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Posts Tagged ‘creation’

The subtlety of hair

The subtlety of hair,
The scratchy scalp,
The seriousness of the forehead,
The brow of the eye.

The audacity of eyebrows, in general,
The sleep in an eye,
The blur of the other one,
Grease is the word down the length of the nose.

Yesterday’s growth just north of the lip,
The good-morning salt in the underbite,
The suitability of the chin for paint preparation,
The perfect neck.

The “here I am” of the shoulders,
The “there you go” of the arms,
The “as luck would have it” of nipples,
The handiness of fingers.

The slap of the puku,
The stop-to-think finger-home of the inny,
The monstrosity of the penis,
The contentment of the ball-bag.

The camaraderie of thighs in the crisis of rising,
The possibility of knees,
The difficulty of shins,
Don’t try to convince me on ankles.

The ground beneath the feet,
The stubs before the toes,
In the body the ambivalent,
In the ambivalent the absurd,
In the absurd God.

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Christianity is unmistakably anthropocentric. Right from the start it is humanity, not the animals, who is made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). It is they who are to “fill the earth and subdue it,” exercising dominion over the animals and being given the plants to eat (vv.28-29). Although the narrative attributes it to the fall, knowledge of good and evil becomes a distinctive of humanity through eating the fruit (Gen 3:1-7). And it may be rhetorical but Jesus places more value on human than animal life (Matt 6:26; 10:31; 12:12). Moreover God came to earth as a human, not an animal (John 1:14). Just as the first Adam sinned with consequences for all humanity, Jesus’ work of righteousness had universal human significance (Rom 5:18). The incarnation in itself had atoning value, and it was necessary that Jesus was fully human or we would not be fully saved. As Gregory Nazianzus famously argued, “That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved.” Gregory’s statement is in polemical context, addressing Apollinarianism, yet it is still indicative of the anthropocentric climate of Christian theology.

Despite humanity’s centrality to the biblical story, Christian theology does not ignore the place of animals. God is creator of all. Not only Noah’s human family but all the animals are to be saved from the flood (Gen 6:19-20). It is only after the flood that God allows humans to eat the animals, possibly as a result of human violence (Gen 9:3). Whereas the other prophets imagine universal peace and worship of God for humanity, Isaiah’s eschatological vision includes animals: “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” (Isa 11:6). This is in part fulfilled in Jesus’ coming. The gospel was not only for humanity but the whole of creation (Mark 16:5). Paul looks forward to a time when “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21), and acknowledges the universal significance of the gospel (Eph 1:7-10; Col 1:16-20; cf. Acts 3:19-21).

The problem then is not so much that Christian theology has no place for creation other than humanity, nor that this theology unanimously sanctions violence against the non-human. The problem is that humanity’s being accorded a central place in creation, revelation, and new creation implicitly maintains an anthropocentrism, even if there are resources for beginning to move beyond that. In creation it is humanity that is to represent God to the animals, and, through Jesus, again this gospel of universal significance is revealed first to humanity who are to represent God to the animals.

What role does humanity play in the salvation history of the animals?

Has God spoken to the animals apart from us?

How do the animals view us, God, and their place in the world?

What resources do evolution and pre-human existence provide for understanding revelation and salvation to the animals?

How much is biblical anthropocentrism a product of human dominion over the earth and are there alternative ways of viewing the biblical story?

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So tot’s been putting off writing for a while because laziness, etc. But yesterday (?) I finished John W. Cooper’s Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers, in which Cooper spends the majority of the book detailing panentheism in Western philosophy and theology, touching on a few also voices somewhat outside that tradition, and providing a Reformed, classical theist critique in the final chapter. The outlines are good, though, and Cooper admits this, the response is very short and you probably need another book in itself to offer any substantial critique of panentheism.

What is panentheism? Firstly, you may know pantheism, from pan, all, and theos, God. There is one reality (monism) named God or All, but they’re the same thing. Secondly, you may know classical theism. There is God, who exists on his own terms, infinite and uncreated, and there is creation/finitude, which comes from him. I understand it as dualistic (this isn’t always a swear word) in that there is the reality of God and the reality of creation (and a good classical theist would decry the Platonic assigning of spirit, mind, etc to the reality of God; they are, indeed, created things). In contrast, panentheism, all-in-Godism, lets God have his creation, and eat it too. I understand it as monistic: There is the one reality of God and all things are in him, yet the two are ontologically distinct. God is not all things; he is more. All things are not God; they are much less. Yet they exist in the one reality, here God. Cooper does not employ monism and dualism as straightforwardly as I have done here. So if I have been bad, I invite you to smack my hand.

