Tuesday, May 09, 2006

God the Father and a Creation in Crisis

After warming up now in a few posts I think it is time to tackle what I consider a serious problem for Christian theology in a time of decline like ours. The most fundamental aspect of the Christian faith is the belief in God as creator of all there is. Some theologians like to separate between Gods creating work and his upholding work (i.e. Pannenberg) but I prefer to see the latter as a continuation of the first, and thus essentially two aspects of the same thing.

This doctrine is all the more important because it is a part of Christian doctrine that I think is quite accessible even to secularized humans, provided that you acknowledge the myth-status of the creation narratives in Genesis. Most human beings experience reverence faced with the grandness of nature, the miracle of new life and the joy of beauty, and many find it plausible to connect this reverence with something we can call God. Thus the doctrine of God as originator has long been considered a solid part of the Christian dogma on which one can build new interpretations of more tricky aspects of Christianity, such as the doctrine of sin and of salvation.

Because of this it can be considered deeply unsettling that this doctrine seems to prerequisite a belief that creation is stable, something that can be ended only by its Creator. Can we really believe that the world as something that flows out of Gods ongoing creation, if we recognize that there are considerable threats to the continuation of life in this creation, threats that originate within this creation itself? This would indicate that there is a power within creation – humanity – that has in fact become powerful enough to counter the will and power of God. If the destructive power of man outweighs the creative power of God, what kinds of consequences does this have for our concept of God? Is such a God really pantokrator?

We can easily see that this situation is caused by the sin of humanity. The question is: is this the ultimate form of hubris, of believing to be god, something that God ultimately will not tolerate? Or is this too something that must be accepted as a consequence of man’s freedom of will?

And if God will not tolerate the destruction of creation, will this result in a nemesis that is the destruction of humanity? This is not difficult to envision, but theologically impossible. It goes against all we believe about God as loving and graceful. But one still has to ask: even if there is grace for every possible transgression a person can do, is there a limit to God’s grace that consists of the destruction of the World?

There is of course hope for the world. It consists of the possibility that our civilization collapses before the environment does. I doubt there is a solution based of the good will of man. But I think a slow decline is more likely, and if it is not fast enough, it will not cause the changes in lifestyle that are necessary.

How do we believe in God in a scenario like this? I think we must start by recognizing that our way of life is not acceptable in the eyes of God. To be able to uphold a belief in a God who is Love, who is Creator and who wants to save the kosmos, there needs to be a repentance, a recognition that as long as we live the way we live now we stand against God who stands on the side of creation. There needs to be a full metanoia: a turning away from life based on consuming to a life based on other values.

Of course God’s almightiness is not to be understood as an ability to do anything. Rather I think Tillich’s interpretation is useful: That God is the one who is able to stand against the non-being. Faith in a world on the edge of destruction must be to trust that God can stand against the non-being we are letting loose, and to enter into a community with God that consists of joining God in the creating work to keep upholding the creation.


attycortes said...

2 brief comments: (1)God's restraining , converting and sanctifying grace can effectively deal with humanity's destructiveness. God remains sovereign and omnipotent; all human destructiveness is merely upon his tolerance for wise and mysterious reasons. (2) If ever human destructiveness reaches a point of no return then, as prophesied, divine intervention in its most concrete form (i.e., the 2nd coming of Christ)is the remedy, preceded by destruction by fire but concluded by a glorious restoration: "new heavens, new earth, new humanity". The crisis is real - creation groans, but the Creator is crouching behind the curtains, ready to spring a paradoxically recreative destruction upon an unsuspecting world.

byron smith said...

Hey, just wanted to say thanks again for this series. My own work has moved closer to some of these very questions (perhaps it could be formulated as "the theological space for ethics in a declining world"). I know it has been a long time since we've communicated, but I hope you are well. I thought of you again recently because of your World Cup for Theologians, which must have been four years ago!

byron smith said...

PS @attycortes - it depends what you mean by a point of no return. A point of no return for our society and way of life? If so, then God hasn't rescued civilisations in the past, so why should he rescue ours?

(I realise this reply is about four years too late!)