Near the begin­ning of On the Prov­i­dence of God Chrysos­tom writes that he is con­coct­ing this treat­ment, not only by draw­ing from the Divine Scrip­tures, but also from the events which occur in this present life and which con­tin­u­al­ly take place.” He widens the source of his inquiry into prov­i­dence because, as he puts it, he real­izes there are some peo­ple who do not pay atten­tion to the Scrip­tures” and yet can still ben­e­fit from what he has to say if only they are will­ing.” Chrysos­tom will aug­ment his argu­ment, then, from two fur­ther sources: this life’s events and God’s prov­i­dence as demon­strat­ed in the nat­ur­al world.

This is not to say, how­ev­er, that Chrysos­tom ignores or down­plays God’s voice in nature for those who also accept the author­i­ty of Scrip­ture. Indeed, Chrysos­tom con­tends that God’s eval­u­a­tion of nature in the pages of the Bible is the pri­ma­ry grid one must uti­lize to avoid mis­un­der­stand­ing God’s inten­tions in cre­at­ing the uni­verse. We all know nature con­tains aspects that are quite ben­e­fi­cial to human­i­ty and ele­ments that are more dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile with God’s love and good­ness. Nature’s good­ness is not always apparent. 

That is to say, among those things which God viewed were not only light, but also dark­ness. Not only fruit, but also thorns. Not only cul­ti­vat­ed trees, but also wild trees. Not only slop­ing plains, but also poi­so­nous rep­tiles. Not only fish, but also sea mon­sters. Not only calm seas, but also the unnav­i­ga­ble ocean … Many were soon to be trou­bled by these real­i­ties and here­sies to be born.” 

Chrysos­tom teach­es much the same mes­sage in his ser­mons on Gen­e­sis. He argues, as in The Prov­i­dence of God, that here­sies are born when we refuse to accept God’s judg­ment on the good­ness of creation. 

When we see peo­ple of good rep­u­ta­tion giv­ing their opin­ion of things that hap­pen, we don’t con­tra­dict them, but rather fall in with their opin­ion and often pre­fer their opin­ion to our own. So much the more in the case of the God of all things, the Cre­ator of every­thing we can see, should we do like­wise: we should learn his judg­ment on things, sub­due our own rea­son­ings, and instead of pre­sum­ing fur­ther we should be con­tent with the knowl­edge that every­thing has been pro­duced by a word com­ing from him and by his lov­ing kind­ness, and that noth­ing has been cre­at­ed idly or to no pur­pose. Even if, through the lim­i­ta­tions of our own rea­son­ing, we should be in igno­rance of cre­at­ed things, he him­self in his own wis­dom and thought­ful love pro­duced all things.” 

If God, the one who has cre­at­ed all things, does not hes­i­tate to label all cre­ation good,” this is also the inter­pre­tive stance his believ­ing com­mu­ni­ty is to assume, even before those aspects of nature that appear to be harmful. 

There­fore, hav­ing heard the prophet say to you that God saw these things and praised them, stop try­ing to find anoth­er test and demon­stra­tion of their good­ness. Don’t ask: In what way are they good?’ For the dec­la­ra­tion of the opin­ion and judg­ment of the one who cre­at­ed them is more cer­tain than the demon­stra­tion drawn from the works them­selves … For if you are not sat­is­fied with this word, but want to occu­py your­self with a detailed inves­ti­ga­tion of cre­ation, you are only fling­ing your­self into a vio­lent tide of evil rea­son­ings and bil­lows cre­at­ing a great tempest.” 

One must exer­cise great care in inter­pret­ing Chrysos­tom at this junc­ture. He is paint­ing in broad strokes, and we will mis­un­der­stand him if we believe him to be say­ing that the Chris­t­ian should avoid close obser­va­tion and exam­i­na­tion of the nat­ur­al realm. Next week we’ll explore his own fas­ci­na­tion with nature and his will­ing­ness to hypoth­e­size how nature func­tions. He does want us, though, to avoid pre­ma­ture, unin­formed judg­ments as to the good­ness of all of cre­ation. All that God declares to be good is good, even if we can’t imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nize its good­ness. Our eval­u­a­tions must be shaped by God’s eval­u­a­tions, not vice versa. 

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

View Selections & Learn More >