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God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
My purpose is to discuss how we are to put our faith in Gods love as the One who created us and continues to create. This is the first article of faith of the Apostles Creed: I Believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
Each article of the Creed is an ocean of revealed truth. Not just a single magazine article, nor even a volume could be written about this article of faith. Literally a dozen libraries would not exhaust the revealed wisdom contained in that article of faith.
My plan, therefore, is to briefly explain this profession of faith, and then share with you what I consider the single most important spiritual implication of this first article of the Apostles Creed.
Faith in God, Creator of The Universe
In the opening of the Apostles Creed, we profess our faith in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
Over the centuries, the Church has understood this to mean that there is only one God. This one God has not only existed from all eternity. He is the one Being who must exist. He is therefore the one Necessary Being whose existence is His very essence.
Christianity also believes that, although God is absolutely one in nature, He is not a solitary Being. He is the Divine Community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Trinity of Persons is the model on whom the human race is patterned. As we read in Genesis, God said, Let Us make man according to Our image and likeness (Genesis 1:26).
We also profess our faith in God as Creator of all things visible and invisible. To create means to bring something into existence out of nothing. In creating, God begins with nothing, parts with nothing and gains nothing. Creation, therefore, is Almighty Love, because all the benefits of creation are gained by the creatures, and not by the Creator.
We believe that there are two kinds of beings whom God has created, the material and the spiritual. Material creatures have space and size, weight and color and quantity. They can be seen and touched and tasted and heard by bodily ears. In a word, they are perceptible by the senses. Spiritual creatures have none of these qualities. They can be perceived only by the mind and experienced only by the will. Thus, the angels are spiritual persons and our souls are spiritual beings, which animate our human bodies.
Immediately we see that the world is not eternal. This is revealed in the Bible. The opening words of the Scriptures declare, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). And Christ tells the heavenly Father, You loved me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24).
God created the world in order to manifest His perfection through the benefits that He bestows on creatures, not to increase His own happiness nor acquire any perfection.
Needless to say, God was not obliged to create the world. He was not constrained by anything within Himself or by anything outside of Himself. His only motive for creation was to share something of His own perfection.
He preserves the world by the same almighty love that must be ever-present to keep the world in existence. As we read in the Old Testament, How could anything remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved had it not been called forth by you? (Wisdom 11:25).
The world is governed by Gods providence. There is an eternal divine plan for the universe. God always knew how He would govern the world and willed to do so. Moreover, He is now putting this eternal world-plan into effect.
By His providence, God watches over and directs all the things He made, for everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves (Hebrews 4:13). His wisdom deploys her strength from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things for good (Wisdom 8:1).
Divine providence implies two things. God foresees even those things that are going to occur by the free choice of creatures, and He directs all creatures to their proper end or destiny.
Does this mean that we still act freely, even though God has planned everything? Yes, our freedom is part of the divine plan. God wills the final effects of all created actions and has provided that they be achieved. Some of these effects are produced by what we call necessary causes (like gravity) and others by means of truly free choices (like obedience).
Before we go into examining the spiritual implications of our faith in Gods creating the world and us out of nothing, it will be useful to remind ourselves that God not only created, He is creating.
Each of us, when we came into the world, was conceived and born with a body and soul. The body we received from our parents. The soul for each one of us was individually, distinctively, separately and immediately created by God. Let me repeat. It is not only that God created the world, but every time a human being is conceived, the Church infallibly teaches that, at the moment of conception, God creates the soul and infuses it into the body. That is why the expression God our Creator refers not only to the beginning of time. It refers to the beginning of each one of us separately, distinctively, and as we soon find out, uniquely. The most fundamental reason why each of us has such a distinctive personality is because at the moment of conception, God created each one of our souls to be unlike any other soul from the beginning until the end of the world.
We now wish to look at the spiritual consequences of our faith in God our Father and Creator. The number of these implications is beyond counting. I would like to limit myself to just seven: first, humility; second, gratitude; third, confidence; fourth, divine respect; fifth, peaceful reliance; sixth, adoration and seventh, charity.
The first spiritual implication of our having been created by God is humility. Humility is living the truth. And the truth is that before God in His goodness brought us into being, we were exactly, mathematically and, as we say in philosophy, metaphysicallynothing. We were nothing. We would be nothing except for Gods gift of creation.
