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Chapter 20: The Relationship between God and Sinful Humankind


Revelation conveys God’s communication to humankind, inviting us to share intimately in his life. Although we can have some knowledge of him simply by natural reason, supernatural revelation includes truths about God which we could not otherwise know at all. God’s personal communication is carried out by human words and deeds—it is not ineffable, not beyond the capacities of human expression, and not apprehended by some sort of nonconceptual intuition. Revelation occurs in the world of the human and is humanly accessible. To attract our attention and initiate a special relationship, it is also distinctive; it includes elements—signs and wonders—which cannot reasonably be taken for anything but divine communication.

To understand what faith in God means, we need to begin with other cases of belief in a person. Most of what we know is taken on faith—in parents, teachers, scientists, historians, “experts” of many kinds. Faith in the sense of assenting to propositions is generally subject to verification, but this is not true of the faith which is the basis of an interpersonal relationship. Such faith is acceptance of what other persons say about themselves, especially when they make commitments, and so is acceptance of them. Thus it is not subject to verification proportionate to its certitude. Faith in another is the beginning of intimacy and leads to further intimacy; it demands fulfillment in action.

What God reveals is not just some fact about himself or us—it is himself, revealed most perfectly through his Son, Jesus Christ. Faith is acceptance of this communication; it is absolutely necessary and the beginning of our intimacy with God. It includes welcoming his deeds and assenting to the truth of his words. It means accepting God as he reveals himself. But, as it is presented to us, the content of divine revelation is a definite body of truths articulated in human language and proposed by the Church. One must therefore assent to all the truths the Church proposes as revealed. Moreover, because faith is the fundamental option of Christian life, it is normative. One must act on one’s faith, obeying God’s will as he has revealed it. Thus faith makes demands, but it carries with it the power to fulfill them.

An act of living faith includes a free choice to accept God’s proposal of intimate communion, and this is a choice for the sake of the human goods of truth and religion. The act is both free and reasonable: free because the truth of faith is not evident, so that one can refuse to assent; reasonable because, when the preaching of faith is carried out as it should be, it is accompanied by signs sufficient to show that one has good reason to believe. One who believes fulfills a duty of conscience to seek the truth and embrace it when found. Moreover, once we have faith, it will not be taken away from us; we can betray and abandon faith, but this is not a blameless “loss” of faith.

At the same time, living faith is not only a human act but a divine gift (though God’s inward teaching or prompting adds nothing to the outwardly expressed content of faith). God moves one to recognize him communicating in the revealing medium—most perfectly, in the words and deeds of Jesus—and all else follows from this. The absolute certitude of faith cannot be accounted for by the fact that it is a human act, but only by the fact that it is a divine gift. Moreover, it is wholly by God’s gift that one shares in divine life by living faith.

Given the fact of sin, humankind needs redemption. Given humankind’s self-mutilation by sin, our redemption calls for a radical restoration, a work of re-creation, which only God can accomplish. In God’s restoration, everything good will ultimately be integrated in Jesus, while what is radically evil will be excluded. But because this world will pass away, God’s offer of reconciliation is extended only for a limited time. Faith in this revelation—this offer of reconciliation—is conversion and justification.

God, though a loving Father, is not a foolishly indulgent one. Scripture testifies that he hates evil and is angry with evildoers. This is understandable if we recall that evil is a privation, an absence of what ought to be present; God hates the evil which deprives evildoers of the good he wishes them to have. He rejects nothing of the good sinners still enjoy but, respecting our dignity, he calls upon us to change the evil self-determination of sin and does not intervene to prevent all the natural consequences of our wrongdoing.

This respect for human dignity is characteristic of all God’s redeeming work. Though only he finally can redeem, he makes us cooperators with him. Our response to God’s revelation—his offer of reconciliation and intimacy with him—should be the living of holy lives, which will help to overcome sin and its consequences. Fallen human beings thus have, in their need for redemption, a ground for faith which Man in the beginning did not have; and the act of faith and fidelity to it are not only morally required but in our own best interest.