Unanswered Questions to the Last


Some questions are never answered; thus, the philosophic speculation since the time of the early Ionian Greek thinkers of the fifth century B.C.  Thales is regarded as the first one of these intellectuals and as one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece.  He thought that all things originated out of water, giving a purely physical, rather than mythological explanation for the existence of the universe.  The fact is that metaphysical explanations for the origin and continuance of the universe abound.  Modern natural science (essentially biology, chemistry, and physics) has advanced greatly in explaining the nature and structure of the universe, but not the cause of all things.  When natural science attempts a theory of what caused all things to be, it is overstepping the limits of its discipline.  Only philosophy (a study of realities beyond or the bases of the physical; study of the nature of knowledge and being; metaphysics, logic) and theology (a study of God) are qualified to advance explanation of such causation.  Natural science should be true to its methodology and know its limits.

Christian theology draws its material from both reason and revelation.  According to rational thinking, nothing can be self-caused.  All things require a preceding cause except that which is self-caused.  God is self-caused and moves everything else into being.  Among many others, Saint Thomas Aquinas used logic to prove the existence of God and His creation of the cosmos.  The Dumb Ox (as Aquinas was called) also relied on revelation as recorded in the Bible, giving us knowledge about God of which logic is incapable. Theology is pre-eminently the study of God, utilizing reason and revelation.

In any case, while theology has provided many answers, many questions remain that can, at times, leave us in doubt about the existence of God.  Theology as a science does not work the same way as biology, chemistry, and physics.  The natural sciences are based on observation and experiment.  But, these disciplines do not encompass all of knowledge unless one believes that all knowledge is known only through the senses.  Historical science is based on making judgments about artefacts and documents of the past and is founded upon unrepeatable events, while natural science makes conclusions about physical forces that occur time and time again and do not vary in their effects.  In other words, what natural science studies are repeatable events.  The same causes produce the same effects.  Theology’s study is of God who is not an object that can be studied like the sun.  We can not run a scientific experiment to prove God.  We can not isolate and examine God as a thing among things.

Poetry and literature are produced and have to do with human beings who use metaphor, image, and imagination to speak of human experience that is several steps removed from nature through complex language and culture.  Humans are self-aware beings far above the consciousness of other life. Theology also is an eminently human endeavor to describe the nature of God.  Such a discipline involves logic, language, literature, history, in short, the humanities and social sciences.  Its task is never finished; new problems arise with each generation as we attempt to understand God’s ways in the world.  God can not be put under a microscope or seen through a telescope.  He would then not be God.  He is not susceptible to direct observation or scientific experiment.  He is the Creator, not the creature.  He is the Other of a completely different kind from us.   We can not look directly into “his face” and live, as the Old Testament tells us.  Luther would remind us,  “Let God be God.”

Throughout history, God has shown Himself in ways we can understand without our being destroyed by His glory and majesty.  Christ has come to us in the flesh to save us from our sin.  He has come as a humble servant.

Apophatic theology dwells on what God is not; but, we must say more than what God is not.  We must describe Him as closely as we can even with our severe limitations.  We know Him by His effects, not face to face.  The reason for our study of theology is not simply out of a desire to know; but, because God’s existence or non-existence makes a profound difference in the meaning of our lives.  Our existential situation before God (coram Deo) matters more than anything else.  Detachment is not usually a positive procedure in  theology.

We can be personally involved in our study of God without being sloppy in our procedures.  We don’t leave behind the rules and methods of history, language, literature, archaeology, logic, and any other discipline that contribute to theological reflection.  We accept the conclusions of natural science as long as these conclusions are based on science, not scientism–an ideology that is built on natural science but is not the same.  Natural science must be true to its own principles.  It is dishonest for it to come to conclusions that are not achieved by its own methodology, but by ideology.  For example, planetary warming should not be based on simple assertion or unproven hypotheses.  Natural science must show the evidence for planetary warming; but, more than this, it must show evidence that human beings have much to do with planetary climactic change.  The bottom line is that when a scientist makes a statement based on natural science, he must “Show Me” that it is true.  In the physical (natural) sciences whatever is asserted about natural processes must be based on observation and experiment.

Questions will remain unanswered as long as human civilization exists.  This fact is certainly true about theological inquiry.  Unanswered questions about God and the world leave room for doubt.  Faith always involves doubt as part of its dynamic.  Until the end of time, we will have questions and doubts.  Only with the fulfillment of all things will all questions be answered if at that time when we see God face to face the answers are of any interest to the saints in the kingdom of heaven.


Michael G. Tavella

March 12, 2024

Saint Gregory the Great, 604


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