In practice, we are not to consider ourselves simply more than we really are. More than we really are! What is more than nothing? Anything! As you reread the great saints and mystics of Catholic history, men like John of the Cross or women like Catherine of Sienayou are sometimes startled at how little, how unimportant they considered themselves in their own eyes. Well they might, because, whatever else the saints realized, they knew more clearly than most people that once we admit that, of ourselves, we were and would be nothing, it becomes (I do not hesitate saying) psychologically impossibly to indulge even in one passing moment of pride. What are we, what do we have, that we have not received from God?
Before we go on to the second of our implications, let us be a little clearer. One of the consequences of our having been made by God out of nothing is that we have no claim to anything of our own. Everything we are and everything we have is a gift that belongs to God. But for that very reason, it is to be used according to the will of God. We dare not hide in pseudo-humility by not putting it to use, not exploiting the gifts that God has given to us which He wants us to use for His greater glory. We should never be afraid, if we use Gods gifts according to His will. He will protect us from pride, provided we keep telling ourselves, Whatever I have, whatever I am is a sheer, unmerited gift from God.
Our second implication is gratitude. Why did God create us? Very simply because He loved us. What are we saying? Do we mean that God loved us before He made us? Sure! Otherwise we would not exist. How this needs to be taught in the most unqualified language to the now millions who are not accepting the gifts that God wants to give them, for example, in the children that He intends to bring into the world. No mystery this. God loved us before He made us. Our gratitude therefore should be boundless. How spontaneously (I do not say without a second, but even without a first thought), we are grateful for the least favor done for us. How grateful then we should be to God who in His goodness wants us to imitate His generosity. We are not to look for profit in giving ourselves to others as an expression of our gratitude to God.
There are three words I would like to leave with you of how we should show our gratitude to God. They are thanks-thinking, thanks-saying, and thanks-giving.
How thoughtless I can be in not thinking grateful thoughts for all that God has given and is constantly giving me.
If I think grateful thoughts, I will express my gratitude in words. I will tell God, My Lord, I thank you for your goodness to me, who deserve nothing except to be punished for my sins.
Grateful thoughts and words will lead us to grateful actions. Not only will I give back to God what He has so generously given me. I will give up what I like out of gratitude to the Lord who became man to sacrifice Himself on the Cross out of love for me.
The third implication of our faith in Gods creation is confidence. Seeing what God has given us, all that He has done for us from the moment of our first existence to the present, can we possibly doubt His power and His goodness in the future?
Our hope is grounded on our faith. We believe that everything we have and possess and enjoy and, let me add, endure, is a gift from God. You mean that pain is a blessing? Are you serious? I could not be more serious. How dare we be anxious or worried. We must be confident that we shall receive from the same God who has been so good in the past all that we need to remain faithful to Him until death, and then confident that the moment we cross the threshold from time into eternity, this God will be there waiting for us.
Of course, the strength of our hope depends on the depth of our trust. We hope in the good things that God promises to give us in the future. But our hope of receiving these good things depends on how completely we trust in God. Meaning what? How convinced we are of Gods love for us. That is all, that is all the human heart wants in lifethat is allto be loved. And the one by whom we most want to be loved is the one who has been so good, so lavishly generous in the past.
Our fourth implication is divine respect. This is a strange combination of words to be explained as we go along. It is many years since I attended a lecture by the social scientist Vance Packard. The whole audience of about five hundred was clergy. Packard described how we in the modern world depend on advertising. Today, some two hundred billion dollars are spent annually in America by the advertising industry. At the root of advertising is the instinct to conformity. We fear to be different from others, and we desperately want to be accepted.
There is no single practical recommendation that I can give you other than to encourage you to daily examine your conscience on giving in to human respect. How many temptations and, as a consequence, how many sins, come from our fear of what others will say or think of us. By the way, that is how the human race failed in the Garden of Eden. Remember? The devil watched Adam and watched Eve. I have it, he said to himself. I need to get Adam to sin. It is his fall that will bring down the whole human race. But I think the best strategy is not to tempt Adam directly, but through the woman he so dearly loved. The last thing he wants is to be separated from her. If I succeed in getting her to disobey God, both will sin. We know what happened. In greater or less measure, we are all victims of human respect.
Now back to our grateful faith in creation. A moments reflection will tell us, Why should I be so concerned about what other people think of me, or say about me, or , what may be the least painful, do to me? Before they were conceived in their mothers womb, like me, they wereexactly nothing!
