God and His Providence

Author: Rev. William G. Most

One God

In the first article of the Apostle's Creed we express our belief in the existence of God. He is a pure spirit, that is, He has no matter at all, and no parts.

We call Him Father, since He is the supreme source of everything, the one "from whom all Fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name" (Ephesians 3. 16).

We call Him the Creator, since He has made all things , not out of some previously existing material, but simply out of nothing. He has infinite power. By just willing it, He can do all things. So in Genesis 1 He merely spoke and said, "Let there be light." And light came into existence. Really, He did not speak in our sense of the word; He merely willed it, and it came into being.

To describe Him we use the word attributes. These are the perfections that He has, which we attribute to Him by comparison with creatures. Some of His attributes belong to Him by His very nature; others belong to Him in relation to the world He made.

The chief attributes that are His by His very nature are His unchangeability and eternity. He is unchangeable. Since He has the fullness of being, He could not change into anything higher or better, or acquire anything: "I, the Lord, do not change," He said through the prophet Malachi (3:6). We call Him eternal, not in the sense that there always was time, and in it He always was. No, since He is unchangeable there is no past or future for Him: all is one unchanging present. So when we say that He made the world--a past expression--to His divine mind it registers as present! "Before the mountains were born, before you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are, O God" (Psalm 90:2).

There are attributes that follow upon God's relation to this world. He is omnipotent or almighty because "nothing is impossible to God" (Luke 1:37). The book of Sirach 23:20 says: "Before they were made, all things were known to Him." So He is all-knowing, or omniscient. We say He is present everywhere. In Jeremiah 23:24 He said: "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" Yet He is not present in the sense of taking up space, as we do: we say a Spirit is present wherever it causes an effect. He caused all things to come into being, and keeps them in being. Since He rewards good and punishes evil we call Him all-just. St. Paul wrote (Romans 2:6): "He will repay each one according to his works." He guides and directs the paths of all creatures, and hence the First Epistle of Peter 5:7 can say: "Cast all your care upon Him, for He takes care of you". He is all-good since He is the author of everything that is good, and wills eternal good to us. Psalm 136:1, "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good."

It is strictly correct to say that God is love, since if we said that He has love, there would be a duality, two. But He is totally unity. He is identified with each of His attributes. So He is mercy, He is justice, and therefore in some way, mercy and justice are identified in Him. His justice is His mercy is Himself, and so on for all His attributes.

God's Providence

His providence watches over and guides everything: "No creature is invisible before Him: all are bare and uncovered to His eyes" (Hebrews 4:13). His wisdom "extends from end to end mightily and governs all well" (Wisdom 8:1).

This providence extends especially to man. As we saw from 1 Timothy 2:4, He "wills all to be saved". That will to save us is so great that He did not spare His only Son, but sent Him to a horrible death, to make eternal life open for us (Rom 8:32). Thus He really, "proved His love" (Rom 5:8). For the greater an obstacle the one who loves can get over in trying to bring happiness and well-being to the beloved, the greater the love must be. So He gives His helps, His grace, most abundantly, since the infinite price of redemption (cf. 1 Cor 6. 20; 7:23) paid for an infinite treasury of forgiveness and grace for each individual one, for "He loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). This does not mean that someone could say: Since I have so great an abundance going for me, I can sin greatly most of my life, and pull up short at the end. No, one who sins much becomes spiritually blind, incapable of receiving the graces God so greatly wills to give him.

If we follow up the most basic comparison used by Our Lord Himself in the Gospel we would say: God is our Father. As such, He wants all His children to turn out well. But if someone then throws aside His graces to such an extent that he cannot be saved - becoming blind - then with sorrow the Father must let him be lost. But otherwise, He will save us, not because we earned it, but because He, like any good Father, wants all His children to turn out well. So St. Paul speaks of sinners as not being able to "inherit the kingdom" (1 Cor 6:10; Eph 5:5). When we inherit from our parents, we do not say we earned it: we get it because they are good, not that we are good. But we could have earned to lose that inheritance by being evil. So Paul said in Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin [what we earn] is death; the free gift of God [unearned] is eternal life." As a student once said: "As to salvation, you cannot earn it, but you can blow it."

If we live with this attitude and realization, we fulfill what Our Lord called for: "If you do not change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

The very first grace is normally the grace to pray. Other things then follow. St. Augustine wrote well: "See these things, Lord, mercifully, and free us who now call on you. Free also those who do not yet call on you, so that they may call on you, and you may free them" (Confessions 1:9).

