Does God Suffer With You? Or Will He Skip this Post?
We had a couple of thoughtful dissenters yesterday with regard to the cosmic evolutionary view envisioned by Teilhard de Chardin, which is perfectly understandable. Few theological issues are of more consequence, and I make no claims to be a theologian, much less a Christian one. I'm just a... a guy with a weird hobby.
One reader wrote that,
"The trouble with Teilhard is that he was thinking and writing when it looked like the 'science' of Darwinian evolution stood on unassailable ground. I believe we're within a couple of decades of that theory finally being recognized for the red herring that it truly is. To the extent that theologians bought into the 'truth' of Darwinistic science, and attempted to mix theology and evolution, it is to that extent that they've tainted their theological thinking with a fairly spurious principle."
Respectfully, I don't see it that way at all. First, you will notice that I do not refer to a "Darwinian cosmos" but to an evolutionary one. For some reason, evolution and natural selection have become synonymous, but they are not. Natural selection is merely a theory that attempts to account for the fact of biological evolution. In my view it is woefully inadequate to account for the whole of it (let alone cosmic evolution), but that doesn't mean that biological evolution has not occurred or that natural selection doesn't play some role in it, which I believe it clearly does.
One reason I believe in cosmic evolution is that in its absence, nothing makes any sense at all. It is a central pillar to everything else we know to be true of the cosmos, something like the foundation of a house. If you remove it, the whole house collapses. Everything from antibiotics to the computer you're staring at is ultimately rooted in an evolutionary cosmos. For example, the same physical forces that are harnessed to operate a computer inform us that the cosmos is approximately 13.7 billion years old, give or take. If the cosmos isn't expanding, then your computer shouldn't work. These physical forces are all tied together in a beautifully harmonious way.
The point is, if one is going to propose an alternate theory of any kind, the new theory must be able to account for the phenomena without "unexplaining" what the old theory explained. For example, there are many conspiracy theories that attempt to explain "who really killed JFK." But each and every one of them unexplains what the Warren Commission report explained so well -- that JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald alone.
It is the same with evolution. You can believe in the "conspiracy theory" that the cosmos is fixed and final, but in order to consistently believe that, you have to throw out 99% of what we know about reality. And would God really create a cosmos that is so fundamentally deceptive that we cannot comprehend it with our reason? Why? What kind of God is that?
The commenter continues, "I do, however, like the emphasis that the Unknown Friend, who also wrote at a time when Darwinism seemed unassailable, placed on the idea that evolution is what we see in a fallen world. He does not, however see God Himself as something evolving to self-realization, as far as I can remember."
First, nowhere did I suggest that "God himself" evolves. Nevertheless, the first thing one must understand about God is that he is both transcendent and immanent; he is both present in all "things" and transcendent of them. Or as Eckhart wrote, "The more He is in things, the more He is out of things; the more in, the more out, the more out, the more in.... God's going out is his going in." And if God is present in all things, then he is ipso facto present in time, because things can only exist in time. Perhaps a less deceptive way to put it is that "nothing is not God." Therefore, to the extent that something is evolving, then God is evolving along with it. However, being that "all is God," it's ultimately just God playing hide and seek with himself -- it is transcendence playing at immanence.
After all, how else are we to even begin to understand the principle of the Word becoming flesh? What can this possibly mean if not the transcendent God becoming immanent in living, breathing humanity? Does anything change within God as a result of this drama? Or is God completely remote from his own activity?
Again, the only way around this paradox is to posit two aspects or "faces" of God. God is genuinely here in the creation, suffering and struggling with the rest of us. Indeed, a Christian must believe that God relinquished -- so to speak -- an aspect of his Godhood in order to do this -- to fully give himself over to his own creation. Christ's passion makes no sense at all if it did not involve a complete self-abandonment to the world. And yet, his transcendence ultimately makes him "victorious" over it. In the words of Eckhart -- which are always easy to misunderstand --
In Christ there was so great a union of the Word and flesh that he communicated his own properties to it, so that God may be said to suffer and a man is the creator of heaven.
The commenter suggests that "this is not to say that evolution did not happen as an unfolding plan of the Creator, who stands in his essential being absolutely outside His creation, and is not Himself subject to evolution or becoming (that is, in His divinity, although Jesus Christ was subject to growth in wisdom and maturity in His humanity)."
Really? I do not believe this is the authentic Christian view. Rather, the Incarnation and Resurrection caused the cosmos to shift on its very axis, equivalent to a second creation within the heart of the old one. Everything changed, for as Eckhart maintained, thanks to Jesus, the second person of the Trinity is always taking on human nature -- the eternal Word of the Father "is now born in time, in human nature." Time was moving in one direction and took a sudden turn that could not have been accomplished in any other way. As a result, time continues to unfold toward the Omega Point that once dwelt among us. That is evolution -- which is to say, growth toward God, or perhaps "the recovery of divinity."
Another commenter writes that "I cannot imagine why the 'exploding God' hypothesis has become so widespread. I have yet to see any sensible argument in its favor. Direct observation inward seems to indicate that timelessness, or eternity, is a natural property of the inner representation of the Absolute. Why then would the cosmic Absolute be bound in time? It makes no sense, unless one is so steeped in hubris as to think mankind is the highest being, or a closet materialist thinking that this visible cosmos is all there is."
No one is suggesting that the "exploding cosmos" -- or big bang -- involves the explosion of God himself. That would represent a form of pantheism or perhaps emanationism. Eckhart preferred the image of an eternal "inner boiling" within God "boiling over" into temporal existence. In metaphysical terms, "the Godhead becomes 'God' in the flowering of creation" (McGinn).
In any event, the point is that the universe is demonstrably expanding, and we can extrapolate from this that it had a beginning in space and time. As it so happens, the name "big bang" was coined by detractors of the theory in order to ridicule it. Up to that time, it had been assumed that the cosmos was eternal, that it had always been here. Common sense would not allow for any other view. Scientists were initially very uncomfortable with the big bang idea, because it clearly suggested that the cosmos was not eternal but that it came into being at a specific point -- just as it says in Genesis.
The commenter writes: "No, God does not need our help to put Himself back together. We need God's help to put ourselves together."
But Meister Eckart might ask: what's the distinction? For as he wrote, God's ground and my ground is the same ground.
If God suffers with us, then he moves and evolves with us, for -- to again quote the paradoxical words of the Meister -- it does not seem to me that God understands because he exists, but rather that he exists because he understands.
"God's desire to suffer is an integral aspect of his eternal will for the Word to become man, and therefore, central to the meaning of creation itself.... Suffering... is not a way to God, but is actually identical with the goal -- if we understand it as our surrender to the God who totally surrenders himself to us -- 'In order to give himself totally, God assumed me totally.'" --Bernard McGinn