Why did God make us? When you look how the ancient writers of the Church thought about that question the answer might surprise. It’s the same reason he saved us: love. God made us to love us.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a relationship of eternal and mutual love. But, as fourth-century theologian Gregory Nazianzen observes, it is the nature of love to seek objects to love. For an uncreated God, that means it is natural to create. “Good must be poured out and go forth,” said Gregory, beyond the Holy Trinity itself, “to multiply the objects of Its beneficence….”
Gregory considers this loving generosity “essential to” or characteristic of “the highest Goodness.” We know from the testimony of Scripture that God is love. His every action flows from that fact of his nature, including creation. And so, he says, God “first conceived the Heavenly and Angelic Powers. And this conception was a work fulfilled by His Word, and perfected by His Spirit.”
But he didn’t stop with angels. “[W]hen His first creation was in good order, He conceive[d] a second world, material and visible….” And so he created earth and us, objects of God’s beneficence.
Other ancient Christian writers echo this explanation. John Damascene, for instance, says that “in His exceeding goodness” God “wished certain things to come into existence which would enjoy His benefits and share in His goodness, [so] He brought all things out of nothing into being and created them, both what is invisible [such as the angels] and what is visible [such as ourselves].”
Icons of the creation make this point vividly. Whether the scene is one of speaking light into existence, or calling forth the birds and fish, or breathing the breath of life into Adam, Christ is depicted as creator with his hand outstretched in the sign of the cross, the sign of blessing, indicating that the very act of creation is one of grace and love.
This perspective has powerful implications for Christian life.
Love, says a much more recent writer, Fr. Michael Nasser of Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Mission of Bowling Green, Kentucky, “isn’t only why He made us; it is also how He made us. He made us to be able to receive His love. And when we do … we respond by living as we were made to live: like Him.”
Nasser’s point is that we become what we receive. In that sense, he says, our one calling as Christians is to uniquely express God’s love in the particular location, family, occupation, job, school that God has placed us.
As we grow in Christ we grow in love and our ability to express that love to others. That’s who Christ is; that’s what motivated not only his saving action at the cross, but also our very origins. As we grow in Christ’s love, we do with it what is only natural — what he does — we extend it, spread it, and share it. All because he first loved us.