earth to get a body. Christians were created on earth, body and soul. Mormons pretty much have a core set of activities that will help them find their way to the Celestial Kingdom. Christians don’t. They can focus their devotion on one thing – the Eucharist, the Immaculate Heart, Saint Joseph. They can be a generalist with their devotions. They can follow the Catechism as best they can in their lives. They can lead contemplative lives, or they can focus on service to the poor, infirmed, imprisoned, or non-believers (just a short list). But in any path you follow, it is only a path. Conforming your heart to the Lord is what matters. When you are internally His, He will set your path. And that path will glorify Him, and it won’t just be good for your soul, but for others. The one’s you know and love as well as souls you’ve never met.

What you do is important. But it’s the cart before the horse. It’s important to remember that God wants your heart. For all we know, the Good Thief at Calvary lived like the Devil his entire life. But God’s Mercy was there for him to the last minute of his life, and we are assured in the Gospel that he was brought to salvation.

In one sense, a diagram of Christian salvation isn’t worthwhile. You have earth, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. We know that the saints are in Heaven, eternal life with God, an ecstasy and peace indescribable by mortals. We know the condemned go to Hell, eternal separation from God. We know the saved yet unsanctified go to Purgatory, a place of temporal purification. But when someone dies, with a handful of notable exceptions, we haven’t the slightest idea where their soul is destined, no matter what boxes they’ve checked off. Only God knows.

Thus a diagram is misleading. It would be an exercise in sinful pride for us to offer the plan of salvation to others that was anything more than this: Confirm your life to the holy will of God. It is natural to look at the big picture and ask, “Why this plan of salvation?” It’s a good question to ponder, but pure vanity to expect a definitive answer. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. (Isa 55:9)

 
At 3:43 PM, Blogger Brad Haas said...

Curious... the Mormon answer? I've been looking for a Mormon answer for long time now, and I have yet to find one.

Sure, we're here to prove ourselves, return to our Heavenly Father, and all that. But why is that why we're here? Why is our objective to have eternal families? It makes us happy, but why? God didn't define this - He is ruled by it. No god defined it. Then why is it so? Why are good and evil the way they are?

Fact is, without an infinite Being, one who is self-sufficient and who gives all others existence (and therefore purpose), we'd have no purpose. Oh, we're all self-existent in a sense, eternally existing as intelligence? What for?

This is important: something can only have a purpose if it was made or if it is self-sufficient. Only the infinite God is self-sufficient. Nothing in Mormonism is self-sufficient, and nothing in fact was truly made. If you take literally and seriously the theological tradition of Mormonism, there is no purpose to existence.

Unless, of course, I'm misunderstanding things. Maybe the missionaries will have an answer next time we talk.

 
At 4:15 PM, Blogger Father Tom said...

Hi Cynthia,

Fr. Tom Dowd here, from Waiting in Joyful Hope. I'm hoping I can be of some help.

I think the question is a bit bigger than "why are we here", as you yourself are aware by your supplementary questions. If it makes you feel any better, my own theological quest has been driven by similar questions.

It seems to me that there are 4 basic questions that any religion needs to be able to address:

(1) Who is God?
(2) If God is all-good and all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?
(3) If God *is* all-good and all-powerful *and* there is evil in the world, what is God doing about it?
(4) If God *is* all-good and all-powerful *and* there is evil in the world *and* God is doing something about it, how do we get with the program?

Catholicism, in a nutshell, is an answer to those 4 questions. You haven't found a neat diagram because the whole of the Catholic faith *IS* the diagram! But without regurgitating the whole catechism, I'll try and come up with some sort of answer.....check my blog in a bit, as I suspect it'll be too long to post here. May it'll connect the dots a bit. :-)

 
At 4:30 PM, Blogger Cynthia said...

Thank you, all of you, with your help. It has given me a lot to think about and pray about.

 
At 7:41 PM, Blogger Mark Wyzalek said...

The Cathecism of the Catholic Church is a wonderfully rich resource:
http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm

The Baltimore Catechism is another great resource. Its beauty is in its simplicity. Start at the beginning.
http://www.truecatholic.org/baltcont.htm

Yours in Christ

 
At 8:59 PM, Blogger Father Tom said...

If I may suggest, though, keep away from the website "truecatholic.org". This is the site that proclaims that there hasn't been a "true" Pope for over 40 years, and that declares that Benedict XVI is a heretic. They profess to follow a "real" pope who lives in Springdale, Washington. Riiiight.

Gotta love the Internet. You can find anything there, no matter how odd.

 
At 5:02 AM, Blogger Mark Wyzalek said...

You are so right Father Tom - my mistake.
James Akins has a site
http://www.cin.org/users/james/index.htm

that has a number of Cathecisms (Main indexes at bottom of page) including the Baltimore

http://www.cin.org/users/james/ebooks/master/master.htm

 
At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Greg said...

According to the Catholic Church, the goal and end of human life is communion with God.

This communion with God comes from faith in Christ, along with participation in the life of the church after being baptised. The Catholic church believes, like the Orthodox Church, in a sacramental view of God, that is, God's invisible nature and being are communicated through participation in the holy liturgy and eucharist.

