There are questions little children ask that never seem to receive a satisfying answer. The toughest and most urgent tend to be religious, such as “Who is God?” or “Where is God?” In the wake of recent tragic events that have so shaken our country and others, a great many grown-ups are asking the same things.
As adults we may formulate the questions in a more sophisticated way, but basically we still want to know just who God is and where he is to be found. This is especially true when we have to deal with acute suffering and loss. The spiritual tradition of the Church tells us that God himself inspires us to raise questions of this kind, since they serve as stepping stones along the pathway that leads us from knowledge about God to eternal communion with him.
On the one hand, we affirm on the basis of scriptural revelation and the Church’s tradition that God both creates and sustains everything that exists. He “brings all things from non-existence into being,” the Liturgy declares. In technical terms, God creates ex nihilo. He is the source and origin not only of existing reality, but of the primal matter out of which, “in the beginning,” everything came to be.
God not only creates all things. He also sustains the existence of all things through time. God is the unfathomably great power behind the birth of galaxies (the Eagle Nebula, for example, that spawns countless solar systems, is estimated to be a billion miles high; and it’s a minor implement in the cosmic tool box). God is also the source of energy behind the force of gravity, the vastly stronger electromagnetic force, the weak nuclear force responsible for radioactivity, and the strong nuclear force that holds together the elementary particles in the nuclei of atoms, of which all matter is constituted. He is the answer to the basic question, How do things endure through time? What preserves the physical universe from moment to moment? And ultimately he is the answer to the quest for a unified theory of physics.
God is the answer to other questions as well. He is the power behind the various life-forms whose being is radically different from inanimate matter. A slug may not be much to look at when it’s compared to a rose; but it’s still a marvel when it’s compared to a stone. That difference is due to God’s power, but also to his design. And the ultimate expression of that design is ourselves, humankind created in God’s own image and called to grow toward his likeness.
With regard to God’s creative, sustaining power, there seems to be no significant conflict between Genesis 1 and the findings of quantum mechanics or astrophysics. To eyes of faith, an electron microscope or the Hubble telescope simply confirms what biblical authors intuited nearly three thousand years ago, namely that God is the creating, sustaining power in and behind everything that exists. Or put another way, the unique and unified power that brings all things into being and preserves their existence through time is what we term “God.” If we were to stop there, not even the most skeptical scientists could reasonably maintain that “God” does not exist. At least not those scientists who argue for some form of intelligent design.
But of course we can not and do not stop there. The real mystery and wonder of it all is that this same ineffable power that creates and sustains everything from the macro cosmos to the micro cosmos, is also, by its very nature, “personal.” In the words of the Church’s theology, God is a Trinity of Persons—Father, Son and Spirit—united in an eternal communion of love. And this one God, experience tells us, is closer to us than our own heart.
Who is God, and where is God? Christian faith answers that God is both the creator and sustainer of all things, and the one who gives all things meaning and purpose. He governs the universe, from the birth of stars to the movement of atoms. He shapes historical events and personal destinies. Nothing is beyond his purview and nothing is devoid of his loving care. He is “everywhere present and filling all things,” investing all of creation with value, purpose and direction. He is Lord over the cosmos and Lord over our lives, infinitely powerful and infinitely loving.
This God of limitless power and boundless love is and remains Emmanuel, “God with us.” And this is why, despite September 11 and despite our own personal tragedies, the world is a still a good place to be.