God to Universe: "Just Kidding!"


And God saw that it was Good.
-- Genesis 1:10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:21, 1:25.
Do you have a glass-half-full kind of theology, or are you the glass-half-empty sort?

Do you look at the glory and the splendor of creation in all its magnificent beauty, and marvel at it? Or do you only focus on the existence of suffering in the world and declare that nature is fundamentally flawed?

I would argue that the God who brought this world into existence cares about it deeply and intimately, that God loves it, and that God thinks that the world is pretty darn fantastic, despite its flaws. God evoked the world into existence because God loves it.

What do we mean by nature? Not just the Earth, of course, and that is important to keep in mind. It was once easy to be anthropocentric, as the ancients who wrote the Bible surely were. They had no idea that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Their eschatological imagery, poetic and beautiful as it sometimes was, certainly has no literal meaning to us now, given what we know now about the vast grandeur of the cosmos and our small part in it. For example, we can marvel at the magnificent vision of Isaiah when he wrote,
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
What a wonderful vision that is, of a future world in which nature itself operates according to different laws than the ones we know. But it is poetry. Lambs and lions don't lie together because that's not the way the world evolved. We can pine for a different world that operates according to different physical laws, but it just isn't going to happen. The world that God evoked into existence via painstaking participation in each moment of cosmic evolution over the past 14 billion years led to the world we now know. And we are just one small part of a much vaster universe that shares the same physical laws as our own. Do we really expect after all that evolutionary work that took so many eons over such a vast and humanly incomprehensible scale, God is suddenly going to say to the universe, "Just Kidding!" and change all the physical laws that have been in place for all that time--especially just so that our little corner of the universe will have lions and lambs living together?

I don't think so. And it would be the height of human hubris to think that it would happen that way.

We can infer certain things about how God operates through our understanding of nature. And nature tells us that God does not wink things into existence like a magic genie. God seems to act through and within the slow processes of the universe that have been in place for 14 billion years. Process theologians would say that God acts as a creative lure in those processes. Regardless of whether one subscribes to process thought, though, it is clear that God is a patient Creator. And we are just one corner of Creation.

In other words, lambs aren't going to be lying with lions any time soon.

But that's okay. Because while a glass-half-empty theologian would cite lions and lambs not living together as proof of a deeply flawed universe, I would look at it quite differently. I think that the universe is overall a beautiful place. And I think that God would have to be a very strange deity indeed to spend so much love evoking our universe into being through a painstaking and continual act of self-emptying love, if he or she thought differently.

I think it likely that God knows intimately well--in fact, cannot help but share in--the suffering that each of us experiences in our complicated world; and I also think it is likely that God's infinitely perfect empathy for each of us means that he/she also deeply mourns each moment of suffering precisely because God understands better than any of us that the greater value that was achieved by evoking conscious beings into the world was accompanied by the greater risk of suffering. The price of pain, difficult as it was, was worth it, but in a deeply poignant way; and thus God mourns when we suffer. And I agree that it was worth the price, even if we as loving beings try to do everything we can to alleviate and prevent suffering. I think that the theological glass is half full.

God wasn't kidding when he/she evoked the universe into being. Everything about this vast universe matters. I have stood on the precipice of a gorge and looked down at the river far below and marveled at how beautiful it was. I have watched birds in flight, and marveled at how beautiful it is. I have made love and marveled at how beautiful it was. I have watched a comet trail in the night sky, and marveled at how beautiful it was. The universe is indeed a beautiful place.


Robin Edgar said...

And God saw that it was Good. . . ;-)

Robin Edgar said...

Try this eye-opening link if the original one is "forbidden".