Sign Seeking

It seems that we might say that it is “natural” to hope or wish that God would “show Himself” or confirm the truth of the Faith in a personal way—for you personally, or for me personally—by means of some miraculous sign or other. I think that we can say it’s natural because the natural, normal means by which we come to knowledge is by way of our senses, and we “naturally” want to know the truth. St John of the Cross explains why this hope or even longing is misplaced and possibly dangerous.

And it must be known that, although all these things may happen to the bodily senses in the way of God, we must never rely upon them or accept them, but must always fly from them, without trying to ascertain whether they be good or evil; for, the more completely exterior and corporeal they are, the less certainly are they of God. For it is more proper and habitual to God to communicate Himself to the spirit, wherein there is more security and profit for the soul, than to sense, wherein there is ordinarily much danger and deception; for bodily sense judges and makes its estimate of spiritual things by thinking that they are as it feels them to be, whereas they are as different as is the body from the soul and sensuality ’sensibility’ and not sensuality in the grosser sense. from reason. For the bodily sense is as ignorant of spiritual things as is a beast of rational things, and even more so.

So he that esteems such things errs greatly and exposes himself to great peril of being deceived; in any case he will have within himself a complete impediment to the attainment of spirituality. For, as we have said, between spiritual things and all these bodily things there exists no kind of proportion whatever. And thus it may always be supposed that such things as these are more likely to be of the devil than of God; for the devil has more influence in that which is exterior and corporeal, and can deceive a soul more easily thereby than by that which is more interior and spiritual. [Ascent of the Cross, II, xi, 2-3]

Hoping for signs puts one in danger of being deceived by Satan by means of false signs, because we more readily credit them as something that is from God when we really ought to be cautious. This is all the more true precisely because we are accustomed by nature to obtain knowledge by means of signs, so that the thing we see or hear or touch may seem more real to us than things that we know by faith.

And thus they very easily become the means whereby error and presumption and vanity grow in the soul; since, as they are so palpable and material, they stir the senses greatly, and it appears to the judgment of the soul that they are of greater importance because they are more readily felt. Thus the soul goes after them, abandoning faith and thinking that the light which it receives from them is the guide and means to its desired goal, which is union with God. But the more attention it pays to such things, the farther it strays from the true way and means, which are faith [ibid., 4]

We are saved by faith, not by sight. It is far better for us not to seek for signs and wonders, and to rest in the truths that God has revealed to us by means of His Church. In this way we minimize the danger of being misled by false signs meant by the devil only to lure us away from Christ our Savior.

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Posted in Ascent of Mt Carmel, Epistemology, Faith

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