In the profoundest sense of the word, we have no one to be afraid ofno creature. It is only the Creator whom we should fear. The sobering remedy for human respect is what I call divine respect. We are to be concerned only with what God thinks of us. We should strive only to please Him. If in the process of pleasing Him, others are also pleased, great! That is a bonus, but it is not necessary.
Our fifth implication is peaceful reliance. In a prosperous country like ours, worry is literally an epidemic. The single most flourishing profession in the health sciences is the profession of psychiatry: why? because so many people are anxious.
We have nothing to fear from God, provided we are faithful to His will. The reason we become anxious is because we are so pathetically aware of our own weakness. We know how stupid we are and, under the pressure of trial and temptations, how weak we are. That is why our grateful faith in creation is the single most effective remedy for anxiety and worry, My dear, what are you worrying about? The better we know ourselves, the more liable we are to be victims of anxiety. But this is where faith must enlighten our minds and tell us, You wouldnt even have begun to begin to be, let alone have become what you are now, if God had left you to yourself. Trust Him for the future.
Sixth implication is adoration. God is to be adored for His greatness, His power and His majesty. By now, how many prayers of adoration we have recited. Every Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit is an act of adoration. Our purpose here is not to learn more theology, it is to strengthen our spiritual life. What a difference between reciting the Glory be to the Father and gratefully realizing the greatness of God. What is the deepest ground we have for adoring God? It is the fact that He is our Creator.
The highest purpose of creatures in the world is to reveal to us the greatness of the Creator. The main purpose of the sun is not to give heat and light, or food that we might nourish the body. With all the wonderful things in nature that we so much enjoy, we must constantly remind ourselves that their noblest reason for existence is to serve as windows revealing to us the Great God. Every creature should be an impulse to adoration, which means to give loving recognition of the beauty and excellence of God.
Over the years, I have found five words, each beginning with an A, corresponding to adoration.
How are we to practice adoration of God? By paying attention to God. How attentive we can be to creatures, especially the one creature who is always on our minds and dominates even our dreams.
We adore the Creator by our admiration of God. We stand in awe before what God is showing us so that, by seeing the creature we might, through it, see and behold the wonderful God.
We adore God in our loving acceptance of His will in our lives. By accepting His will when it crosses our own, we call it, what else, we call it pain. Words cannot describe the adoration of a loving heart that sees the loving God in suffering pain.
We practice adoration of God by our grateful acknowledgment of His sovereignty in our lives. He is Master. That is why we never allow ourselves to be cowed by others. We should be slaves to no one except to the Almighty.
We finally practice adoration by our anticipation. We anticipate that the God, whom we now believe in, we shall one day see face-to-face in a heavenly eternity.
There is one more practical implication of our faith in the mystery of creation. It is the practice of charity. Everything in our spiritual life depends on the clear understanding of our faith in God as Father Creator of the world. This faith is the deepest stimulus for our practice of selfless, self-denying, self-effacing and self-giving charity.
God created the world. Yes, He did. But, mysteriously, in this world which God created, there are so many people in need; there is so much suffering. How come? Why? God has indeed created the world, but, we must immediately add, an uneven world. There are mountains and crests, but there are also deep cavities. Why is there so much want, so much pain, so much need in the world created by the good God?
Is it God who made the world? Yes! But he wants us to cooperate with Him. The reason there are needy people is not that we should question Gods goodness, but question our generosity.
Where would any of us be now, unless over the years we have lived so far, there have been people with the divine impulse to recognize and respond to our needs? God has put inequality in the world to inspire us to cooperate with Him in, dare I say it, His ongoing creation of the world. We have things that others lack. That is part of Gods plan to inspire those who have to share with those who need.
Everyone and everything in the world has been created by God. Yet, in large measure, he has left the distribution of His gifts to us. So true is this, that the Church has even coined a term to describe our role in cooperating with God by distributing His gifts. She calls it the Second Creation. The inequality among human beings which is such a scandal to unbelievers, for us who believe is the foundation of charity. Thank God for ignorant people! Thank God for unskilled people! Thank God for lonely people! Thank God, what am I saying? But I have tothank God for the sinners! God wants us, by our practice of selfless charity, to share with Him what He has so generously given to us. We close with a short prayer.
Most Holy Trinity, we thank you for creating us, and we adore you, the Creator of heaven and earth. Teach us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to cooperate with you in communicating with others the blessings you have given to us. By sharing your creation with everyone whom you put into our lives, we are confident of reaching the destiny for which you created us. Amen.
Father Hardon is the Executive Editor of The Catholic Faith magazine.
Copyright © 1999 Inter Mirifica
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