NATURE OF GOD AS A SPIRIT: HIS PERFECTIONS

"God is a spirit and they that adore Him, must adore Him in spirit and in truth" (John.4:24).

While a Dominican Father was taking a walk in a certain city, two little children, aged six and four, came running and attached themselves to him.  The older, a boy, had entered the local Catholic school that same year. And, like all Catholic children, he readily become attached to the priests and sisters. This little tot, aged six, took hold of the missionary Father's Rosary that hung at his side, and worked his hand down until he held in his little hand the crucifix. Then he proudly held the crucifix up. and showed it to his little sister, exclaiming: "That is God!" The child was right. For, had not Christ said to Philip: "He that sees Me, sees the Father also" (John.14:9)?

This story, my friends, goes to prove how readily even a child can accept great truths known to man through divine revelation. To the mind of a child, or an unlettered savage, the teaching of religious truths presents no difficulty. They are accepted along with a thousand other facts around them, which, to such a mind, are equally mysterious and unexplainable. That child, on the way to school, did not know what made the trolley car move.  But he did know that it moved, and carried him to and from school. This same faith in the child is what made him place his confidence in his teacher. This same natural faith can lead all men to knowledge of God and His existence. 

But it takes supernatural faith, revealed faith, to enable us to understand what God is and what He does for us. "Natural faith leads us to the portals of heaven; supernatural faith grants us a glimpse of heaven itself." Hence, as we explained in previous discourses, all men can come to the knowledge of the existence of God. But that God is eternal, that God is a Spirit, that He is omnipotent, omniscient, and so on, could only be known through God revealing His nature and His properties to us. .Having considered the eternity of God, we shall today consider the meaning of the words: "God is a Spirit."

(O Jesus, assist us with Thy Grace!)

Nature of a Spirit.-- While we were still in school, this question in our Catechism was asked us: "Why do we call God a spirit?" Our answer was: "We call God a spirit because He is a being without a body, endowed with understanding and free will." We accepted those words for the moment. But, as we grew older, there was, and still is, much more to be desired in answer to that same question: "What is a spirit?" Since unaided reason does not satisfy us, we turn for further light to the revealed word of God. In the very first chapter, in the first Book of the Bible, we gain our first idea of the spiritual. After God had created the heavens and the earth and the creatures of the earth, He paused and admired it. For, says the Scripture: "He saw that it was good."  But when He came to the creation of man, the king of all creation, He spoke these striking words: "Let us make man to Our own image and likeness" (Gen.1:26). Saying this, God breathed into man's lifeless form a living soul.

But what did God mean when He said: "Let us make man to Our own image and likeness"? We again turn to Scripture for further enlightenment. The scene is laid near Mount Gerizim and Jacob's well. The dialogue is between Christ and the Samaritan woman. The question in the woman's mind is the place where the true God is to be adored. "Our fathers," she says, "adored on this mountain, and you say [that is, the Jews, Deut.12:5] that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore" (John. 4:20). Christ ignores the question as to the place, but tells her about the Person to be adored: "The true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. God is a spirit: and they that adore Him, must adore Him in spirit and in truth" (John, 4:23-24). "God is a spirit"--these are the important words. These told her, and reveal to us all, who and what God is.

But what is a spirit? To say that God is a spirit, is intelligible only to those who know what the nature of a spirit is. We recognize a stone, because it is hard and heavy--or by its shape, size or color. We recognize a tree by its roots, branches, blossoms and fruit; a man by his countenance, speech and gait. But how can we know a spirit without a material substance? We might better understand a spirit by telling you what it is not. A spirit is not a body, because a body is composed of matter, visible to the eye and senses. These parts can be analyzed, separated and dissected. Consequently, a body must have a beginning, changes and can be destroyed. Now, if the opposite is true of a spirit, then it has no body, does not consist of material parts, is invisible, indestructible and therefore immortal. But this is telling me only the negative side of a spirit. To say that light is not darkness is telling me very little about light.

What is the positive side of a spirit? Our Catechism tells us that a spirit is a being endowed with understanding and free will. Consequently, any being which is not capable of thought and is not possessed of free will--one that has not the power of determining its own operations and actions--is not a spirit. But who dare deny that God is a spirit, endowed with intelligence and free will? By the very fact that God is eternal, He must also be spiritual.

Reason, furthermore, tells us that a Creator who could make the world, with its numerous creatures all following a definite purpose and plan--all the planets in the heavens traveling in their own definite orbs, in various directions, at a tremendous speed, in orderly fashion, without any collision or disorder; the well-regulated periods of day and night; the four seasons of the year--reason, I say, demands that the Maker of all these must be endowed with intelligence and free will. And if all these created things would not prove it, then at least we must take God's own word for it when He tells us: "God is a Spirit, and they that adore Him, must adore Him in spirit and in truth" (John. 4:24).

Objection.--But here someone might object that Holy Scripture contradicts itself. For in one place, it calls God a spirit, and in other places it speaks of God's eyes, ears, hands, etc. For example, King David says: "The eyes of the Lord are on them that fear Him" (Ps.32:18); "Give ear unto my prayer" (Ps.16); "Heaven is My Throne, and the earth My footstool (Is.66:1). In other places mention is made of the "mouth of God, the finger of God," etc.

Answer.--My friends, this need not worry us. Holy Scripture is addressed to human beings, and uses the phrases and imagery current in human language as a means to communicate thoughts or ideas. For example, in order to give us an idea of the omniscience of God, the Bible speaks of "God's eyes" as seeing all things; to impress us with His almighty power, "His finger, God's right hand" are mentioned; or mention is made of the "heart of God" to express His infinite paternal love for mankind. But as a spirit, God needs no body. He needs neither eyes to see, nor ears to hear, nor hands to work with.

