I once read a French fairy-tale that expressed exactly what I mean…It was about a pessimist poet who decided to drown himself; and as he went down to the river, he gave away his eyes to a blind man, his ears to a deaf man, his legs to a lame man, and so on, up to the moment when the reader was waiting for the splash of his suicide; but the author wrote that this senseless trunk settled itself on the shore and began to experience the joy of living: la joie de vivre. The joy of being alive.
You have to go deep, and perhaps to grow old, to know how true that story is (G.K. Chesterton, Spice of Life).
To exist is a sublime gift, precious enough—if rightly considered—to drown the dolors of daily living in its resulting gratitude.
Do we reflect on how fortunate we are to even exist? It is a one-in-a-million chance, even less likely than that, as we will see.
But first, why does anything exist at all?
If God exists, then why should anything else? Boundless goodness cannot become better nor perfection increase.
The answer may lie closer to home than we think. Take watching a movie with friends, for example. Notice, after something comical flashes across the screen two things follow almost inevitably: The first, a person laughs at the scene; and then—as if by instinct—this very same person turns to share that joy with those around him.
In technical language, the phenomenon is exemplary of the Latin dictum “bonum est diffusivum sui” (the good is diffusive of itself). As represented in the above scenario, after receiving the “good” of the movie scene, there arises within our viewer, the urge to share the resulting joy with others.
This philosophical axiom is even clearer in nature, where science goes so far as to determine the maturity of a thing, by its ability to “diffuse” itself into its surroundings. So, the mature apple tree is able to produce other apple trees, and the mature man and woman are able to reproduce one like themselves.
Even in inanimate things, we see the better an object is (qua mass) the greater its influence on its surroundings (via gravity). It’s true also with energy that the more intense the fire is, the more heat pours into its surroundings.
The better a thing is, the more diffusive it is of itself. It is a law of nature, which tells us something about the Author of nature. So going back to our question, why then does anything exist besides God? Because God’s goodness makes it so.
It is such goodness bursting forth from the Divine into nothingness that transforms nothing into something, which is creation. It is the love of His own goodness which moves God to share that same goodness with others.1
Yet, not all will share in the good of existing. For God, being infinite, has an infinite number of things he can create. Yet, since no infinite number of things can actually exist since at any moment the number of them would be finite; it follows then, that in the final analysis, there will still be an unlimited number of possible things which will never receive the gift of existing.
So, how is it that you and I exist? By luck of the draw?
If someone told you that you had a one-in-1,000 chance of winning the lottery, that’s not a bad chance, even if it was one-in-10,000. But if someone told you that you had a one-in-a-billion chance, that’s pretty bad odds. And if someone told you that you had a one-over-the-infinite chance of existing…that’s essentially no chance—but that’s the truth.
For you and I to be here, God must have positively chosen us out of the infinite number of other possible persons he could have chosen in our place. Instead of choosing to make them, He made us, and God doesn’t make mistakes.
Here we are, the existentially beloved of God. In the words of Scripture:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…(Jer. 1:5).
Having considered the motivation behind creation, the gratuity and seemingly impossible probability of any one of us being part of that creation; we now ought to inquire about the diversity we find within it.
If God is perfect, why not just create the most perfect kind of things? Why make everything from inanimate dust to incorporeal spirits?
To put the answer in an analogy, imagine trying to describe, with a single word, someone whom you love most dearly, to a complete stranger. Could you do it? If you tried, would it not fall dreadfully short of the reality?
So it is with creation, which, if intended to receive and reveal the Divine goodness, is going to need many “words” (numerous and diverse things) to do justice to the Reality.
Therefore, there exists everything from galaxies to grass to guardian angels, who all with one voice testify—by their being—to that delightfully, hopeless task of manifesting, exhaustively, the Divine goodness within creation.2
This is the rationale behind the unique position of our species in the created universe as well as the unique place each one has within it.
It is all for the fact that God, knowing the unlimited number of ways His nature can be imitated by creatures, creates each one of us to represent a unique aspect of that nature.
Even if, in this life, we might be a mystery unto ourselves, we are not to God; who in seeing us, sees that unique resemblance of Himself we were created to represent. And someday such uniqueness will also be clear to us. As He says:
To him who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it (Rev. 2:17).
Therefore, let us praise God for the one-in-a-million chance of existing, and strive to enter into that Kingdom where in knowing the Divine goodness, we will at the same time, finally know ourselves.
1. Yet, since God is Triune, he need not look outside the Godhead for someone else to share His goodness with. This is why creation is not, strictly speaking, necessary. Also, by its mere existence, creation manifests and glorifies the Divine goodness (cf. Vatican Council I, Dei Filius, Ch. I, Dz. #1783).
2. Excepting the Word made flesh, the second person of the Trinity, who (in his person) is not a part of creation and therefore not treated in this post. For more, see Trinity.