Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Personal God

Over at Mark Shea's blog, there's a discussion about one of the many dismal statistics to come out from the Pew Religion Survey: the fact that only 60% of Catholics say they believe in a personal God. He links to this discussion of the matter at Intentional Disciples.

As I said in the comments at Mark's, though, I think that analyzing this statistic has some pitfalls. For one thing, as Mark alludes to, we don't know if people who self-identified as Catholic are active Catholics or people who haven't set foot in a church for a couple of decades.

But another thing is that most of us have overwhelmingly encountered the word "personal" in relation to God when a Protestant friend or acquaintance asks us, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ to be your personal Lord and Savior?"

So seeing that question on a survey may cause a reflexive moment in the mind of a cradle Catholic, where he identifies the question with Protestant Christianity (and especially Evangelical Protestant Christianity), checks the "no" box and moves on. If you were to ask him about the Three Persons of the Trinity he most likely will be able to tell you about them, and if you were to ask whether the Second Person, our Lord, would have endured His Passion and Death just for him, just for any one individual on the face of the earth, he would probably be able to give the correct affirmative.

But that means a belief in a very personal God, in a God Who loved the world enough to send His Son, and in a Son who loved us all enough to die for us, and in a Holy Spirit who loves us enough to remain with us through His Church.

It's just that Catholics don't generally put it that way. We may think about our relationship with God as very personal indeed, when we ask Him for His help in our daily lives, when we examine our consciences before confession to see with sorrow how we've offended Him, and when draw inspiration and strength from the prayers and examples of His good friends, the saints.

In fact, I've started to like the negative British term "Godbotherer" to describe someone who is religious--if my persistent habit of discussing things with God and spontaneously thanking Him for something He did two days ago or asking Him for sudden help in moments of chaos isn't "Godbothering," then I don't know what is.

So Catholics may not be all that familiar with the language of the personal God, and we may need to remedy that. But for many of us I suspect the problem is more one of semantics than reality--that we do see our relationship with God as intensely, even dramatically, personal.

Especially when we see Him, in the Eucharist. Especially when we receive Him, in the Eucharist. Especially when we adore Him, in the Eucharist.

Our relationship with God isn't just personal--it's immediate, and intimate, and tangible. "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord" isn't pious symbolism--it's an imperative and physical relationship with the One Who died to save us.

It's hard to imagine a relationship with God that is more personal than that.


Alexandra said...

"Mental prayer [oraciĆ³n mental] is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us... He who neglects mental prayer needs no devil to carry him to hell. He brings himself there with his own hands. ~ St. Teresa of Avila

A personal God is older than protestantism itself!

Irenaeus said...

"It's hard to imagine a relationship with God that is more personal than that."

Bingo bingo bingo. I love talking to my Prot friends about this, that in the Eucharistic re-presentation of = the body and blood of Christ, there one finds a token of the Incarnation, and the transcendent and the immanent meet.

freddy said...

"Godbotherer" -- gotta love it! Although I think He is more bothered by being ignored.