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Compendium Clips: Creation and Providence

In this Compendium Clip I would like to continue our consideration of the various articles of the Apostle’s Creed, this time focusing on the mystery of Creation, or as the scriptures say it, that “God created the heavens and the earth.”

To begin, this truth of faith is so important because it offers us the first and most important answer to those fundamental questions that everyone has about their origin and destiny.

Take our origin for instance, the doctrine of creation means that humanity and the world in which we live are not the result of meaningless chance or random chaos but instead come from the eternal wisdom and creative love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The fact of creation, then, was also the first step in God’s relationship with humanity and is, therefore, the foundation of all of God’s saving works, which as we learned, came to their fullness in Christ.

This leads us then to consider the purpose and destiny of humanity and creation: the heavens and the earth were made for the glory of God, which means that all of creation shows forth and communicates God’s perfections and attributes, like the ones we considered when we looked at the nature of God, for example his goodness, his truth, and his beauty.

The ultimate end or goal, then, of creation, is God’s glory and man’s happiness, which always go together since man’s happiness is achieved in God and since God’s glory is seen most fully in man’s fulfillment.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century expressed this truth in a very profound way when he wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God.”

But now let’s start looking at some of the details of how God created. First, God, who is entirely distinct and infinitely transcends his creatures, made the universe in total freedom, which means that he didn’t have to make anything. There was no necessity compelling him. His motivation, as we saw, was love. Moreover, he made the universe out of literally, nothing and ordered it according to his divine wisdom and goodness.

Yet God did not simply create or start the universe and then leave it on its own. Rather, he continually sustains and guides his creation to its destiny. Thus, to understand creation we must also look into Divine providence, which is how God governs and leads his creatures toward their perfection and ultimate goal.

Divine providence first means that God is truly the sovereign master of his plan or, as the scriptures say, his wisdom “spans the world from end to end mightily and governs all things well” (Wis 8:1). However, providence also means that God employs or makes use of the cooperation of his creatures, meaning, he grants his creatures the dignity of acting on their own and of being causes for each other. Because of this, creatures are able to directly participate in God’s plan.

Now this is all the more true for human beings since God gives us the power to intelligently and freely cooperate in this plan. Indeed, God’s providence calls humanity to the responsibility of collaborating in his plan and also inspires in us, “to both will and to work for his good pleasure” as St. Paul says (Phil. 2:13). This occurs through our many and various actions, our prayers, and also our sufferings.

Now a question that always comes up when one considers the goodness of God’s creation and God’s benevolent power over it. That is, why then does evil and suffering exist? This question is both very serious and unavoidable, and it has often been called the scandal or problem of evil. Because of the magnitude of the problem no simple answer can suffice.

Indeed, it is only in the whole or entirety of the Christian faith that we can find a response.

Nevertheless, we need to consider some of the main elements of why God permits evil. The first is to realize that God is not in any way, directly or indirectly, the cause of evil. Well, what is, then? Earlier we saw that God gives human beings the ability to act freely, which also means that we can abuse this freedom through sin. And so, it is personal sin, which in a mysterious way is at the root of all other evils.

And yet, faith gives us the certainty that, since God is all good and powerful, he would not permit evil if he did not also cause good to emerge from the evil itself. Indeed, we see the response to this burning question of evil most fully in Jesus Christ who himself underwent the greatest of evils in his cross of suffering, so as to bring about the greatest of good in his resurrection and in our redemption.

Finally, to summarize it is God who created all things with freedom, wisdom, and love. He is the One who also sustains and guides his creatures to their ultimate perfection through divine providence. Indeed, God’s providence over creation is so powerful that he is able to draw good even from evil. In the next Compendium Clip we will begin to consider what God created, focusing first on the invisible or angelic world.

To view an illustrated video of this column and other “Compendium Clips,” visit www.compendiumclips.com.

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