When God decided to create the human race, it was inevitable to give them free will--otherwise it would be something other than the human race. He saw this would give an opening to great evils, but also to very great goods. He decided to as it were buy the package.

There is so much evil in the world. Why? Physical evils result from the frailty of creatures, made out of nothing. To stop all of these, God would need to multiply miracles very frequently--but then He would contradict Himself, constantly going beyond the laws of nature which He Himself had established. Moral evils come from the fact that He gave us free will--opening the way, as we said, to great good, and great evil. Again, to prevent these would take miracles of grace constantly, which would be out of order. And it would reduce human freedom also. However, He can and does draw much good out of evil, e.g., evils provide the material for the patience of the just; physical evils give opportunity for much charity.

Taken from The Basic Catholic Catechism
PART TWO: The Apostle's Creed
First Article of the Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth."

By William G. Most. (c) Copyright 1990 by William G. Most

Related Q and A

Who is God?

God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and keeps them in existence.

(a) This universe did not always exist; it came into existence at the beginning of time.

(b) All things depend on God; they begin and continue to exist by the power of God.

What do we mean when we say that God is the Supreme Being?

When we say that God is the Supreme Being we mean that He is above all creatures, the self-existing and infinitely perfect Spirit.

(a) God is above all created things--the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, men, and angels. Some likeness of God is in every creature, from the highest to the lowest. The highest angel, however, is but a weak reflection of the infinite perfection of God, who is the infinite Creator and Governor of the universe.

What is a spirit?

A spirit is a being that has understanding and free will, but no body, and will never die.

(a) The soul of man is a spirit which does not die because it is simple, having no integral parts, and because it is spiritual, that is, entirely independent of matter in its being and in its own proper acts; it does not depend on creatures for existence and cannot be destroyed by them.

What do we mean when we say that God is self-existing?

When we say that God is self-existing we mean that He does not owe His existence to any other being.

(a) God is the first and completely independent source of all being, Every other being is given existence, God is His own existence; God is His own life, or He who is.

(b) It is a manifest contradiction to hold that God, who is self-existent, could have been brought into being by anyone else.

What do we mean when we say that God is infinitely perfect?

When we say that God is infinitely perfect we mean that He has all perfections without limit.

(a) God has in Himself, in an eminent degree, the perfections of all things that ever existed or will or can exist. He is the cause of all perfection in creatures. The perfections of created things are in God in an infinitely superior manner.

(b) Every creature, even the highest angel, is finite for it has the limitation of dependence on the Creator for its existence.

What are some of the perfections of God?

Some of the perfections of God are: God is eternal, all-good, all-knowing, all-present, and almighty.

What do we mean when we say that God is eternal?

When we say that God is eternal we mean that He always was and always will be, and that He always remains the same.

(a) If God had a beginning or if He could cease to be, He would be limited and would not be infinitely perfect or self-existing. If God changed the change would be either for the better or for the worse. In either case God would not be infinitely perfect.

(b) Spirits such as angels and the souls of men are eternal in the sense that they will live forever, but both angels and the souls of men, unlike God, had a beginning and are subject to change.

What do we mean when we say that God is all-good?

When we say that God is all-good we mean that He is infinitely lovable in Himself, and that from His fatherly love every good comes to us.

(a) Things are good and lovable in the degree that they are perfect. Since God is infinitely perfect, He is all-good and infinitely lovable in Himself, and all goodness of creatures must come from Him.

What do we mean when we say that God is all-knowing?

When we say that God is all-knowing we mean that He knows all things, past, present, and future, even our most secret thoughts, words, and actions.

(a) God's knowledge is not gained like ours, by proceeding step by step from things known to those unknown. By knowing Himself perfectly, God knows from eternity all things past, present, and future, and even all things possible. Every creature, in its actions, depends entirely on God, and any goodness in creatures is but an imperfect reflection of God's perfection. Through His infinitely perfect knowledge God knows the extent to which creatures share His perfections.

(b) God's knowledge of the future does not take away our freedom, but leaves our wills free to act or not to act.

(c) We are responsible for our free actions, which will be rewarded by God if they are good and punished by Him if they are evil.

What do we mean when we say that God is all-present?

When we say that God is all-present we mean that He is everywhere.

(a) God is everywhere:

first, by His power, inasmuch as all things are under His dominion;
second, by His Presence. inasmuch as nothing is hidden from Him;
third, by His essence, inasmuch as He is in all things as the cause of their being.

