Evolution

Below are some theological reflections relating to my personal understanding of evolution. Of course, no one can claim to fully comprehend the works and ways of God, so these reflections simply represent what I've worked out for myself up to this point, with the help of other believers.

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth--all you see, all you don't see.

Genesis 1:1 (The Message)

All Christian believers must recognize God as their Creator. To deny the Creator God is to deny the power and ultimate control that God has over all that exists. This is the foundational belief of the Christian faith.

Although all Christians acknowledge God as Creator, there are many different viewpoints concerning how God creates. Many Christians prefer to think of God's creative action as an immediate event, one that happened "in the beginning." Those who hold this viewpoint generally perceive a conflict between the Biblical creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 and the scientific story of the universe's evolutionary history.

This apparent conflict can be resolved by recognizing that the Bible was never meant to be a scientific textbook. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God written in the imperfect language of human beings. The Bible uses non-literal metaphors and allegories to reveal God's ways because human language and experience could never fully convey them. The humans responsible for writing the Bible were members of a pre-scientific culture who would have been absolutely mystified by a detailed description of the universe's inner-workings.  In order to avoid confusion and unnecessary distractions, I believe God conveyed the message using language the writers could understand and appreciate.

In reality, evolution and the Biblical creation stories are completely incomparable. The various theories of evolution are meant to explain HOW the universe and its inhabitants came to be the way they are today. The creation narratives in Genesis are intended to describe WHY things are the way they are by firmly delineating the relationship between God and Creation. One explanation is scientific, the other is profoundly religious. There is no significant conflict.

Even so, many Christians still reject evolutionary theory. Often this is because the apparent randomness and impersonality of nature according to evolution does not seem to coincide with the traditional idea of a caring and loving God. Certainly, the arbitrary meandering and seeming wastefulness of the evolutionary story makes one wonder if what we are witnessing could possibly be the unfolding of a "divine plan." But is it really appropriate to believe that God designed all of the specific details of Creation "in the beginning?"  An understanding of the evolutionary nature of Creation leads us to answer "no."

It is important for Christians to realize that, according to evolutionary theory, creation is still taking place. God's creative action was not just "in the beginning." An awareness of evolution allows us to literally feel the power of God's present-day creative action.

God, Creator of the heavens - he is, remember, God. Maker of Earth - he put it on its foundations, built it from scratch.  He didn't go to all that trouble to just leave it empty, nothing in it.  He made it to be lived in.  This God says: "I am God, the one and only."

Isaiah 45:18 (The Message)

Our universe was indeed made to be lived in. I believe that God constructed the universe in such a way that the appearance of life was not only possible, but inevitable.

God spoke: "Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind: cattle and reptiles and wild animals - all kinds." And there it was: wild animals of every kind, Cattle of all kinds, every sort of reptile and bug. God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:24-25 (The Message)

Given the enormities of space and time that define our universe, along with the known capacity of matter to self-organize, it was simply a matter of time before living beings evolved who were capable of knowing and appreciating God's role as their Creator.

What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made Earth overflow with your wonderful creations.

Psalm 104:24 (The Message)

From an evolutionary viewpoint, this verse has special meaning. Not only was Earth overflowing as the psalmist was writing, but it continues to overflow today and into the future, because of the evolutionary nature of Creation. Imagine the amazing wisdom necessary to design such a self-sufficient universe. Our God is truly an awesome God!

"For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think."

Isaiah 55:9 (The Message)

Recognizing the immense biodiversity that has existed throughout Earth's history forces us to acknowledge the fact that death, suffering, and decay were all present from the very beginning of life on Earth.  These were not consequences that suddenly appeared after the "Fall of Humanity." As seen so clearly in the fossil record, extinctions have occurred continuously throughout life's history.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Biology: unrestricted reproduction is impossible in an environment of limited resources. Thus, biological death is an inescapable element of an evolving Creation.  Indeed, if God were to intervene to prevent biological death, the blessing of new creation would quickly become a curse as the necessary resources for life on Earth would eventually disappear.

How do I distinguish this "God of evolution" from the distant, impersonal God of deism?  Like the deistic God, the God of evolution does not interrupt the laws of nature to "tinker" with Creation. Instead, the God of evolution allows the universe to take part in its own creation by endowing it with the ability to self-create and then leaving its future open to novelty and new forms of order. I believe that God voluntarily limits divine intervention in the universe, similar to the way that a parent limits his or her actions to allow a child to grow up and gain understanding through experience.

God is, nevertheless, intimately involved in the ongoing existence of the universe.  Indeed, the universe continues to exist only because of God's sustaining presence that is poured out into it.  In a sense, by being the very reason for the universe's ongoing existence, God is the ultimate explanation for evolution.

