In my years as a priest, I have often had people ask me why God, who we say needs nothing and is fully content and joyful in Himself, created anything outside Himself. Does His act of creation indicate that He lacked something or that He needed others?
This is difficult for us humans to understand. To some degree that difficulty arises from us, who are often motivated most by need. We tend to project our own realities onto God. But need and incompleteness are not the only things that motivate.
In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas has a beautiful reflection on how and why God willed to create things outside Himself:
For natural things have a natural inclination not only towards their own proper good, to acquire it if not possessed, and, if possessed, to rest therein; but also to spread abroad their own good amongst others, so far as possible … to communicate as far as possible to others the good possessed; and especially does this pertain to the divine will, from which all perfection is derived in some kind of likeness. Hence, if natural things, in so far as they are perfect, communicate their good to others, much more does it appertain to the divine will to communicate by likeness its own good to others as much as possible … (Summa Ia, q.19, art 2).
As I read St Thomas I think of examples. For example a tree spreads it pollen for the sake of other trees and future trees. Flowers do the same and interact with bees and other insects. Elements interact with other elements to become compounds. Compounds become chemicals and so forth. An atom alone is very limited. Joined to other atoms, it can become a mighty structure. All this echoes something of the God who made it.
To be sure, it is true that God is able to savor the good that He is and to rest in it, to enjoy it fully. God can find complete satisfaction in the perfection of His own being, of His own glory.
But, as St. Thomas points out, even in us who are imperfect creatures, there is an aspect of our love and joy that wants to be effusive and diffusive, to radiate outward. It is not so much that love and joy are lacking something, but rather just the opposite—they overflow to others from us quite naturally. We do not share joy and love because we have to, but because we want to, and because they naturally shine forth.
When one is joyful, it is hard to hide it. Joy shows; it is effusive; it shines forth and naturally reaches others who will notice it and then immediately ask, “What are you smiling about? Why are you so happy?” Yes, those who are filled with joy and the experience of love seek naturally to share that with others. Someone who has heard good news or has experienced something wonderful can barely contain himself and immediately seeks to share it.
It is the same with love, though in more diverse and sometimes subtle ways. Love radiates; it motivates; it moves out and shines forth. Again, not because love is lacking, but more simply because that is what love does. It moves outward and bears fruit.
And so it is with God, who is Love. His love is not lacking something, but, as love, He radiates. He shines forth; He bears fruit. He delights in sharing. And He, whose nature is ‘to be’ who is existence itself, allows his love to radiate outward in a creation distinct from Him but proclaiming of his love and joy.
Behold! All creation is a shining forth God’s love and joy. See its immense size, its awesome diversity and fruitfulness—and then understand why the universe is expanding outward at such a rapid rate!
Scientists are looking for some grand unified theory, one simple principle or formula that explains everything. In a word, it is love. It is God, who is Love, and His joy rushing and radiating outward, bearing fruit and saying, “Come, share my joy!” People, and especially scientists, like formulas, so how about this one?
That is, Creation equals Joy times Love squared. Love, of course, is the constant; it is ever-abiding and never withheld. And yet it is mysteriously expanding outward. Why is love squared? I don’t know, but it makes the formula memorable! At the end of the day, God’s love is infinite. So then what is the square of infinity? Anyway it’s very big and it’s a constant.
Is God lacking something? No. Then why does He create? Because that’s what love does. But why then will it all end as Scripture says it will? It will not end in annihilation; it will “end” in a perfection that, though different, will be the fulfillment of all that is. Jesus, who holds all creation together in Himself (cf Col 1:17), says at the end, “Behold I make all things new!” (Rev 21:5) And then will be fulfilled what St. Augustine said of what shall finally be for us and the Lord: Unus Chritus, amans seipsum (One Christ, loving Himself).
We are living in the love of God; yes, even those who reject it are living in His love.