In the broadest sense, all of Christianity Richly is my story. But what would I say to to someone I just met, sitting beside me on an airplane? Or to a family member in just a short conversation? Or to you?
The short version of my story comes in three parts:
Does God Need Us?
The first part of my story is the reality of God’s creating love. What does that mean? It means that your existence and mine aren’t at all necessary. We aren’t needed by God. But to be wanted is much better than to be needed.
The poem, “The Creation,” by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1928) asserts God is lonely, and therefore He made the world. The poem recounts God creating light, then the physical features of our world, and finally plants and animals—but, so says the poem, God was still lonely:
Then God sat down
On the side of a hill where He could think;
By a deep, wide river He sat down;
With His head in His hands,
God thought and thought,
Till He thought, “I’ll make me a man!”
Nonsense! In his book, The Order of Things, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. explains:
Within the inner life of the Godhead there is a diversity of Persons such that God is in fact lacking no perfection, such as friendship … [this] means that what is not God … is not the product of necessity … what is not God need not exist. God would be perfect and complete even if there were nothing besides God.¹
Does God Love Us?
Did you notice, “What is not God need not exist”? Just in case you or I miss Fr. Schall’s point, that’s us. God was not moved by some sort of loneliness to sit down (in Johnson’s poetic language) beside a river and think, “I’ll make me a man!” Instead:
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness, freely created man to make him share in [God’s] own blessed life. [italics mine] For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man . . . In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life. (From Paragraph 1 of the Prologue to The Catechism of the Catholic Church)
God created freely. He created joyfully, for Genesis 1 repeatedly says that God viewed what He created as good. He even created us in His own image. And He blessed the first man and woman with everything needed for their welfare and creative activity (Genesis 1:27-31). This is evidence that God’s intent toward us is loving; that He desires our good; that He wants to draw close to us!
As Fr. Schall writes:
If God freely causes what is not Himself to exist, [then] we can, on the basis of His own merciful purpose in creation, anticipate or expect that His loyalty or fidelity will be freely given to what He causes to be.
How Do We Know?
As noted above, we get our first sense of God’s love from creation: we were created in His image, given everything needed for human welfare and creative activity. Evidence of God’s creating love starts here.
As magnificent as our world is, however, God went beyond creation. His communication is also evidence of His love. Before the first man and woman damaged their relationship with God, He apparently walked with them daily in friendship and complete communion (Genesis 3:8-9). Yet even after they chose their way over God’s, he continued to communicate through Moses and the prophets. And He continues to communicate today, as Fr. Allan White, O.P., explains:
Revelation is . . . a conversation of God with humanity, a conversation in which God takes the initiative. It is an impulse of His love . . . an expression of God’s continuous offer of friendship to humanity.²
God loves us and He tells us—as the simple children’s hymn says: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
God’s Highest Expression of Love
Like our first parents, each of us has failed individually and collectively—sinned—in what we have done, and in what we have failed to do. So God went beyond creation, and beyond communication. God’s ultimate expression of love for us is in His Son, Jesus Christ.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is the strongest possible evidence of continuing love from the One who created us, not because we were needed but because we were wanted. He entered our circumstances, becoming man.
By doing so, He went beyond the evidence of His that might be deduced from creation. He went beyond His ongoing communication of friendship through revelation. Jesus Christ is the highest expression of God’s love for us, in absolutely concrete form. He is God walking with us, not distant from us.
We might mistake the meaning of creation. We could misunderstand the intent of revelation. We cannot miss the meaning of God’s caring intervention in Christ:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, He spoke to us through a Son (Hebrews 1:1-2a).
What is Our Response?
Knowing these things, of course, the question becomes, “What is our response to God’s offer of friendship?” Listen to Pope Francis talking about God’s creating and redeeming love:
“It would do us good today to ask ourselves: Do I believe the Lord has saved me freely? Do I believe that I do not deserve my salvation and that, if I merit anything, it is [only] through Jesus Christ and what he has done for me?”
Pope Francis continues: “The gift of God’s son, his death and resurrection, is a mystery that is and always has been difficult for human beings to understand. One must obey the commandments and do what Jesus said to do, but this obedience is is [our] response to God’s salvation, not a condition for it.”³
God’s humbling Himself in Jesus Christ, to walk with us in our circumstances and actually die for us, is faithful love. That is costly love. That is God’s creating love.
What is our response? Need to know more before answering? Click this link, for part two of my story—which can be yours, too!
¹ The Order of Things, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., pp. 54-55.
² Allan White, O.P., “The Renewed Understanding of the Liturgy of the Word,” in Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century, Alcuin Reed, editor (London and New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), p. 179.
³ Cindy Wooden, The Catholic News Service, in The Catholic Miscellany, October 22, 2015.