I believe that God remains closely involved in the process of creation by being the creative source of all the potential paths the universe could take. This is possible because God is eternal.

God, your name is eternal, God, you'll never be out-of-date.

Psalms 135:13 (The Message)

In other words, God exists "outside" of time. Therefore, God can work "up ahead" of the universe, luring it forward and granting it a limitless range of new possibilities for evolving. In this view, all of the struggles, sufferings, extinctions, and temporary successes of nature take place within the bounds of God. God experiences and endures every event that occurs in the cosmic story of evolution. This, I believe, is God's way of redeeming and giving meaning to all occurrences.

A God interested in assuring free will would not interact with Creation in such a way that leaves empirical evidence.  Such evidence would be inconsistent with God's gift of freedom as expressed in this well-known Bible verse:

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

John 3:16 (The Message)

By leaving behind no observable traces of creative action, God makes it possible for us to choose to believe. Conversely, if we were to find divine fingerprints all over Creation, we would have very few alternatives but to recognize our Creator.

This is why the popular notion of "Intelligent Design" (ID) is so unpalatable to me. Those who hold this view claim to see evidence of God's past creative activity in the present workings of Creation. But such claims actually put limits on God's creative power. ID implies that God is only involved in Creation during specific, exceptional events. This "God of occasional action" can too easily be interpreted as a "God of usual inaction." I prefer to think of God as continually active in Creation through the multiple processes of evolution.

Another problem with ID is that it places God's creative activity entirely in the past. After all, up to this point, ID proponents have failed to explain how we could recognize such "design events" if they were to occur in the present. Consigning God's creativity to the past leaves the world with little hope for renewal. A future devoid of God's creative action would leave us with little hope of seeing God's promises ultimately fulfilled.

Supporters of ID seem to think of God as an interventionist who occasionally interrupts the normal evolutionary processes to impose order. In this view, God's creative action is coercive. In contrast, I prefer to think of God's creative action as "persuasive." Persuasive love always desires the freedom of the beloved. Out of boundless love for Creation, God chooses to allow the universe to become itself, something distinct from its Creator. Evolution is therefore a sign of the universe's ever-increasing "otherness."

In line with the idea that God's love is not coercive but persuasive, I believe it is no longer appropriate to think that God has a predetermined "plan" for the entire universe that includes every minute detail of our personal lives. Instead, I believe that God has a "vision" for what our lives might be.  We have the freedom to pursue God's vision for our lives or to venture out on our own.  This freedom is only possible in a world that is not yet finished--a world that is still evolving.

So, out of humble, self-giving love, God allows the universe to take part in its own becoming.  This type of vulnerable, selfless love is exactly what Christians see embodied in Jesus Christ, who gave up his life for our salvation, even though we know he didn't have to do it.

He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.  Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death - and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.

Philippians 2: 6-8 (The Message)

In an evolving creation, Christ's death on the cross can be seen as the ultimate work of re-creation that was part of a much larger program of redemption.

The story began when a group of our ancestors had evolved to become capable of self-consciousness and communication. The actual size of this group and when and where they lived is not particularly important here--that would be a scientific question, not a theological one. In any case, this group of humans eventually came to understand and follow God's will for their lives. These were the first members of our species to worship and obey God. They were the first humans to become God's "image-bearers."  These early believers ultimately sought their own desires and turned away from God.  In doing so, they departed from the course God had intended for humanity.  Today, this gradual departure from God's vision for humanity is known as "the Fall."  This was when spiritual death, the condition of being cut-off from God, entered our world.  Ever since, God has been working to restore humanity to its original trajectory.

In Christ, God has given us a much-needed opportunity for a course correction. As Paul the Apostle wrote:

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (The Message)

Through Jesus Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, the God who offers us this "fresh start" continued the program of redemption that began so long ago.

It should be clear by now that I believe God continuously interacts with Creation, but in a way that is undetectable to our methods of scientific observation.  This does not mean, however, that we cannot sense God's presence in the world around us.  Christians believe that God has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us.

The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you.

John 14:26 (The Message)

Though I cannot see physical evidence of God in the world around me, I can "see" God in my mind's eye.  To me, this is the true meaning of faith.

It's what we trust in but don't yet see that keeps us going.

2 Corinthians 5:7 (The Message)

I can feel God's presence in the midst of worship. I can sense the Holy Spirit working in my life and in the lives of my family and friends. I can see the work of God's hands through the compassionate works of other believers.  All that is required for such experiences to have religious meaning is for one to be openly receptive to God.

The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can't receive the gifts of God's Spirit. There's no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit - God's Spirit and our spirits in open communion.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (The Message)

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