In man, too, it is in reality the soul which sees, hears, and works. The eyes are only the windows through which the soul may peer through to perceive the outer world; and the other senses serve the soul as instruments with which she operates and manifests herself. And the more one can elevate himself above the needs of the body, the more free does the spirit become. Therefore, the Angels, being incorporeal or pure spirits, must also be far more perfect beings, of greater understanding and stronger will than we are who are hemmed in by the human body. And if Angels and men are but the images of that one Supreme Spirit, how great, how sublime, must then the Spirit of God be!

God the Supreme Spirit.--Consequently, we call God the supreme Pure Spirit. That is, He possesses of Himself the highest knowledge, the holiest will, and all perfections in a superlative degree. The spirit of man, and much more so the spirit of the Angels, are indeed like unto the Spirit of God, but not equal to it. For the spirit of man or angel is limited, the Spirit of God is unlimited; the former was created, the latter is uncreated and eternal of itself. Man, the Angels, and all creatures have their perfections, their life and existence, from God. But God has everything in Himself.

Oh, my friends, do you not see how small, how limited, our minds are when we try to speak of our God? Only by weak comparisons can we make the true Spirit of God seem a little more real. Take, for example, light: the candle is bright, the gas light is brighter, the electric light is still brighter. But can you compare any one of them, or all together, to the sun! What a fullness of illumination we get there! All earthly radiance becomes as nothing compared with the sun.  

But even the rays of the sun have their limit. There are limits which the sun cannot penetrate. Even though we should picture to ourselves a body thousand times larger than the sun, streaming with light a thousand times brighter. Let us even imagine the sun to grow hour by hour larger and more luminous; and that this increase continues for a thousand more years. What a wonderful substance!  How radiant, how brilliant a light that would be!  But could we even then say in the proper sense of the word that it is infinite? NO. the Most brilliant sun imaginable would still have its limits, and its brightness equally so. But God's Spirit is infinitely perfect, infinite from every angle.  No measure of space is vast enough to enclose Him; no period of time is log enough to make the length of His day; no created intellect is clear,  or keen, or subtle enough to understand His nature; no heart is great enough to love Him as His infinite perfections deserve; no words, no name, no mode of speech can express the infinitely perfect Spiritual Being we call God. "For, as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are My ways exalted above your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts" (Is.55:9) says the Lord.

God's Spiritual Perfections.--From the infinitely pure Spirit of God, we can reason to His spiritual perfections. We can do this by way of negation and attribution. "Of Him, by Him and in Him are all things" says St. Paul (Rom.11:36). 

(1) By negation we abstract from our idea of the Sprit of God everything that is imperfect and limited, because it is unworthy of His greatness. Free from all imperfections, there remains that one sublime, marvelous, ineffable Spiritual Being, above all other beings, surpassing all other spirits which no human intellect can fathom. "So he that is a searcher of majesty shall be overwhelmed by glory" (Prov.25:27).

(2) Again, we can arrive at the knowledge of God's infinite perfections by way of attribution: that is, by attributing to God all the beauty and perfections which we perceive in creatures, but in an infinite degree. "His greatness has no end," says Holy Scripture. 

Let us begin with the marvelous growth and variety of flowers, their leaves and blossoms, their scent and shades. They beautify the earth and ravish the eye of man.  But the man of faith raises his eyes higher and higher to God. His heart, his reason, tells him that in God the Creator is found all this beauty in an infinitely higher degree with all imperfections removed. So enraptured would St. Simon Salus become by this thought that, while walking through the fields, he would strike the flowers with his staff and cry out: "Be silent, be quiet! Do not reproach me with ingratitude to God."

Turning to the heavens, we marvel at the sun, the moon and the stars. According to astronomers, 35,00,00.000 planets range the skies above us. God's spirit governs them and directs them all. Casting our eyes in humility towards earth, we are confronted by the marvelous variety of creatures there--from the smallest insect to the elephant, from the smallest fly to the eagle, from the smallest fish up to the whale, from the smallest worm to the giant serpent. Marvelous are their movement, the keenness of their senses, the power of their strength. But the Eternal Spirit is their teacher and their director, from whom all other things have their beauty, their power and their strength.

Coming to man, with a spiritual soul created according to God's own spiritual image, we marvel over his powers of memory, understanding and free will, his accomplishments in the works of arts and science. There are between 1.5 and 2 billions of such human creatures, no two alike in appearance or in mental accomplishment.  And far surpassing them all are the minions of heavenly spirits, the Angels and the Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, Thrones and Dominations. But the very names of these Angels imply degrees of spiritual perfection. And so far inferior to God and Angels is man that King David could cry out: "What is man, O Lord, that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou dost visit him?" (Ps.8:5).  Above all these, Angels and men, animate and inanimate creatures alike, reigns that supreme infinitely perfect Spirit who has said: "God is a spirit; and they that adore Him, must adore Him in spirit and in truth" (John. iv.24).

Conclusion.--May these reflections aid us to a better knowledge of the nature and spirit of God! It is true that, at best, our weak human intellects can acquire but a faint knowledge here on earth of what God really is.  "We see now through a glass in a dark manner," says St. Paul (1Cor.13:12).  But let us pray that through faith we may one day become worthy of seeing God face to face, being mindful always of the words of St. Paul:  "That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what God hath prepared for them that love Him" (1 Cor.2:9). Amen.