More than Our Father

The Creed balances many difficult ideas and paradoxes (as that God is one and three, that the immortal Son became mortal man, that life issues from death, and a thousand other mysteries). But the very first bit of balancing the Creed does is to propose three different titles by which we must think of the first Person of the Trinity. The first title is the most familiar, since Jesus himself explicitly commands us to use it: God is "Father." And we do well, of course, to obey Jesus in addressing God as our Father (as the Church is doing in this new Year of God the Father). But we do well also to not to lose balance and forget the other two titles used by the Creed. For besides calling Him "Father", the Church also calls Him "Almighty" and "Creator." If we allow our concentration on God as "Father" to eclipse our faith in Him as "Almighty" and "Creator", we do ourselves a disservice and God a dishonor. For it is these titles which make Jesus' command to call him "Father" all the more breathtaking and beautiful.

"Almighty" means "able to do whatever he wills." God's "might" includes, not only omnipotence, but omniscience. God alone knows everything that can be known and can do whatever he wants. By his almighty power, "the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them" (Gen 2:1). This is a dizzying prospect which, curiously, tends to evoke either awe or ridicule among us humans. It evokes awe in the childlike heart, especially when that heart beholds the work of God in creation and says "O Lord, how manifold are thy works. In wisdom thou hast made them all" (Ps 104:24). It evokes ridicule when the unbelieving heart sees the enormous amount of evil afoot in the world and says, "So if God is all-powerful, why didn't He prevent this?"

This is the central difficulty with our understanding of "Almighty": we think in terms of sheer force (as did the Psalmists who repeatedly end hymns of praise with puzzled questions asking why God doesn't just destroy the wicked). God, however, thinks in terms of love. God does whatever he wills, it is true. But what he wills is our freedom and the dignity of the human person. As such, He commits himself to the metaphysically head-spinning project of making a world where a large number of things happen according to unfree causes (like ice freezing at a given temperature) while others depend on our choices (like whether to pilot the Titanic through an ice field at top speed in the dead of night). God the Almighty does not force our choices, not because He is weak, but precisely because His power is the only thing that makes our choices possible.

But even more than the paradox of God's might being the source of our freedom, the Church sees God's might manifested in the mystery of the Cross. God's strange way of establishing his power "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but in that which is to come" (Eph. 1:21) is not by the expedient of refusing to allow bad guys to be born or by sending thunderbolts to fry the wicked. It is, rather, by allowing evil to do its very worst--and then bringing life even out of that. This is why Paul can say that "all things"--even the murder of God incarnate by his own creatures--work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes (Rom 8:28). For his purposes, even toward his most murderous creatures, remain good.

This means that God's omnipotence also is bound up intimately with his Providence. And his Providence is, in turn, inextricably linked to Him as Creator. When we say that God is "Creator" we are accustomed to think of long ago. We imagine a big black field of nothing, then a huge flash of light and wham! There it all was and that was Creation. Since that primeval event (we imagine) God has basically been moving the pieces around and, every once in a while, doing a miracle of creation (like with the loaves and fishes) just to show he hasn't lost his touch.

In reality, however, the Church believes that God wasn't just Creator then. He is Creator now. That is, nothing that exists could remain in existence for one nanosecond if God did not continuously hold it in existence. God creates ex nihilo (out of nothing). He is not like a human artisan, using pre-existing stuff like wood or clay. He causes not only the form but the matter of all that is, both visible and invisible. And having caused it, he goes on causing it, holding it in being even when (in the case of rational creatures like us or Satan), His creature rejects him.

Once we realize this, we begin to realize the staggering nature of God's self-sacrificial love for us. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, if God wanted to destroy the universe, he wouldn't have to do anything; he would have to stop doing something. You and I exist because God wills us to exist now, not just in a blueprint drawn up a long time ago. And he wills us to exist even when we loudly gripe about wanting nothing to do with him.

That means that all things, right now--even the bad stuff--are providentially coordinated by God for your good and mine... if we love God and respond to the "call according to his purposes." And that call is nothing less than the call through Christ Jesus become "participants in the divine nature" as 2 Peter 1:4 tells us. The significance of that cannot even begun to be grasped by our human minds. We specks of protoplasm on an ordinary bit of sand orbiting an average star two-thirds of the way out on the spiral arm of a completely run-of-the-mill galaxy among billions of other galaxies--we have been called by name and God has become one of us in order to make us, not servants, but sons and daughters.

This is not "Touched by an Angel" stuff. This is shocking. That the cloudy divinity of "Touched by an Angel" should smile down from some gauzy TV heaven and like us is a truism. The appropriate response to such a god is "How nice." But when God, the Almighty Creator kindles the unimaginable fires of creation for us, and oversees the rising and falling nations for us, and becomes man in order to be crucified for us who nail him to the Cross, the only conceivable response is "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth! What is man that thou art mindful of him, the son of man that thou dost care for him?" (Ps 8:1; 4). That is why it is so necessary to know who we call Father, lest in becoming too comfy, we come to really mean something more like "God our Uncle." As Rabbi Abraham Heschel says, "God is not an uncle. God is an earthquake."

An earthquake who loves us.

Copyright 2001 - Mark P. Shea