Famous panentheists include Hegel, Teilhard, Whitehead, Tillich, Moltmann, Pannenberg (so Cooper argues), Ruether, McFague, and many more! It is yet too early for me to pick a team, but there are definitely some things about panentheism that appeal to me. One is this notion of “true infinity.” If God is infinite then a panentheist would argue that he cannot be infinite in contrast to the finite because this would bound the infinite and it would no longer be a true infinite. God as infinite therefore includes the finite within him. Cooper writes on Nicolas of Cusa: “Whereas classical theism protects the God-world distinction by opposing the infinite and finite, the absolute and relative, and other such antithetical qualities, Nicholas argues that the truly infinite must include both sides of these polarities” (Location 988-990). If in the beginning God is all there is, and this All is a powerful All, how can All create something whose existence is outside of it? Where did he place us if there was no outside in which to place us? Indeed, we are created ex nihilo, but we do not persist in nihilo because we would never start existing. We would need to be brought into the one reality who is God.

A problem arises, however. If God is both good and All, whence cometh evil? I think a panentheist could still maintain this if they distinguished between the actuality and possibility of evil in God. In himself God is not actually evil. Agreeable. Yet I tread carefully here. Is it possible that God can do evil? I cannot say. Yet evil comes with creation. It is possible for created things to do evil, so in a removed sense, God is somehow primordially related to evil through possibility. And if you’re in the Augustinian tradition you might quip that it’s a necessary possibility on account of creaturely freedom. In the scheme of panentheism, God creates out of nothing that for which evil is a possibility and he sustains it in the one reality which is himself.

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This is a theme that has been developing in my theology over this year. Romans 8:18-23 I think demonstrates it well:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Here the imperfections and sufferings of creation, although they are tied to sin (5:12), are also “not of its own will.” I respect the theological qualifications of this passage that attempt to distance God from having any direct connection with sin, but the theme is prevalent throughout Romans, no doubt understanding that the same qualifications may apply: “God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:32). He sent the law, knowing that it would incite sin, yet that his grace would increase (5:20-21). He hardened Pharaoh’s heart for his purposes (9:17). And he used the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as part of his plan to include the Gentiles (11:15).

When God creates, the possibility of fall is intrinsic to his creation. God wills that his creation will freely respond to him so he must also allow free rebellion. Sin is not merely the individual breaking the moral law, delivered from this through repentance, but the failure of the cosmos to respond to God, of which creation is both perpetrator (sin) and victim (suffering).¹ Is God’s redemptive work in salvation history a response or always originally intended? I’m of the opinion that God creates with the plan to redeem, knowing sin is necessary to a free creation. Additionally, suffering may even be necessary for redemption to be fully realised: That which is created and freely loves God knows something of this love, but that which is created good, suffers and rejects God, and then is reconciled and redeemed, knows something else: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20).²

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¹Anthropocentric accounts of the fall must first explain why the Genesis story includes a snake.

²Not that I am involved in any great suffering so that I can give meaning to it. This at the moment is a merely intellectual exercise, although I do appreciate that when Paul speaks of suffering, he means it.

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One of my recent posts explored the possibility of God’s particularity. With some more time to think about it, I was assailed by a host of further thoughts yesterday at the laundromat. I’ve never had so much fun waiting for my undies to get clean. Before starting, I should mention that this is really just a bit of fun, although it would be awesome to explore it properly one day. I’m constrained firstly by my classical approach, employing Greco-German categories. If anyone can figure out a way of looking at this sideways then I heartily welcome you. Secondly, although research would undoubtedly be helpful, this is a lazy attempt to create my own solutions and problems to problems and solutions I have come across where I may very well be misrepresenting the concepts so much that I am in actuality saying nothing. Onwards!

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Is God particular or universal? Clearly it would be helpful to first define these two terms. If I’m right, a universal is that which encompasses a set of particulars. So I can say that a particular friend is a friend only with reference to the concept of friendship, though that friend is only a particularised expression of that universal. They are not equal to friendship but occupy some part of it. However, friendship is not the universal, that is, not all things can be defined as a part of friendship. It is therefore necessary to find a universal which encompasses both friendship and that which is not friendship. This is probably an imperfect suggestion but we’ll roll with it for example’s sake: Love. Is it possible to say that love is a universal as all things friendship and all things romance, though they cannot be completely referred to each other, can both be completely referred to love? (For example’s sake just say yes. Thanks). And onwards until all things are under one universal. It might be being. All things are. So love and hate, for example, are particulars of the universal being because they both exist.

The problem with being as the universal (and here’s where some Heidegger or Hegel would have probably helped me!) is that it excludes non-being, that which is not. But in that case, how can non-being even be referenced? If there is nothing then there is nothing to reference. Being is the universal for all that is. It sounds too simple. Non-being, paradoxically is being. It is potential being, possibility. Non-being exists, for example, as that which can be thought or posited though it does yet exist. But not only is its possibility in human reason but in all that is becoming. When being through becoming moves towards non-being then that non-being is actualised into being. Thus being is a universal insofar as non-being is exists within it as possibility.¹

In sum, being is the universal; all else, in reference to being without exhausting its totality, is particular.

* * *

God, then, must be defined in terms of the universal as he encompasses all things and all things have their being in him. The first difficulty with this is that if God is free and sovereign then is he constrained by his being, thus negating these, or does he choose it freely, which apparently would first require being…? In other words, to define God in terms of being is to reduce him to something, so that this designation is always provisional.

