Nature Reflects God’s Goodness

The Natural World: Week 2

Nature Reflects God’s Goodness
Tuesday, March 6, 2018

To start with words of the great Doctor of the Church, Thomas Aquinas: “Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.” [1] Grace brings nature to a sense of its own sanctity, and it evokes this sacredness within the human heart. Aquinas also affirms that God’s image and likeness is visible within the other-than-human realm, which few Christians were ever taught:

God brought things into being in order that God’s goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because God’s goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, God produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided. [2]

This is the reason St. Francis could speak of animals as “brother” and “sister.” This manifold and diverse world is held together in a uni-verse, which means a reality turning around one thing. Our common name for that one thing is “God” but the word is not necessary to appreciate the reality. Aquinas explained this theologically; Francis knew it experientially.

Aquinas continues with “The whole universe in its wholeness more perfectly shares in and represents the divine goodness than any one creature by itself.” [3] Paul said the same thing long before Aquinas: “What can be known about God is perfectly plain, since God has made it plain. Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and divinity, however invisible, has been there for the mind to see in the things that God has made” (Romans 1:19-20).

How could humans think we were the only or even the main event? Not only did we think that the Earth was the center of the universe; we were certain our human species was the only one that God really cared about. All of creation was just a stage set for the human drama. Normally that is called narcissism. We extracted the soul from everything else. Nature was simply here for our utilitarian purpose, to be used for our consumption. With this belief system, we entered into a state of profound alienation from our own surroundings. We no longer belonged to this world because there was nothing worth belonging to. It was no longer naturally sacred, deserving our reverence or respect. We could rape, plunder, and misuse the earth. We could torture animals and destroy ecosystems because we thought they had no inherent value. We acted as though we were fully in charge.

Every day we have opportunities to reconnect with God through an encounter with nature, whether an ordinary sunrise, a starling on a power line, a tree in a park, or a cloud in the sky. This spirituality doesn’t depend on education or belief. It almost entirely depends on our capacity for simple presence. Often those without formal education and “unbelievers” do this better than a lot of us. I have met many like this who put me to shame.

References:
[1] Thomas Aquinas, “Gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit.” Summa Theologica, I, 1, 8, ad. 2.

[2] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 47, 1.

[3] Ibid.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Soul, the Natural World, and What Is (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), MP3 download.

Image credit: Two Crabs (detail), by Vincent van Gogh, 1889, Faggionato Fine Arts, London, England.
Every day we have opportunities to reconnect with God through an encounter with nature, whether an ordinary sunrise, a starling on a power line, a tree in a park, or a cloud in the sky. This spirituality doesn’t depend on education or belief. It almost entirely depends on our capacity for simple presence. —Richard Rohr

The work of the Center for Action and Contemplation is possible only because of friends and supporters like you!

Learn more about making a donation to the CAC.

FacebookTwitterEmailPrint