If God is everywhere, why do we not see Him?

Although God is everywhere, we do not see Him because He is a spirit and cannot be seen with our eyes.

(a) Although we cannot see God, the splendid order and beauty of creation should constantly remind us of His wisdom, His power, His goodness, and His nearness to us.

Does God see us?

God sees us and watches over us with loving care.

What is God's loving care for us called?

God's loving care for us is called Divine Providence.

(a) Divine Providence is God's plan for guiding every creature to its proper end.

What do we mean when we say that God is almighty?

When we say that God is almighty we mean that He can do all things.

(a) God can do anything that is not opposed to His perfection, or that is not self-contradictory. The impossibility of God's doing anything wrong or acting falsely does not limit His divine power, since wrongdoing and falsity in themselves are evil and are manifest defects: they cannot be associated with an infinitely perfect Being.

(b) Although God, the first cause of all things, actually does all things, He does not thereby deprive the creature of its power of causality nor of its freedom of action. A creature is never more than a secondary cause, that is, always dependent on God, always a finite being. When this secondary cause is intellectual, it is constituted by Almighty God as a free agent.

Is God all-wise, all-holy, all-merciful, and all-just?

Yes, God is all-wise, all-holy, all-merciful, and all-just.

(a) God, the first cause of all things, in His wisdom knows these things perfectly and disposes them to their ends according to appropriate means.

(b) If we do not understand why or how God does certain things or permits them to happen, it is because our limited minds cannot understand His secrets nor see the universal plan of creation.

(c) Because God is all-holy, He is entirely free from all sin and imperfection and is infinitely good and lovable.

(d) Because God is all-merciful, He gives to each creature even more than is its due. He rewards the good more fully and punishes the wicked less severely than they deserve. He is always ready to help His creatures and to forgive repentant sinners.

(e) Because God is all-just, He gives to each creature what is due to it. God rewards the good and punishes the wicked partially in this life and more fully in eternity.

Can we know by our natural reason that there is a God?

We can know by our natural reason that there is a God, for natural reason tells us that the world we see about us could have been made only by a self-existing Being, all-wise and almighty.

Can we know God in any other way than by our natural reason?

Besides knowing God by our natural reason, we can also know Him from supernatural revelation, that is, from the truths found in Sacred Scripture and in Tradition, which God Himself has revealed to us.

(a) Supernatural revelation is the communication of some truth by God to a creature through means that are beyond the ordinary course of nature. Some revealed truths, for example, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, are strictly beyond the power of the human mind. We could never know such truths unless God revealed them. Other truths, for example, the immortality of the soul, while not beyond the power of the human mind, are objects of revelation because God has revealed them in a supernatural way. Although these latter truths could be known without revelation, they are grasped with greater ease and certainty once God has revealed them.

(b) God's public revelation of truths to men began with Adam and Eve and ended at the death of Saint John the Apostle.

(c) Divine revelation contained in the Old Testament is called pre-Christian. It can be divided into:

first, Primitive revelation, made to Adam and Eve
second, Patriarchal revelation, made to the patriarchs, for example, to Abraham and Lot;
third, Mosaic revelation, made to Moses and the prophets.

(d) Christian revelation contains the truths revealed to us by Jesus Christ, either directly or through His apostles.

(e) The Church does not oblige the faithful to believe private revelations given, at certain times, to individuals. For our edification, however, the Church permits the publication of some private revelations. Those to whom private revelations are given are obliged to believe them when they are certain that the revelations are from God.

(f) Sacred Scripture, or the Bible, is the word of God written by men under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and contained in the books of the Old and the New Testament.

(g) Inspiration is the act by which God moves and directs the sacred writers faithfully to commit to writing all those things and only those things that He wishes them to write. The sacred writers act as free instruments of God, who is the principal author of Sacred Scripture.

(h) Tradition is the unwritten word of God--that body of truths revealed by God to the apostles, and not committed by them to writing but handed down by word of mouth. These truths, which were later committed to writing, particularly by the Fathers of the Church, have been preserved and handed down to the present day.

Is there only one God?

Yes, there is only one God.

(a) Reason can prove that there is only one God. The assumption that there could be two infinitely perfect gods or two infinitely supreme beings independent of each other, is an absurdity.

(b) Revelation confirms our reasoning that there is only one God.

The Baltimore Catechism, no. 3, Lessons 1-3.