BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (46) – Why do I exist?

[照片來源] Enrique Lopez Garre

– Rev José Mario O. Mandía

At a certain point in his or her life, every man and woman asks the questions: Where did I come from? Where am I going? Why do I exist? (cf CCC 282). We ask ourselves these questions because we seek meaning in our lives. That meaning is what gives value, and it is only when something has value that we treasure it. When something has no value, or is of little worth, we discard it, we throw it away. Victor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, made a study of fellow prisoners who survived the German concentration camps. He discovered that whoever had a reason to live survived, and whoever had none perished.

When a new gadget or machine is invented, we ask the maker of the machine what it is and what it’s for. Fortunately for us, Christians, we know who our Maker is and He himself has “spoken to us by a Son” (Hebrews 1:2). This Son did not only teach us about God. He also revealed to us who and what we are. This is why St John Paul II said in his inaugural speech as pope on 22 October 1978, “Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man.’ He alone knows it.”

 Furthermore, we ask not only about ourselves, but about the world and the universe. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (284), says: “It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin: is the universe governed by chance, blind fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good Being called ‘God’? And if the world does come from God’s wisdom and goodness, why is there evil? Where does it come from? Who is responsible for it? Is there any liberation from it?”

All these are basic questions which, sooner or later, every one asks himself. Thanks to our Catholic Faith, the answers are not difficult to come by.

Before we discuss the answers that our Faith offers, let us first check the explanations that some schools of thought offer (cf CCC no 285).

(1) PANTHEISM teaches that everything is God, or that the world is God, or that the development of the world is the development of God. (Christianity says: God is different from His creation. There is an infinite difference between God – Pure Act of Being – and His creatures.)

(2) EMANATIONISM teaches that the world necessarily emanates from God (i.e., it comes from God’s own substance, not “out of nothing”) and will return to him. (Christianity says: indeed, the world comes from God, but not from His substance. The world was created freely ex nihilo (out of nothing) by God.)

(3) DUALISM and MANICHAEISM teach that there are two eternal principles from which everything come: Good (Light) and Evil (Darkness). These two are in constant conflict. (Christianity says: evil is the absence of some good that ought to be present. It is not eternal, as evil arose only with the sin of the angels who refused to obey God.)

(4) GNOSTICISM teaches that the world is the product of sin, and should therefore be rejected because it is evil. (Christianity says: because the world comes from God, it is good. This can be proven from the first two chapters of Genesis.)

(5) DEISM teaches that God made the world, that He is like its Architect, but it is up to man to execute the plans. In this system, God is also compared to a watchmaker who lets the watch work on its own after he has made it. (Christianity says: God indeed created the world, but if He does not continue to keep it existing, it would stop existing – it would just disappear! Besides, without His Providence, the world would run out of control.)

(6) MATERIALISM teaches that the world did not come from anything outside itself. Everything comes from evolving matter. (Christianity says: matter could not have come to this stage of organization without a non-material spiritual Being who can plan out and execute this plan.)

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