Humans originally had a natural communion with God which they could enjoy at will. God's plan in the beginning, ruined by human free will, was that man would participate in God's love and life and being and in doing so, reach the end for which he was made, which was intimate union with God. Union here is not pantheism in the sense we become God or Gods, but rather God makes us by grace what he is by nature.

However, the free choice made by Adam and Eve rejected this possibility and in doing so, our communion with God was broken and all humans lost their natural love, relationship and awareness of God. This led to a profound ruin in the human condition, which in turn through the darkness of sin leads to evil. It is an important aspect of Catholic theology that the material world and human nature are not evil, but made good and are good in terms of their being. Evil rather is a form of nothingness and emptiness which is parasitic on goodness and existence, and arises from the wrong set of choices by our wounded nature rather than a 'thing' in itself. Sin is more or less missing the mark God intended for us to reach, which breaks our relationship with him and in doing so leads to death and ruin.

Our relationship to God is restored by the sacrifice of Christ, who by being incarnate as a human being, restores our communion to God and in our baptism, we can again partake in God's nature and life and our image of God which resides in ourselves is restored. Our participation in the liturgy and sacraments along with development of prayer and contemplation, allow us to grow into the mystery of God and his infinite love and being, and strive towards the final consumation in which we will see God in all his glory, beauty, and love and goodness (which are all infinite and One in God, as God's essence is One) in the beatific vision.

 
At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Greg said...

I might also try to answer some of your individual questions, which some great Church Fathers from the Catholic Church have addressed.

1) What exactly is the point of having us be separated from God on earth?

In truth we are not separated from God, in the sense all of creation is from God, in God, and for God. St Paul says in the book of Acts 'In God we live, move and have our being.' God has made creation and also us, as a mirror of his infinite wisdom, beauty, power and creativity. However, we are separated from God by sin, which is our broken relationship with him. To have a sense of God's actual prescence, we need to repent for our sins and be properly baptised and incoroprated into the church, which remits sin and brings us back fully to the divine life.

2) Why did God give us bodies and have us experience life, but leave our dependance on him to be faith alone? Why didn't he just create us in Heaven with bodies?

The material world is essential to our existence, and is part of God's good creation. The material world is not evil, nor is it an illusion. The idea we are split into body and soul is in fact an idea from pagan philosophy, notably Platonism, which splits the soul from the body and regards the body as a sort of tomb in which the soul needs to be freed. Christian belief sees the body and the soul as an integral whole, and in the process of salvation both body and soul are redeemed and will be in heaven, not just the soul.

Life is necessary because communion with God is an ongoing process. St Gregory of Nyssa says 'to grow in virtue is to become like God' and we live in order to grow into God's likeness. Because God is infinite, we can never be like God as God is or become God, but because he is infinite once we embrace God, we can participate both in this life and the next in his life and love in a way which is never exhausted. Our creation in a world of change and time is not an accident, but absolutely essential for us to be who God wanted and wants us to be.

4) Why would he create both physical beings and spiritual beings, like angels? What good is Free Will if it just takes us away from him if we make the wrong choice?


God created the universe, angels and ourselves because of his overflowing beauty, goodness and love, which come from God's infinitely perfect and ineffable being. God does not need us or the universe to be happy, or any creature, rather, God wished for the creatures he made to partipate in his own love, life, goodness and being. However, both Satan and also Adam and Eve tried to become God without God, and in ways contrary to God, and in doing so fell from their great status in God's creation. The pride and belief of both they could become 'God' or 'Gods' on their own volition, rather than becoming 'God' in the sense they trusted and loved God and participated in the goodness which they would have gotten had they not fallen, was what led to their fall and judgement.

Or why doesn't he make himself 100% available to us on earth? Why leave reason for us to doubt his existance?

God's prescence can be very difficult to sense. This is largely because of the fall, which has badly damaged our 'spiritual' faculty for properly knowing and sensing God. Many mystical doctors of the Catholic Church, most notably John of Cross, outline how we can cultivate a sense of God's prescence, but this requires us to empty ourselves of our selfish tendencies, our ego, and our sin. Because doing this is extremely difficult, the spiritual journey is often hard. But with God's grace, even the worst obstacles can be overcome.

Also, while we can know that God exists if we think about it, God is not something which can be proven using logic. Unfortunately because God is incomprehensible and ineffable and also infinite, God's essence can't be defined in terms of the concepts we use to know and understand things. Hence God is above rational knowledge and a complete mystery. St Thomas Aquinas says it well when the most perfect way to speak about God is by saying what he is not, rather than what he is. Nevertheless, we can still speak very positively about God in many ways.

I can get the whole "evil" concept, but I just don't understand why God didn't just skip the middle man and go straight to the end where we all spend Eternity singing his praises?


In a way this assumes we can automatically get into heaven without any effort. This is not what God's plan is (in terms of Catholic understanding). Life on Earth is an opportunity and a trial to take part in God's life and love, but like other good things, it requires hard work and effort and turning away from what is evil. In the Christian understanding, communion with God is not something which starts and stops at say, baptism or eucharist, but is also something temporal as there is the possibility either to keep growing in your relationship with God, or to fall away from it. The Eastern churches say it very beautifully when our goal in life is to assimilate ourselves ever more closely into God's perfection, to be perfect as God is perfect, and to see God ever more clearly in his beauty, goodness and love, but at the same time because of his mystery, full completion of this beauty is only consumated in the life to come.

 

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