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Faith in Divine Providence Strengthens Our Reasons for Hope
"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth." The first article of the creed has not finished revealing to us its extraordinary riches. Faith in God as the Creator of the world (of "things visible and invisible"), is organically linked to the revelation of divine Providence.
In our reflection on creation we begin today a series of catecheses whose theme lies both at the heart of the Christian faith, and in the heart of the person called to faith. It is the theme of divine Providence. It concerns God who, as a wise and omnipotent Father, is present and active in the world and in the history of every creature. He does this so that every creature, and specifically man, God's image, may be able to live life as a journey under the guidance of truth and love toward the goal of eternal life in God.
The Christian tradition of catechesis asks the question "Why has God created us?" Enlightened by the great faith of the Church, we repeat, whether as adults or children, these or similar words: "God created us to know and love him in this life and to be happy with him forever in the next."
This extraordinary truth of God guides our history with serene countenance and sure hand. Paradoxically, it finds a twofold and conflicting sentiment in the heart of man. On the one hand, he is led to accept and to entrust himself to this Provident God, as the Psalmist says: "I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother's breast" (Ps 131:2). On the other hand, man fears and hesitates to abandon himself to God, as Lord and Savior of his life. This is either because he is perplexed by things and forgets the Creator, or because of suffering he has doubts about God as Father. In both cases man calls divine Providence into question. Such is the human condition, that even in Sacred Scripture, Job does not hesitate to complain before God with frank confidence. In this way the word of God indicates that Providence is expressed even in the complaint of his children. Afflicted in body and heart, Job said: "Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments" (Job 23:3-4).
Throughout the whole of human history, whether in the thought of philosophers, in the teachings of the great religions, or in the simple reflection of the person in the street, human beings have not lacked reasons to seek to understand, or rather to justify God's action in the world.
Different solutions are proposed. Clearly, not all are acceptable and none is fully exhaustive. From ancient times, some have appealed to blind and capricious fate or destiny, to blind-folded fortune. Others have compromised man's free will in their affirmation of God. Especially in our contemporary age, others think that the affirmation of man and his freedom implies the denial of God. These extreme and unilateral solutions at least make us understand what profound problems of life enter into play when we speak of "divine Providence." How can God's omnipotence be reconciled with our freedom, and our freedom with his infallible decrees? What will our future tiny be? How are we to interpret and recognize his infinite wisdom and goodness in the face of the evils of the world-the moral evil of sin and the suffering of the innocent? This history of ours, unfolding through centuries of events, of terrible catastrophes and of sublime acts of greatness and of sanctity...what is the meaning of it all? Is it an eternal, fatalistic return of everything to the point of departure with no point of arrival, if not a final cataclysm that will bury all life for ever? Or, on the contrary-and here the heart feels that it has reasons greater than those that its puny logic can provide-is there a provident and positive being? Is there this being whom we call God, who surrounds us with his intelligence, tenderness and wisdom, and guides "with a strong and gentle touch" this existence of ours-reality, the world, history, even our rebellious wills, if they consent to him-toward the "seventh day's" rest of a creation which has finally arrived at its fulfillment?
Here, on the razor's edge between hope and despair, we have the word of God to immensely strengthen our reasons for hope. Ever new though repeatedly called upon, that word of God is so marvelous as to be almost incredible from the human point of view. Never does the word of God assume such greatness and attraction as when man's greatest demands confront it. God is here, he is Emmanuel, God with us (Is 7:4). In Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, Son of God and our brother, God shows that "he has made his dwelling among us" (Jn 1:14). We can well say that the whole story of the Church in time consists in the constant and ardent search to find, to examine and to propose the signs of God's presence. The Church is guided in this by the example of Christ and by the power of the Spirit. For this reason the Church can, the Church wishes, the Church must proclaim and give to the world the grace and the meaning of divine Providence. The Church does this for the love of man, to rescue him from the crushing weight of the enigma and to entrust him to a mystery of a great, immeasurable, decisive love such as God is. So the Christian vocabulary is enriched with simple expressions which constitute, today as in the past, the patrimony of faith and culture of Christ's disciples: God sees, God knows, God willing, to live in the presence of God, may his will be done, God writes straight with crooked lines...in short-divine Providence.
The Church announces divine Providence not through her own invention, however inspired by thoughts of humanity, but because God has revealed himself thus. He revealed in the history of his people that his creative action and his salvific intervention were indissolubly united, that they formed part of a single plan decreed from eternal ages. Thus Sacred Scripture becomes, in its globality, the supreme document of divine Providence. It manifests God's intervention in nature by creation and his still more wonderful intervention by redemption, which makes us new creatures in a world renewed by the love of God in Christ. The Bible speaks of divine Providence in the chapters on creation and in those more specifically concerned with the work of salvation-in Genesis, and in the Prophets, especially in Isaiah, in the so-called psalms of creation and in the profound meditations of Paul on the inscrutable divine plans at work in history (cf. especially Ephesians and Colossians), in the Wisdom Books, so keen to find the sign of God in the world, and in the Book of Revelation completely intent on finding in God the meaning of the world. In the end it appears that the Christian concept of Providence is not simply a chapter of religious philosophy, but that faith provides an answer to the great questions of Job and of all those like him. It does so with the completeness of a vision which, by favoring the rights of reason, does justice to reason itself by anchoring it in the more stable certainties of theology.
In this regard our path will meet with the untiring reflection of faith on the Tradition to which we shall opportunely refer. Within the sphere of the perennial truth, we shall avail ourselves of the Church's effort to be a companion to man who questions himself ever anew and in new terms about Providence. Each in its own way, the First and Second Vatican Councils are precious voices of the Holy Spirit, not to be ignored but to be meditated on. We need not let ourselves be frightened by the depth of the thought, but welcome the life-giving sap of the truth that does not die.
Every serious question should receive a serious, well-reasoned and sound answer. For this reason we shall touch on various aspects of the single theme. We shall see especially how divine Providence enters into the great work of creation and is its affirmation which places in evidence the manifold and actual riches of the divine action. From this, it follows that Providence is manifested as transcendent Wisdom which loves man and calls him to participate in God's plan as the first recipient of his loving care, and at the same time as his intelligent cooperator.
The relationship between divine Providence and human freedom is not one of antithesis, but of a communion of love. Even the profound problem of our future destiny finds a providential light in divine revelation, specifically in Christ. While preserving the mystery intact, it guarantees for us the Father's salvific will. In this perspective divine Providence, far from being denied by the presence of evil and suffering, becomes a bulwark of our hope. It enables us to perceive how it can draw forth good even from evil. Finally we shall recall the great light which Vatican II sheds on the Providence of God in regard to the evolution and progress of the world, taking up at the end in the transcendent vision of the growing kingdom the final point of the unceasing and wise action of a provident God in the world.
"Whoever is wise let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them" (Hos 14:9).