When the Pope speaks of the infinite

I’ve dealt with the question ‘is there unimaginably more joy in Heaven than Earth’…now on to some maths!
For instance, when the Pope says “only an infinite good can satisfy man”-now that is encouraging however you take it! However, genuinely mathematically infinite- or just a really, really large amount expressed via hyperbole? A Christian friend of mine says God is not infinite joy, both disagreeing with the idea that God is ‘infinite’ and that God can be an abstract quality like joy, although he agrees that God is love.

He’s also not sure about the notion of unimaginable, ineffible joy; though I believe (now- after the help of you guys) that one is a given.

Basically (while he does not see god as a man) he does believe the best way to view God is as a monarch/king, because that is the metaphor expressed in the Bible. He’s not keen (to say the slightest) on my imagining of Him as being like the burning Sun of all that is good or pleasureable; arguing God creates such things but is not that quality himself. Or, he says, all pleasurable things might be said to be a little part of God.

It is a very interesting question you bring up.

From the Catholic view point, yes, the Beatific Vision (eternal existence in the presence of God) is an infinite Good. God IS infinite. If He wasn’t infinite, He would not be God in the sense that we understand Him, because He would not have existed for all eternity and would not continue to exist for all eternity.

Infinity is an elusive concept for us, as humans, because nothing in this universe is infinite. We can grasp the concept to an extent, but never can we really, truly conceive of just what it is. Thus, it is easy for people like your friend to reject that such a thing exists. However, we must remember that God is not in the physical world the same we are; He is outside its limits. He is really and truly infinite in every sense of the word.

He possess, (or, if you prefer, IS) all the virtues. All in the universe that is good exists solely because it is an imitation of His perfection. He possesses all the virtues and all good infinitely – without limit – and thus can give us gifts without holding back, because He is the source of truly infinite goodness.

“Genuinely mathematically infinite - or just a really, really large amount expressed via hyperbole?” It’s the latter, because “the yearning for the infinite” is correlated with our subjectivity; when we conceive mathematical infinity, we don’t “yearn for it” like poets do when they contemplate the stars or human love. As finite beings, we can only imagine (and wish for) a multidimensional perception of reality, where the limitations of our body and mind don’t exist anymore and all things can be perceived simultaneously instead of successively. We don’t like the fact that we are finite beings, with a limited knowledge about the universe, with a language that can only express reality in terms of time and space, so we try again and again to overcome these limitations.

This is how the very ideas about God have evolved. The divine was described in concrete terms (multiple gods associated with various animals or birds, a family of highly anthropomorphized gods or an ethnic God represented as a monarch who defeats the gods of other nations, according to the social experience of ancient peoples), just like heaven or hell were described in concrete terms (actual places above the sky or under the surface of the earth, where souls enjoy the company of 72 virgins etc. or are tortured by fire or pitchforks).

But since we know that God is the source of everything and that by the Incarnation of Jesus we became entitled to call Him “Abba”, Father, we are free to see the old metaphor of the monarch as just one metaphor among many others. In the Catholic Litany of the Name of Jesus, we call Him “Sun of Justice”; G. F. Händel has a hymn known as “Jesus, Sun of Life”. These are not references to the pagan cult of the sun, but beautiful, poetic representations of the divine understood as the perpetual source of life and goodness.

So the ultimate source of joy can be called “joy”, the ultimate source of love can be called “love”, the ultimate source of light and life can be called “sun”, with the perfect awareness that we can’t actually comprehend and describe God like we can describe a physical object, but also with the perfect awareness that our poetic intuitions are correct, because we can recognize God in and by His creation, in and by humans and human creations. We know that God is not an old, bearded man sitting on the clouds. Likewise, the Church avoids any description of heaven or hell and emphasizes that any descriptions in terms of space and time are to be understood as metaphors.

When the word “infinite” is applied to God, it is applied not in the mathematical sense (‘an infinite series’) or the physical sense (an infinite unending expanse of space or time), but in the metaphysical sense of without limit.

God does not ‘have’ qualities. Every aspect of God which can be said to be one of his qualities–such as goodness, mercy, love, joy–is of his essence. God is love, God is goodness, etc. God’s attributes are identical with his essence.

When a person sees a beautiful sunset in the evening, reflecting different colors and pastels, a simply gaze cannot drink it all in, and just gets more beautiful as it is watched.

“… God is not infinite joy …” is shredded by seeing 10 billion sunsets at one time in God’s glory in heaven.

God is infinite in the strictest sense of the word. Partless, spaceless, timeless, boundless, indivisible, through all things, filling all things completely.

The word infinite comes from the Latin word finis which means an end or boundary or limit. The prefix in is negative, meaning without end, boundary or limit. The word infinite is not in scripture but if anyone had suggested limitation in God’s love or knowledge or power then the chosen people of God would have reacted in horror.

God is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, holding the entire universe in existence by an act of His divine will.


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