Creator Spirit in the Evolving World
‘The blue marble’
(photo from space)
To love the Earth: The theology of the Creator Spirit who creates, indwells, compassionately loves, and empowers the world supports an ethic of responsible care for the Earth. Therefore, the whole rich tapestry of the created order has its own intrinsic value, because it is the place where God creatively dwells. We can no longer think that morality is only for humans; if the Earth is indeed a sacrament of divine presence, then its ongoing destruction is deeply sinful desecration.
(1) The Vivifier: A photo of Earth from space, taken in the 1960s, reminds us that humans share one planet – and one environment. In recent centuries Christian theologians spent little time thinking about the natural world; but today, ecological theology is addressing these issues. (Ecological theology = study of the relationship of spirit and nature, especially in the light of environmental concerns.)
(2) The natural world: Our world is entering a new and threatening era. ¶ Wonder: We have learned that the universe is very old, incomprehensively large, complexly interconnected, and profoundly dynamic – and that this dynamism led to the emergence of our own species. ¶ Wasting: We know that humans are damaging our planet at an accelerating rate. We also are learning that there is a deep connection between social injustice and ecological devastation – because we see that the world’s poor suffer most from environmental impoverishment. ¶ Ongoing creation: Christians once thought that God, after creating the world, mostly acted to maintain what was already established; but now we realize that genuinely new things are still coming into being through evolution and other processes. We need fresh ideas of how God is present and active in our world.
(3) Divine presence: As we think about ongoing creation, it is crucial to remember that the Creator Spirit is fully God, coming near us in every moment. ¶ Continuous presence: The scientist Stephen Hawking asks, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” Hawking doesn’t answer his question, but Biblical faith dares to believe that it is God’s own Spirit who “breathes life into the equations.” But to understand how the Spirit acts, we need a new model for God’s presence and action in the world. ¶ Some definitions: In recent centuries western theology mostly used a model of theism (theism = there IS a God); this theology emphasizes God’s difference and distance from the world, and pays little attention to divine nearness. The opposite model is pantheism (pantheism = ALL-is-God), which erases the difference between the creation and Creator, seeing all as one. Today, the model that best helps us interpret God’s presence is panentheism (panentheism = all-IN-God). Panentheism envisions a world where everything abides in God, who in turn encompasses everything. As God’s presence permeates the world we live in, simple material things can become bearers of divine grace. ¶ The cruciform pattern: Our natural world is beautiful, but also filled with suffering and death. Where is God amid this suffering over millions of millennia? We need to interpret this suffering in the light of the gospel. Christians see Jesus as our most important window to the nature of God; and in Jesus, we glimpse a merciful love that knows no bounds. Ecological theology proposes that the Creator Spirit dwells in compassionate solidarity with every living being that suffers ¶ Abiding in the mode of promise: From modern science, we have learned that our universe has unfolded extravagantly over time; from the beginning the universe has been seeded with promise, pregnant with surprise. Ecological theology images the Creator Spirit dwelling at the heart of the world, graciously energizing its evolution from within, compassionately holding all creatures in their suffering and death, and drawing the world forward toward an unimaginable future.
(4) Divine agency: How does God act in this evolving universe? Modern theism assumes that God created the world and intervenes only occasionally in human affairs; but modern science has concluded that nature organizes itself into new forms without divine intervention. ¶ Today, there are bitter arguments between some scientists (who see no trace of God in the natural world) and some religious believers (who believe not only that God intervenes, but has an overall plan for the world). ¶ Arguments between theologians can be just as fierce as those between science and religion. However, most theologians agree that God’s creativity empowers the process from within – that is, God makes the world by empowering the world to make itself. ¶ Chance and law: Contemporary scientists have observed emergent, adaptive, and self-organizing systems in nature. This what scientists observe:
The regular law-like pattern rolls along
this pattern interrupted by chance but
(instead of everything falling apart)
new, richer and more intricate and beautiful forms of order
arise at the edge of disorder.
If there were only law in the universe, the world would stagnate in a repetitive and uncreative order; if there were only chance in the universe, things would become so chaotic that no orderly structures could take shape. But chance occurring within the law disrupts the usual patterns, and over millions of millennia the interplay of chance and law brings the world to a richer state. This means that as far as science can fathom, the universe’s unfolding has not happened according to a predetermined blueprint. However, ecological theologians propose that divine creativity is at work in ongoing evolution; unpredictable upheavals might be destructive, but they have the potential to lead to richer forms of order. ¶ Grace: We should no longer think of God as having a precise plan for the evolving universe, but rather that God has a vision – to bring a community of love into being, with the Creator Spirit at the heart of the process. When the Spirit offers God’s life to humans, they are not forced to accept; as with human beings, so too with the universe – instead of intervening from outside, the Creator Spirit enables ongoing creation from within. This Spirit gives the universe the capacity to transcend itself toward ever new forms. ¶ Cross: This divine power is not the power of force. Rather, as we see in Jesus Christ, it is a power which gives itself freely in love, empowering others to love as well.
(5) To love the Earth: This theology of the Creator Spirit who creates, indwells, compassionately loves, and empowers the world supports an ethic of responsible care for the Earth. Therefore, the whole rich tapestry of the created order has its own intrinsic value, because it is the place where God creatively dwells. We can no longer think that morality is only for humans; if the Earth is indeed a sacrament of divine presence, then its ongoing destruction is deeply sinful desecration.