A few weeks ago I posted a reflection on the ancient Christian doctrine of God’s immutability, God’s unchangingness. Admittedly the jumping off quote from the late Dominican philosopher, Herbert McCabe, was a rhetorical stick of dynamite:
‘Never think that if you’re contrite and pray to God for forgiveness that God will forgive you…In a fairly literal sense, God doesn’t give a damn about your sin. It’s we who give the damns.’
Your prayer for forgiveness doesn’t incline God to forgive you.
God, by definition of the word ‘God,’ does not change.
In the posts that followed the initial reflection, I’ve become increasingly convinced that retrieving the first Christians’ speech about God could pull away some of the cobwebs believers and nonbelievers get tangled up in today.
Just as immutability was a surprise to many, I think many Christians would be surprised by what we mean by ‘Creation’ and how that impacts our speech about ‘miracles.’
The Apostles’ Creed begins seemingly innocuously: ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.’
But already in that first breath most believers have already gotten off on the wrong track. The creed’s beginning is neither innocuous nor, it seems, self-evident, for most Christians mistakenly assume that by calling God ‘Creator’ we refer to God’s prior activity that we can locate at some debatable point in the past (millions or thousands of years, depending on whether or not you’re ignorant).
Those same believers erroneously assume that by calling God ‘Creator’ we mean that long ago God rolled up his sleeves and worked on some-thing called no-thing which resulted in creation. Once set in motion, God stepped back and, as though on a cross, declared it is finished. Like a watchmaker, God could hang up his ‘creator’ hat confident that the atomic and evolutionary gears would hum in perpetuity. Or, if not a watchmaker, God could step back and like Santa watch us from afar, keeping track of who is naughty and who is nice and occasionally intervening in creation to answer a prayer, smite a sinner or take responsibility for insurance claims.
To profess the first line of the creed with this in your head is to get the ‘Creator’ exactly wrong from how the ancient Christians so thought of God. For them, to call God Creator is to believe that God is the One who makes things to be without there being anything prior to his creative act save himself. For God to create is to make it be that something simply exists. When we name God as Creator, we confess that without God there would not be anything at all.
Whereas the watchmaker makes it be that there is a watch out of all the disparate parts that were prior to the watch, God makes it be that things just are- from the quartz in the clock to the simplest raindrop.
By calling God Creator we profess that God is the reason there is something instead of nothing, and this is a confession that quite obviously renders any debates about the earth’s age or the mode of creation forehead-slappingly irrelevant. To say God the Creator is the reason there is something instead of nothing is to say that God makes it that things are at all moments of their existence, past, present and future. Without God, all things would cease to exist in an instant.
The ancient Christians so emphasized this ongoing, continual, present creative act of God that they even believed it was irrelevant whether or not the earth had a beginning.
This is the ancient doctrine of creation that God is the reason there is something instead of nothing- a question beyond the bounds of the material world and thus a question science could never answer in the affirmative or the negative. According to this ancient doctrine of creation, everything other than God is completely dependent on God for its existing and for being as it is; therefore, God’s presence is nearer to every thing and every creature than believers today often suppose. God is everywhere, closer to us than we are to ourselves, for God is the one making it that we exist at all. God is not everywhere in the sense of taking up physical space but everywhere in the sense of causing the existence of all things.
According to the doctrine of creation, God is always everywhere, always present to creatures.
This means, in a certain manner of speaking, that there is no such that we commonly call ‘miracles.’
What we mean by ‘miracles’ are those occasions when (the distant watchmaker) God intervenes in the created order. Implicit in our use of the word ‘miracle’ is the Enlightenment presumption that God otherwise is set apart from creation; that is, you can only intervene where you were not previously present and active.
To intervene, as Herbert McCabe says, you have to be an alternative to, or alongside what you are interfering with.
But if God is present everywhere, in everything, at all times the reason there is something instead no thing at all then there is no thing that God is alongside of or apart from.
There is no such thing we call ‘miracles’ because
you cannot intervene in what you yourself are doing.
To call God Creator is to name the most mysterious miracle of all- that there is something instead of nothing. This is a miracle that then determines what we properly mean by the word ‘miracle.‘
A miracle is not when God intervenes in our lives from outside our lives to act upon us. A miracle is when only God- and no other secondary causes- is acting in our lives, not from beyond but from the nearness where God has been all along.