You have come into existence for one purpose: to provide you with the opportunity to enter into the life that God has in mind for you. For when God looks at you there are two things that preoccupy God’s thoughts:
1. A deep and enduring love
2. A desire to help you freely respond to the life God is constantly offering you.
Everything else is secondary.
But who is this ‘God’ who is at the centre of all that exists? The Apostles Creed (the earliest continuously used statement on the essence of the Christian faith) begins by simply stating:
I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
These are important words, and they are worth returning to again and again. Yet, it is also important to acknowledge that God is so much more than can be contained in any human words. Even these ones. As useful as words can be, they are always limited by the way we interpret their meaning, by how we make use of them, and by the inadequacy of language itself. While there are things we can say about God that are certainly ‘true’, we must also understand that we are just at the very beginning of an eternal quest to deepen and develop our understanding of who, or what, God is.
And so we look at these words from the beginning of the Apostles Creed and, understanding them to be true, we wonder what more could be said. Questions are raised. For example: what does it mean for someone to say he or she ‘believes in God’? Are we simply saying ‘God exists’? Yes and no.
One of the ongoing problems we have when debating the existence of God with those who experience themselves as doubting God’s existence, is that while we do believe God ‘exists’, we are using that term loosely. That is to say, God does not exist in the same way that we, the trees, the birds, the Earth and the universe exist. All these things exist as a result of something else, and there was a time when they did not exist. This is not the case with God. God did not come into existence and God’s existence is not as the result of anything that hypothetically preceded it. What’s more, we can even say that God does not have existence (in the way we do) but that God is existence. God is not the first being in the order of creation. God is outside creation and is the reason why creation exists. Creation borrows its existence from God.
So God exists but not in the way that you and I do. God is ‘existence’. This means that God is not bound by the sorts of considerations that impact on creation. For example time, place, and change have no impact on God. Everything is ‘present’ for God. Everywhere is ‘here’ for God. God is a ‘constant’ and for God nothing ever changes.
But an assertion of the existence of God is not the only thought raised by the first line of the Apostles Creed. To ‘believe in’ something starts with agreeing it exists, but it is much more dynamic than that. For example, if I were to say ‘I believe in you’, I wouldn’t just be saying that I agree you exist. I would be saying that I have confidence in you, that I trust you and, possibly, that I love you. The same applies to the words ‘I believe in God’. The Christian, by claiming these words as true, makes an act of trust and love in the One whose very existence is the source of our own.
But what of the next line: ‘the Father almighty’? It is here that the limitations of language in the contemporary context really begin to bite. For a start, it makes no sense to say that God is either male or female. God is all genders and none. Yet there are various reasons why the image of ‘father’ is placed on God, and they are worth considering. First among them is that Jesus, whom we will discuss elsewhere, described God in this way. He had his reasons for doing so. One of them was cultural. The culture into which he was born had a long, but not consistent, history of thinking of God in the masculine. Some argue they did this in order to distinguish God from the female fertility goddesses of the time. Whatever the reason, this had become the habit of thought Jesus was to inherit.
But there is more to it than that. While acknowledging that God is certainly beyond gender, the image of ‘father’ may depict an essential truth about the relationship between God and creation. While a child cannot exist without the genetic material provided by the father, the child’s existence is independent of the father, in a much more obvious way than is the case with the mother. For the period of its gestation and for years beyond, the child and the mother are deeply interwoven. Therefore, it can be argued that the image of God as ‘father’ more accurately reflects the reality of creation’s relationship with God: one of deep dependence but also profound independence.
However, that is not to undermine the importance of the feminine in God. There is an authentic strand within the Judeo-Christian tradition that highlights the feminine attributes of God, and celebrates the ‘motherhood’ of God. Also, it needs to be taken into account that some find thinking about God as ‘father’ much too difficult, especially given their experience of their own fathers. In a society in which we are called to address the dark side of masculinity, this needs to be taken seriously. But a word of caution: it is not our men who define what fatherhood means in reference to God. It is God who defines what fatherhood should mean for our men. We look to God to show us what ‘fatherhood’ should be, not the other way around. That being said, because of the complexities to do with masculine imagery, you will find that any reference to God on this website will avoid male imagery where possible. The obvious exceptions will be quotations and any situation where the constant use of ‘God’ becomes too ungainly.
What of God as ‘creator of heaven and earth’? With this question we wander into the potential minefield that is the confluence of the scientific revolution, the impact of Darwinism, and the confusion wrought by Christian fundamentalism. Elsewhere we will discuss how Catholics read and understand Scripture, and what we mean when we say that the Scriptures reveal truth. Here we attempt to address the question: what do we mean when we say that God created heaven and earth?
First of all, the Catholic Church acknowledges that it is for science to determine when and, to a certain degree, how life came into being. A reading of St Augustine’s [354-430 AD] Commentary on the book of Genesis provides an early indication of the Church’s conviction on this point.
That being said, scientific theories on how everything came to be have waxed and waned over the years. For example, until relatively recently the dominant scientific theory was that the universe had always existed. Some scientists still consider this to be the case. However, it has always been the Catholic conviction that the universe and everything in it had a beginning, figuratively depicted in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. Interestingly, the more scientists are able to delve into the beginnings of the universe, the more overwhelming is the evidence that there was a time when the universe was not…and that there was a ‘moment’ when it came into existence. Science and faith are not always as antithetical as some would like to believe.
Scientifically accepted theories leave open the possibility of the existence of God. Science may rightly attempt to explain the mechanics governing the existence of the universe, and of life on this planet, but it cannot analyse the One who is behind it all. Science pertains to the universe and everything it. Faith pertains to the One who is behind and beyond the Universe, and for whom scientific principles do not apply (see above). With two notable exceptions (see the sections on ‘sin’ and ‘evil’ elsewhere on this site), everything that exists does so because God wants it to, and because God allows it to borrow from his existence. In this sense, God is the creator of all.
Original text by Shane Dwyer
Photo of clouds by Rodrigo Rodriguez on Unsplash
Fr Anthony Mellor, 30 October 2019
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, 30 October 2019
30 October 2019