God Continues to Create Us Moment By Moment for His Purpose...
I found the above video made by the Thomistic Institute – as part of their Aquinas 101 series that introduces the key teachings of St Thomas Aquinas – highly helpful in conceptualizing and visualizing how God sustains us in being and yet protects our freedom to be and to do.
God is the primary cause of all things which are enabled to freely cause their own chain of secondary causes. Nor is God the primary cause simply in a temporal or historical sense. He is not some replacement concept for the Big Bang – i.e., a ‘god of the gap’ which could eventually be explained through greater advances in natural sciences.
God is being itself, and not one of the creatures whom He has caused to be. God’s sheer essence to be was revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’””), ascribed by Jesus to himself in front of the crowds (John 8:58: “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”), and declared by St Paul to the Athenian crowd (Acts 17:26-28: “And [God] made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’”).
No created thing owes its own existence to itself. In fact, all created things, at every moment of their existence, share or participate in God’s essence to exist. This means that God continues to create us, moment by moment. What is the spiritual implication of this? If we feel down, we can look at ourselves in the mirror, check that we simply exist, and know by faith that God continues to work through us in completing His ongoing creation. No moment as long as we live is divorced from God’s purpose for us. Indeed, “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Yet God sustaining us in being does not mean that He disrupts our freedom. He has created His creatures to be their own secondary causes in the world. Bishop Barron in his various videos (e.g., https://youtu.be/7tM3iDohF5o) emphasizes that God is not a competitor to His creatures and the created world. Moreover, human beings were uniquely endowed with intellect and the senses with which the nature of secondary causes in the created world can be explored – i.e., to practice the physical and the social sciences. And because all things participate in God’s Wisdom, we trust that our scientific investigations would discover physical and moral laws that transcend human subjectivity. The author of the Book of Wisdom thus meditates on the empirical patterns of the created world and its radical dependence on God, the source of being: “But thou [i.e., the Wisdom of God] hast arranged all things by measure and number and weight… How would anything have endured if thou hadst not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by thee have been preserved?” (Wisdom 11:20, 25).
However, a loftier goal for human persons – in our capacity as the mediator (i.e., priest) between God and the material creation (see Genesis 1:27) – would be to give thanks to God the Father through and in Jesus Christ the Son in the Eucharistic feast of the Mass (see Hebrews 7:23-25). There, Christ himself lifts up the whole of the created world and all chains of secondary causes towards God for His great glory. All our activities and goals ultimately find their centre in God Himself and nowhere else. This attitude is well summarized by St Augustine who meditates on the right ordering of priorities between the worship of God and the exploration of the created world:
A man who owns a fruit tree, and gives thanks to You for its bounty, even if he does not know how high it is, nor how long are its branches, is better off than another who is knowledgeable about its height and breadth, but neither owns it, nor knows, nor loves, its Creator.
So, to a person who lives by faith the whole world belongs. Even if that person has almost nothing, he or she, if they stay close to You, possesses all things, for to You everything belongs.
A person with faith, who may know nothing of the gyrations of the Great Bear, is without doubt better off than the one who tracks the stars, counts them, and measures the elements, yet leaves You out of his reckoning, You who have disposed all things according to their size and weight and numbers [Wisdom 11:20]. (St Augustine, Confessions, Book 5, Chapter 4).
(Joseph Kwon is a fourth year PhD student of Public Health and Economics at the University of Sheffield)