Outside the other day, we saw a wolf spider, the big jumping kind that bite. True to their faith, which inspires them to be true to their scientific spirit, the kids asked questions. “Can he hurt us? How come God created wolf spiders? How is biting good? Does God love wolf spiders?” I knelt down and locked my mommy eyes with the spider’s steely ones, and I imagined just how hysterical the hysteria would become if this fuzzy creature did, in fact, jump on one of us. Then I did what any brave mommy would do. I told the kids to run.
Besides, those aren’t easy questions.
The theological answer is that God called all creatures into existence out of nothing (Lateran Council IV), freely by His goodness and omnipotent power. Scripture says God loves all His creatures and hates nothing He made. (Wisdom 11:25) St. Thomas, however, explained (ST II, Q. 20, A. 2) that “God does not love irrational creatures with the love of friendship.” He loves them with a love of desire in so far as He orders them to us and to Himself. God doesn’t need wolf spiders, but even if they bite us they have a purpose in His creation.
There’s a scientific parallel. The order, proportion, and symmetry in nature is undeniable, in subatomic particles and in galaxies. The world is ruled by physical laws. Even though we haven’t discovered them all, those fundamental laws are profoundly beautiful in mathematical form. They are symmetrical; symmetry is beautiful. Even when something seems chaotic, scientists discover over and over that it’s part of a greater symmetry. The British nuclear physicist, Dr. Peter E. Hodgson, once wrote:
“In any case, we know that the world is far from being fuzzy or chaotic, but is locked together by the steely framework of layer upon layer of symmetries so related that even if one symmetry is inexact or broken, this is restored by other symmetries at a deeper level.” (Theology and Modern Physics)
We see symmetrical ripples when a raindrop hits the calm surface of a pond, but in a downpour that symmetry seems to disappear into chaos. Nonetheless, laws of physics direct every motion of every molecule in ways we don’t fully understand. The thunderstorm is part of a greater weather system, part of the greater water cycle.
I think of suffering, illness, and death this way too. Our story—the story of humanity or the story of our individual lives—isn’t yet complete. Sometimes in our pain we can only see the immediate chaos, but the chaos is part of a greater story. When I’m suffering, it helps to remember that all things have a purpose if I order my life toward God. So, that wolf spider, eerie as he was, unfriendly and evil as he seemed, had a purpose that day, a symmetry in himself and in our lives. He taught us to have a healthy respect for nature, that we share the earth with other creatures. Brave as we were, we are wiser for the encounter.
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