On the Divine “Plan”

Scripture and Mass Canon No. 4 speak of a divine plan for Creation, Redemption, and bringing all things to an End Time. Then any pending issues between God, man, and the world will be settled.

The gist of this “plan” is already in Genesis. In the “beginning,” we see manifested a definite order. Genesis is about God’s putting order into an initial abyss. Things are created. They do not just “happen.” A considerable amount of chance is found within the existing plan. Chance results from the crossing of two or more things, each with its own purpose. Chance presupposes purpose. Chance events fall within the overall order of things.

In the Prologue to John’s Gospel, even before Creation itself, the plan had an earlier “beginning” in a Word that was with God; that was God. Within this plan, the race of men was given “dominion” over other existing things. That precise word, “dominion,” did not mean some fancy ecological enterprise to save the planet for as long as possible from the activities of men themselves.

The world was not made complete from the beginning. The world was not complete without man in it. It could only be what it was intended to be with the addition of man’s use of the earth, water, and sky. Abundant riches were stored on the planet from the eons before man appeared on this planet.

Man did not exist solely in order to use the earth’s resources for his good. He existed in order to see how he stood with God, who had created him, male and female, with a destiny that elevated him beyond his natural capacities. The classic end of all man’s strivings, his happiness, is not found in any existing thing that he knows or encounters in this world. Yet the good things that he does come across and use are not illusions. Things less than God are not evil. We are not Gnostics.

Still, we find that no finite thing makes us finally happy. We become aware that something more is offered to us within or through the good things that we do come across in our passing lives. From the beginning, God’s plan included what alone would make happy the rational creature that God did create in His image. God, in fact, created no man who had a merely natural destiny, one properly due to the level of its being, “a little less than the angels,” as the Psalmist put it.

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To understand what goes on here, we need to recall what a final cause is. It is the first cause, the one that initially identifies the “what” we are intending to do. God did not “need” the world or anyone in it. Creation carries the mark of freedom, not of necessity. Many possible purposes can be given as logical reasons why God might create something from nothing.

The main reason, however, that God created a vast cosmos with a race of finite rational beings in it was two-fold. The first reason was that the universe would not be complete unless, within it, someone could understand it. The universe as such bears signs of order, but of an order that the universe itself did not put there. It was a given order, a natural order.

This rational being within the universe, not outside of it like God, can return honor and glory to God in the conscious form of praise and thanksgiving. In this sense, the universe has a liturgical function. The universe, through man’s knowledge, now returns to God in the form of a wakeful awe over its beauty and over how things harmoniously fit together.

The second, and ultimately more important, reason for God’s creation was God’s invitation to each existing person, not to a collectivity, to live within His own Trinitarian eternal life. Each human person is invited into the divine friendship as an adopted son or daughter. The universe exists in order that this invitation might be freely reciprocated by man. His existence in time is essentially concerned with how he will respond to this divine invitation.

In 1989, Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “Concern for the salvation of others must not lead us to ignore . . . the particularism of God; salvation history and world history must not be regarded as identical entitles just because God’s concern for them must be extended to all. Such direct universalism would destroy the true totality of God’s action which becomes whole precisely through the process of selection and election.” (Co-Workers of the Truth, 75)

The nature of friendship, divine or human, means that it cannot be forced. The last drama of the universe is seen in the Last Judgment. Our brief lives in time and space constitute the stage on which we decide whether we accept or reject God’s final cause in creating us, that of welcoming us into the friendship we call the Trinity.

 

*Image: The Appearance of Christ to the Apostles Eating Dinner (L’Apparizione di Cristo durante la cena degli apostoli) by Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1308-10 [Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena]. This is a part of Duccio’s Maestà, a two-sided altarpiece installed in the cathedral in Siena in 1311.

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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