What God Is Like by Fulton L Sheen?
All the passages below are taken from Fulton L. Sheen’s book “You,” republished in 1998 by the Society of St Paul.
How do you think of God?
Do you think of God as Someone on a throne who sulks and pouts and becomes angry if you do not worship and glorify Him and who is happy and grateful to you when you go to church and pray to Him?
Or do you think of God as a benevolent grandfather who is indifferent to what you do so long as you enjoy yourself?
If you hold either of these two views of God you cannot understand either why you should worship God, or how
God can be good if He does not let you do as you please.
Let us start with the first difficulty: Why worship God?
The word “worship” is a contraction of “worthship”. It is a manifestation of the worth in which we hold another person. When you applaud an actor on the stage, or a returning hero, you are “worshipping” him. Every time a man takes off his hat to a lady, he is “worshipping” her. Now to worship God means to acknowledge in some way His Worth, His Power, His Goodness, and His Truth.
If you do not worship God, you worship something, and nine times out of ten it will be yourself. If there is no God, then you are a god; and if you are a god and your own law and your own creator, then I am an atheist. The basic reason there is so little worship of God today is because man denies he is a creature. But we have not yet answered the question: “Why should you worship God?” You have a duty to worship God, not because He will be imperfect and unhappy if you do not, but because you will be imperfect and unhappy.
If you are a father, do you not like to receive a tiny little gift, such as a penny chocolate cigar, from your son? Why do you value it more than a box of Corona Coronas from your insurance agent? If you are a mother, does not your heart find a greater joy in a handful of yellow dandelions from your little daughter, than in a bouquet of roses from a dinner guest? Do these trivialities make you richer? Do you need them? Would you be imperfect without them? They are absolutely of no utility to you! And yet you love them. And why? Because by these gifts your children are “worshipping” you; they are acknowledging your love, your goodness, and by doing so they are perfecting themselves; that is, they are developing along the lines of love rather than hate, thankfulness rather than ingratitude, and therefore they are becoming more perfect children and happier children as well.
As you do not need dandelions and chocolate cigars, neither does God need your worship. But if their giving is a sign of your worth in your children’s eyes, then is not prayer, adoration, and worship a sign of God’s worth in our eyes? And if you do not need your children’s worship, why do you think God needs yours? But if the worship of your children is for their perfection, not yours, then may not your worship of God be not for His perfection, but yours? Worship is your opportunity to express devotion, dependence, and love, and in doing that you make yourself happy.
A lover does not give gifts to the beloved because she is poor; he gives gifts because she is already in his eyes possessed of all gifts. The more he loves, the poorer he thinks his gifts are. If he gave her a million, he would still think he had fallen short. If he gave everything, even that would not be enough. One of the reasons he takes price tags off his gifts is not because he is ashamed, but because he does not wish to establish a proportion between his gift and his love. His gifts do not make her more precious, but they make him less inadequate. By giving, he is no longer nothing. The gift is his perfection, not hers. Worship in like manner is our perfection, not Gods.
God would still be perfectly happy if you never existed. God has no need of your love, for there is nothing in you, of and by yourself, which makes you lovable to God. Most of us are fortunate to have even a spark of affection from our fellow creatures. God does not love us for the same reason that we love others. We love others because of need and incompleteness. But God does not love us because He needs us. He loves us because He has put some of His love in us. God does not love us because we are valuable; we are valuable because He loves us.
God thirsts for your love, not because you are His water of everlasting life, but because you are the thirst, He the water. He needs you only because you need Him. Without Him you are imperfect; but without you, He is still Perfect. It is the echo that needs the Voice, and not the Voice that needs the echo.
Now we come to that other misunderstanding concerning God which interprets His Goodness as indifference to justice, and regards Him less as a loving father than as a doting grandfather who likes to see His children amuse themselves even when they are breaking things, including His commandments.
Too many assume that God is good only when He gives us what we want. We are like children who think our parents do not love us because they do not give us revolvers, or because they make us go to school. In order to understand goodness, we must make a distinction between getting what we want and getting what we need. Is God good only when He gives us what we want, or is He good when He gives us what we need even though we do not want it? When the prodigal son left the father’s house he said, “Give me.” He judged his father’s goodness by the way the father satisfied his wants. But when he returned a much wiser young man, he merely asked for what he needed: a restoration of his father’s love; and hence he said: “Make me.”
The thief on the left judged the goodness of Our Lord by His power to take him down from his cross; that is what he wanted. The thief on the right judged the goodness of Our Lord by His power to take him into Paradise; that is what he needed.
The Goodness of God means that God gives us what we need for our perfection, not what we want for our pleasure and sometimes for our destruction. As a sculptor, He sometimes applies the chisel to the marble of our imperfect selves and knocks off huge chunks of selfishness that His image may better stand revealed. Like a musician, whenever He finds the strings too loose on the violin of our personality, He tightens them even though it hurts, that we may better reveal our hidden harmonies. As the Supreme Lover of our soul He does care how we act and think and speak. What father does not want to be proud of his son? If the father speaks with authority now and then to his son, it is not because he is a dictator, but because he wants him to be a worthy son. So long as there is love, there is necessarily a desire for the perfecting of the beloved.
And that is precisely the way God’s goodness manifests itself to us. God really loves us, and because He loves us He is not disinterested. He no more wants you to be unhappy than your own parents want you to be unhappy. God made you not for His happiness, but for yours, and to ask God to be satisfied with most of us as we really are is to ask that God ceases to love.
Think of the thousands you have met whom you could never love. You may even wonder how their mothers could love them. But God loves them! He even loves them more than He loves us who look down on them with disdain and scorn.
If you want to know about God, there is only one way to do it: get down on your knees. You can make His acquaintance by investigation, but you can know Him intimately only by loving. Arguments will tell you God exists, for God’s existence can be confirmed by reason; but only by surrender will you come to know Him intimately.
That is one of the reasons why so many professors in secular institutions have no religion. They know about God, but they do not know God. And because they do not love what they already know, because they do not act on their belief, even the little they have is taken away. They rattle the milk cans of theology but they never drink the milk. Atheism is born from the womb of a bad conscience. Disbelief comes from sin, not from reason.
This is not a broadcast about God, it is a plea to love God. Worship Him because He is your perfection, more than knowledge is the perfection of the mind. Love Him because you cannot be happy without love. Love Him quite apart from all you are, for you have the right to love Him in your heart, even though you do not always succeed in loving Him in your acts. Think a little less about whether you deserve to be loved by Him; He loves you even though you are not deserving—it is His love alone that will make you deserving. It is love that confers value. “Nobody loves me” is the equivalent of being valueless. Hence the more important the person who loves you, the more precious is your value. You are infinitely precious because you are loved by God. Most of you are unhappy because you never give God a chance to love you. You are in love only with yourself. In the magnificent lines of Thompson, God may well ask you:
“…Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How has thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?”
Say to yourself over and over again regardless of what happens: “God loves me?” And then add: “And I will try to love Him!” (15-20)
(ADDRESS DELIVERED ON DECEMBER 10, 1944)