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What Catholics Believe - Chapter Five

I Believe in God the Creator

“God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed---the sixth day.” (Gn. 1:31).

In Kris Kristofferson’s poignant song, “Me and Bobbie Magee,” there is the haunting line, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Having nothing left to lose is not a meaningful freedom. Catholics, in view of their belief in God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, cannot leave it at that. By itself, the line “nothin’ left to lose” falls short theologically, because in a universe created by a loving and creator God, there can never be nothing left to lose. The universe, if created by God, is not a “sound and fury signifying nothing.” If God created the universe out of nothing, then the universe signifies inexhaustibly everything that God intends. A thing is wonderful when it is significant, revealing its loving Creator. There is no wonder in the insignificant, which lacks purpose and says nothing. In an uncreated universe where God is absent, everything is insignificant and there is no freedom. If the universe is not created by God, if the universe is not expressive of the fullness of God’s meaning, then, indeed, there is “nothin’ left to lose” because there was nothing there to gain in the first place. Everything that we could imagine would be only “made up,” and not created out of nothing by a loving act of God.

No one deserves a star or merits a sunset. The universe, created by God, is a vast unexpected and astonishing gift, a grace. It has been said, very cynically, that “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.” And such a person will have nothing to be thankful for. G. K. Chesterton wrote in his Saint Francis of Assisi , “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.”

There is a tendency when speaking of metaphors to say that something is a “mere” metaphor. But if God created the universe, then it is not a “mere” metaphor. The Catholic imagination knows that everything speaks of God and everything is a gift of God. If God saw that everything was good, then human beings must see that everything is good and a gift, a gift for which human beings are accountable and answerable.

We are all challenged to be stewards, “gardeners,” of our environment of heaven and earth. We need to be ecologically-minded not merely because it is good for us, but because we must be grateful for God’s gifts. This is why as Catholics we need to continue our ecological education in responsibility. As Pope John Paul II stated, “An education in ecological responsibility is urgent: responsibility for oneself, for others and for the earth . . . A true education in responsibility entails a genuine conversion in ways of thought and behavior.” I would add that a genuine conversion of imagination, one based on the Catholic truth of God the creator, is therefore needed if we are going to contribute to solutions for our environmental crisis. We need to be ecological because we really feel and believe that God created heaven and earth.

A universe that is good, that is filled with real things that are good, and that speaks of God, surrounds and sustains us. If it is so, we are indebted to God for it, an infinite debt that can only be repaid by an everlasting hymn of gratitude. The poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti said that “the worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.” It would be a step in the right direction for the Catholic people of the Diocese of Portland, if they could see that, in Chesterton’s words, all “goods look better when they look like gifts.” We know that they are gifts when we know the giver. Then we can rest with God on the seventh day, and sing with the Psalmist:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; The sky proclaims its builder’s craft” (Ps 19:2).

Dr. Daniel P. Sheridan, Ph.D 

Professor of Theology, Saint Joseph’s College.

What Catholics Believe is an ongoing Harvest series on the United States Catholic Catechism of Adults. Click below to read continuing articles.