We can continue to affirm… the unbelief is contrary to nature, but we must at once add that man is not able to clear up wholly the strange chiaroscuro that weighs down the questions concerning the eternal realities. If a genuine relationship is to come into existence, God must take the initiative: it is He who must come to meet man and address him.
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 100
Reflection – This is the final excerpt I will include from the essay “The Natural Knowledge of God.” Ratzinger has talked about our capacity to recognize an order in created reality, and to know from this that an order-er exists. He has spoken of the naturalness with which this knowledge has come, factually, to most people in most times in human history. But he has also acknowledged that we all experience a tension around that – a desire to do our own thing and a desire to conform ourselves to the immediate powers that seem to control our lives: in our day, these are the fashions of the moment, the strongholds of money, sex, and power, and the ever-increasing reach of the state.
These interfere with our ability to ‘see’ God, so to speak. God and the Truth he has planted in all created reality are there, but these make demands on us that may put us in conflict with what we want to do, and what our society wants us to do. And so we can turn away; we can blind and deafen ourselves to God and the truth that surrounds us.
This analysis is deep and penetrating, and confronts us all—certainly, it confronts me! And so Ratzinger concludes the essay by saying that we just don’t have it within us to sort it all out. What is true? What is false? What is egoism? What is the spirit of the age? Where is God in all this? We little human beings are not up for the job of figgerin’ all that out, and anyhow, we are usually somewhat compromised already by our earlier wrong choices. We live in a mixture of light and darkness, a twilight land of half-shadows and dimly lit corners (this is the meaning of the word ‘chiaroscuro’).
The Christian answer, quite reasonable in light of this existential quandary we find ourselves in, is that God comes to meet us right here in the chiaroscuro. And this ‘meeting’ of God with man is a historical event with a face, a name, a narrative—Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary, Son of God, crucified, died, risen, ascended, and coming to us in the gift of his Spirit to the Church.
So our path to truth and knowledge of God is not, emphatically, the path of endlessly multiplied theological tomes (or blog posts!) or debate after debate with unbelievers and heretics. It is the path of cleaving to Jesus, moment by moment, turning to Him, asking Him for light, crying out to Him for mercy. Renouncing, in his name, the darkness of self-will and the illusions of the spirit of the age, and begging Him to shed the light of his truth into our frail little minds.
And it is only thus that we can thread our way through the needle of our times, and come into the full light of the Gospel, so that we can give this light and this Good News to our brothers and sisters who need it so deeply.