If God is universal then whence cometh creation? Creation is a collection of particularities which occupies a space on God’s universality. The problem with this is that creation as finite occupies the spatio-temporal whereas God occupies the eternal. If creation operates within time then when in eternity did God create? If creation operates within space then where in eternity did God create? In creation, God moves from being to becoming. God as the I am, changeless and eternal, brings change and temporality through the act of creation, birthing a history to accompany his being. God as being, all that there is, brings non-being into being, and it occupies a space. This is the pantheistic problem: That which is not is brought into being to occupy a space within/outside all that is (God). How can God, when he is all that there is, bring that which is not him into being? The only, probably heretical, suggestion I have is that God withdraws from or extends a part of himself and calls it not-God.

Both further create the problem that being moves into becoming, and becoming is a problem because it is change. If God is being then at what point (there is no point!) does he become? But if God is eternally becoming then this is essential to his nature and is not change. God’s becoming is rooted in his being, which always is, and thus he is changeless. As Anti-Climacus put it: “The being of God means that everything is possible, or that everything is possible means the being of God.”² If only being then there would be no possibility, only actuality. Possibility requires becoming. This nuances the main problem with God as particular: At any given time not all things make reference to him; there is that which is outside of him. But this is God only as actuality; as regards possibility he is a universal because all things are possibile, yet he is in actuality possibility so that, paradoxically, as regards his actuality he is both universal and particular.

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Here are some further thoughts, addressing mainly the problem of sin in terms of what has just been stated. God creates in freedom. He is under no necessity to create but enters into necessity through the act of creating. As Hosea records, the dual pain and love of God:

They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.

(Hosea 11:5-9).

Israel has forsaken Yahweh so he too will forsake them. But even after the hurt they have caused him he cannot give them up. In creating, God limits himself to a necessity within that creation, the necessity to care for it and even depend upon it. Ostensibly the freedom to forsake creation is ever-present, but, rather, God has already forsaken his freedom through the choice to create. In creation he loves and cannot do otherwise. God freely creates and creation freely loves him.

For creation to love freely there must be the possibility of not loving, which is not in accordance with God’s will, and therefore sin. God cannot sin because sin is that which is against his will. He can do all things but none of them are sin because he only does what he wills. In creation, however, God enters into covenant, a covenant inherent to the act of creation itself. God loves his creation and is thus obligated to it. He does not sin, but that which he does in accordance with his will is not only understood on his own terms but mediated through creation. No interaction with creation is sin yet creation may ask him otherwise. He freely forsakes his will that creation may take some part in it. This is prayer, the construction of God’s will mediated through his creation. Creation, however, sins because he has given it freedom to do so. It is not himself that sins but that which is not-God, which has been given a share of God’s freedom yet acts otherwise to this freedom.

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¹It is very optimistic of me to suggest that all non-being can be actualised. As this is all speculative at this point, this definition excludes that which can never be actualised. Yet if it cannot be actualised it probably cannot exist as possibility either (imagination doesn’t count, contra Anselm!).

²Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening (1849), translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), 40.

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So the ‘xam went well in the end. I think blogging helps too, getting as many thoughts out as possible in a short space of time. Currently I’m working on the last assignment before mum’s flying me off to Brisbane nek week. This one’s an exegetical on John 1:1-5, the being and creation history of the Word. 2500-3000 words on five verses. I’m actually so super-excited about this! Here’s the text:

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being [4] in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. [5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

(NRSV)

John has the ability to write both super-accessible, simple sounding theology yet with so much depth. I remember a friend of mine making a connection between John’s style and his, in the KJV, “leaning on Jesus’ bosom” (13:23). This image of resting implies a meditative beloved disciple who clearly had some deep thoughts!

Currently I’m reading through Ernst Haenchen’s Hermeneia commentary from the eighties on these verses. It’s hard to get past his fascination with different textual traditions that John might have been borrowing from, yet I’ve been interested in his situating of these verses as a gnostic polemic, against those who denied the reality, value, etc of the material world, which is of course a very Johannine concern (e.g. John 1:14; 19:34; 20:27; 1 John 4:2-3). Through the Word, all things, not only spiritual things as gnostics would contend, came into being. This is clear not only in the statement in v.3 which emphasises this with both a positive and negative clause but in an alternative reading of the verse. The NRSV, as also the UBS standard Greek text,¹ places “What has come into being” (he gegonen) at the beginning of a new sentence leading into v.4, in line with how the Church Fathers, as well as gnostics, read the text. However, many other translations read v.3 as a whole, thus the NIV: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Ostensibly this is redundant, although that isn’t a huge problem as v.2 also seems a redundant restating of v.1. What is significant about this reading is why the gnostics chose the former.² If he gegonen completes one sentence in v.3 then John leaves no possible alternative translation: The Word made all which has been made, that is, the already made physical world. Alternatively, without this clause, it is apparently easier to read v.3 immaterially, as early gnostics did without question!

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¹That is, one of the standard agreed upon texts. This is still under debate as the original manuscripts were not punctuated.

²The Fathers did too, yet clearly for other reasons, bar probably Origen!

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