[This is the fourth in a series of posts about faith. Here all the posts in order: 1. Is faith circular? 2. Everyday faith. 3 How faith begins. 4. What revelation really is. 5. What is supernatural about faith? 6. Faith and love.]
One way to define the supernatural act of faith is to say thing it is the mind’s adequate response to revelation. Just as self-defense is a response to an aggressor’s attack, and obedience is a response to an authority’s command, so faith is defined by God’s act of revelation. To round out my discussion of faith, then, I would like to devote a few words to revelation.
Revelation is by its very notion something that comes to us from outside the order of nature. If it came from within the order of nature then it would simply be another natural thing that we could reason about, like the animals and the trees and the mountains. The very fact that God has revealed anything at all is already a fact that we couldn’t know just from the natural world. Both the contents and the fact of revelation are news to nature.
As a result, the moment we become aware that revelation has happened, we know something about God’s interior life that we could not have known naturally: we know that he wanted to say whatever he said. And for the point I’m trying to make, it almost doesn’t matter what he said: he could say something trivial, like “Ants have twelve toes,” but it would still be something beyond the order of nature for us to know that God wants us here, in this moment, to know that ants have twelve toes, and he wants it enough to speak it to us about it directly. That’s not just something about ants: it’s something about God.
So every revelation brings with it a special knowledge about God’s interior life, just by the fact of being revelation. But this is a wonderful thing! Taken to its extreme, to know the interior life of God beyond what is naturally knowable is the life of heaven; it is the beatific vision; it is a share in God’s own interior life. Any revelation at all, therefore, even before we consider its content, is a small portion of the life of heaven. It is a gift God gives us, a gift not only of new information but of himself. To put it another way, following Aristotle’s dictum that the slenderest knowledge of the highest things is better than the greatest knowledge of lower things, any divine revelation whatsoever, no matter what its content, is more precious than any other knowledge we could have.
This likeness between revelation and heaven is increased when we realize that the content of revelation is going to fit with the nature of revelation. That is to say, given what revelation is by its nature, then of course the content will not ultimately be about something trivial but about God’s interior life. In this regard, one could say that the doctrine of the Trinity is that content of revelation which most clearly displays the notion of revelation itself, with the revelation of the Cross of Christ right behind it.
If revelation is by its nature God’s self-gift to his creatures, and if faith is the adequate response to revelation, then the very notion of faith will be that it is the mind’s adequate response to God’s approach of love. In my next post, I want to unpack this conclusion further.