One of my goals for this blog is to talk about the Catholic faith–not only how it is lived out in my own experience, but also the actual teachings of the Church, in all of their complexity, difficulty, and beauty. Once a week, I’ll post an edition of “Cozy Catholic CCD,” where I’ll discuss one aspect of the faith–and I will try to do it in a way that is conversational, interesting, and–of course!–in line with the teachings of the Magisterium. But I am not perfect or a professional theologian, so please let me know if you notice an error!
Guys. (By which I mean, “everybody.” Ladies and dudes.) Are you ready?
We are going to tackle a BIG IMPORTANT THING today. I want to cover this topic early, because almost every other teaching is related to it somehow—so I want to be able to link back here in the future. Of course, that also means that whole enormous books could be written on this subject, and I’m going to try to fit some of the basics into one paltry blog post… So bear with me. We can only dip our toes into what is really a vast, deep sea of wisdom and knowledge.
Let’s talk about Creation.
And let’s start at the beginning. When you read, you begin with A-B-C; when you sing, you begin with do-re-me; when you talk Creation–“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And then there’s the rest of Genesis: the story of the seven days of creation, followed immediately by the story of Adam and Eve.
Let’s get one thing clear: neither of these stories answers a scientific question of “how” the universe was created. The Church is totally cool with scientific theories like the Big Bang (first posited by Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian priest) and evolution, which help explain the mechanics of how and when creation unfolded.
So what CAN we know from the Biblical accounts of Creation?
First: God is the boss of EVERYTHING. God creates the heavens, the earth, the waters, the sky, the sun, the stars, trees, the animals, people… everything! Out of nothing (literally nothing–not even empty space or a vacuum), God made everything. Historically, human cultures have understood that a creator has authority over his creation, so they would have read the seven days of creation to mean that God has authority over everything in existence. He is King of Heaven and Earth—nothing exists that is not subject to Him. (Fortunately for us, He’s the perfect ruler.)
We also see in the creation stories that God is the source of everything that exists. Now, the Catholic Church doesn’t mean this in the Deist “clockmaker” sense, where He is only the origin, setting everything in motion and then stepping back to let the world run on its own. No, our understanding of God’s Creation is way more impressive than that. We believe that God is the foundation of all existence—that is, everything that exists, at any moment in time, depends on Him in a vital and immediate sense. God is the originator, but He is also the sustainer: He maintains Creation at every moment. He has His eye on you right now—and it’s a good thing, too, because if He stopped actively sustaining you, you’d blink right out of existence. That’s true for every person and tree and sparrow, and every lilly of the field, and every mite of dust—everywhere in the universe. He keeps us all in existence by His divine will. The next time you stop and stare in wonder at a beautiful blue sky, or a breathtaking landscape, or a piece of music that makes your heart sing along—know that God is experiencing that wonderful moment with you, because he is not only keeping YOU in existence to feel those feelings, but he’s supporting that blue sky, the shape of the earth, and even the very speaker in your iPhone that is playing the song.
Now, again, this is not a denial of science. It’s more like underneath science—another layer of understanding. In fact, another thing about Creation: we know from John’s gospel that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;” and through the Word the world was created. God created the world through Christ, the Word of God. The Greek word for “Word” that John used was “Logos”—which does mean “Word,” but also means wisdom, reason, rationality. We believe that when God created through the Word, He did so in a way that is rational and reasonable. Creation is a reflection of the rationality of God. God makes things that make sense. That’s part of WHY science works: because the universe was designed in a way that we can study and understand. And understanding Creation leads us to a better understanding of God, the Creator.
So science is good and valid, but God is still The Source of everything and In Charge of it all.
Now let’s consider WHY God created anything at all? After all, He didn’t NEED us for anything. Growing up, I always thought that probably God was just lonely, so He wanted to create some other people to know—but I was wrong. Here’s a cool fact about the Trinity: the fact that God is three divine Persons in one God means that he is never lonely—He already has community built into His essence! The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share love and fellowship among themselves, simply as part of their nature. So God didn’t need us for company. Also, He is not power-hungry; He didn’t create the universe just to boss around those smaller and weaker than Him.
No, our God is Love, and He created us out of love. God is the source of everything good, and he wanted to manifest that goodness and spread it around. He created us extravagantly–not out of any need, but just out of generosity. The universe and everything in it and anything that might exist outside of it, all exist because God wants to share His glory with us. Not in a self-aggrandizing way—“Hey everybody, come see how good I look!”—but in an exuberant, lavish manifestation of “Come and share this with me!”
And so we can also say with confidence that creation itself is essentially GOOD. Creation is good because it’s from God, and God only creates good things. Unfortunately we, God’s creatures, have wills of our own, and so we sinned and the world fell, and things are not so perfectly rosy—to say the least. (And I WILL say the least, because this is a blog post and we could spend eternity contemplating the tension between divine providence, God’s goodness and unlimited power, and earthly suffering. It’s an important question to consider, and it’ll be its own blog post someday, but this seems like the right time for the favorite evasion of Catholics: It’s a Mystery!)
(But I’ll also tell you one thing: no one can answer the problem of human suffering in the light of Divine Providence without spending a lot of time considering the Cross.)
Still, everything that exists serves to help manifest God’s glory. Sin can’t defeat God’s plans. Creation is still good. An important corollary is that every individual thing that exists is essentially good—because remember, God is its source, and He continues to sustain its individual existence at every moment. God wouldn’t do that for anything that was entirely evil. (This goodness is true of things that “have existence,” like people, physical matter, etc.—it is not necessarily true of things like the concept of lying, or an act of murder, and other such bad ideas.)
Did you catch that? I said that every single person is good.
“What?!” you say, “That’s impossible. What about murderers and rapists? What about kidnappers and politicians and deadbeat dads and Judas?”
Yep—all of those people, too. We may not understand how or why the existence of those people is good, but God knows there’s goodness in there somewhere—and we can believe it, because here they are! Their existence is the proof. God only makes good things. And for the record, Pope Benedict XVI agrees—“It is good that you exist!” he said in an address to the Curia in 2011. No ifs, ands, or buts.
One of the most interesting things about God sustaining our existence at every moment is that it means He sustains us even as we sin. He lets us open our mouths to tell a lie. He sustains our arm and fingers even as we move our hand to steal an item off the shelf at the supermarket. He is THERE. Of course, He’s not actively helping us to do those things—sins are all our own choice and responsibility. But God is there and he allows us our choices, not out of ignorance of what we’re doing, but out of respect for our free will–even when we use it in the worst ways, to turn away from Him and hurt people.
But free will is still a gift: it gives us humans the dignity of being able to willingly, actively participate in His Creation and the story of salvation. That’s something that no other creatures on the planet have. God gave us free will so that when He invites us to share in His joy and His plans, as revealed and unfolded in His Creation, we have the great, awe-inspiring, incomprehensible privilege of being able to say, “Yes, Lord, I will!”
Whew. That was long and complicated.
“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”
1. God is the source of all creation. Science is still accurate and helpful in helping us understand how He made it happen.
2. God has ultimate authority over everything.
3. God sustains all of creation at every moment.
4. Creation is good.
5. God created everything out of love and generosity.
6. Even as God sustains us at every moment, people have free will, which God allows us the dignity of exercising even when it means we do things He doesn’t like. Actively choosing to cooperate in His plans is the best use of our free will, and our greatest privilege.
What to read the real experts? Go here: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 279-324