Wednesday, February 1, 2012

God the Almighty, Providence, and Some Guy in Minnesota

Push the idea of Providence too far, and you'll start wondering if free will exists. Ignore it, and God starts looking like an absentee landlord.

Here's what a dictionary says "providence" means:
  • The capital and largest city of Rhode Island
    • Located in northeastern Rhode Island on Narragansett Bay
    • Site of Brown University
  • The guardianship and control exercised by a deity
  • A manifestation of God's foresightful care for his creatures
  • The prudence and care exercised by someone in the management of resources.
    (Princeton's WordNet)
The second and third definition in that list are pretty close to what the Catholic Church says Providence is:
"PROVIDENCE: The dispositions by which God guides his creation toward its perfection yet to be attained; the protection and governance of God over all creation (302)."
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

God's Still Creating

Like I said two weeks ago, God created everything. And He's still creating it:
"Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created 'in a state of journeying' (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call 'divine providence' the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection:
"By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, 'reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well.' For 'all are open and laid bare to his eyes,' even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures.161"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 302)
(previously quoted (January 18, 2012))

God Cares

I think this is a fairly safe summary of what the next few paragraphs of the Catechism say about Providence:
  • God is in control
    (Catechism, 303)
  • Sacred Scripture often doesn't mention secondary causes
    • That's not "primitive"
    • It's recognizing that God is in control
      • And that we should trust Him
    (Catechism, 304)
  • Jesus says
    • God
      • Knows our needs
      • Will give us what we need
    • We should trust God to give us what we need
      • The way a child trusts parents
    (Catechism, 305, Matthew 6:31-33)
Obviously, I'm leaving out a whole lot of detail. I recommend following those links and reading what the Catechism says. No pressure, of course.

Free Will, Evil, and All That

Taking the idea of Providence to extremes, and a person could start wondering if free will exists. (It does: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1730.)

Then there are secondary causes, and that's another topic. Topics. (Catechism, 306-308) Maybe I'll post about that next week. Or, not.

Then there's the problem of evil. Here's one way of (over-) simplifying part of the Catechism: People aren't perfect, and we don't live in a perfect world, but we're moving toward perfection. (Catechism, 309-314) And yes, there's more to it than that.

Guarantees, No: Trust, Yes

I could, if I decided to, look at my life and decide that God either isn't there, or doesn't care. I was born with bad hips, used as a lab rat until my parents found out, endured decades of pain, and started going bald in my teens.

Poor, pitiful, me.

Or, I could see that I was born alive; had parents who raised me anyway; endured for decades; have been blessed with four surviving children, and a loving wife.
  • Do I think I've been blessed?
    • Yes
  • Do I think my life is an example of Providence at work?
    • Yes
  • Do I think this means I've got special status?
    • No
    • Not in the 'I'm a king's kid' sense
I'm about as sure as I can be that God is particularly interested in everybody. It's that Matthew 10:29 thing, and that's almost another topic.

Believing that God cares about me, and about everybody else, isn't even close to believing that I can use God to be 'successful.' I can't rely on God to make me rich, or famous, or to get me a fancier house than what my neighbors have. Then there's the time some folks tried using the Ark of the Covenant as a good luck charm. 1 Samuel 4:3-22 and all that. (July 13, 2010)

I can't use God. It'd be foolish to try.

But trusting God? We're told to do that.

When Good Things Happen to Bad People

About a third of a century ago, someone wrote "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." "Bad things" can be anything from getting a paper cut, to what's described in 2 Maccabees 7. (You think you had a bad day?) That's yet another topic.

Then there's the flip side of that question: why do good things happen to bad people?

I've gotten angry and bitter, seeing how greed seems to get rewarded. That didn't do me any good, and folks I was envious of probably didn't even notice. Reacting like that is a complete waste of time. At a minimum.

Jesus has some pretty sensible advice:
"27 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust."...
(Matthew 5:43-45)
Do I understand why the Almighty decided to create a world that isn't perfect, but is moving in that direction? Or why God lets us make our own decisions?

No. I don't expect to. Like I've said before, God's God: I'm not. He's infinite. I do my thinking with a few pounds of neural circuitry: wonderfully complex and adaptable; but distinctly finite.

As for 'why good things happen to bad people:' I'm willing to pray; do what I can to do good and avoid evil; and let God handle the rest. If nothing else, I simply don't have enough information to understand everything that's happening at the moment, and how it all connects.

Finally, some quotes:
"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the decision of the LORD that endures."
(Proverbs 19:21)

"Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done."
(Psalms 115:3)

"If you understood him, it would not be God"
(St. Augustine, quoted in Catechism, 230)
Related posts:


Brigid said...

Wrong letter: "why to good things happen"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Right! Thanks, fixed!

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.