Christian Theological Reflection on the New Story

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A theological reading of the story of the Universe

See O.T.  book of Wisdom 7.22-26

Speaks of the intelligent spirit that is in all things and penetrates the whole of creation. She is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the Glory of the Almighty.

We have a new story of creation, emerging from contemporary science. Though there are still differences in understanding, but there is a broad scientific consensus.

To look at it from theological view point; 3 points of reflection:

  •  The community of all creatures in God
  •  Human beings as the cosmos come to self- awareness
  •  God the dynamic impulse from within creatures.
  1. The community of all creatures in God

Creation is one. This fundamental truth has been forgotten in Christianity, because of the tendency to dualism. The separation between a higher spiritual world and the lower material world is very old.

The world of nature has been set over against human culture, body over against spirit, feelings over against thinking, the female over against male, what is human over against the divine..

Dualistic thinking sets up polarities and then presents one side of the polarity ( like spirit) as worthy and free and related to the divine, and the other side of the polarity ( like the body) as demeaning, enslaving, demonic.

Dualistic thinking tends to be suspicious of bodiliness, relationship to matter, connection with the fertility of nature, feelings, instincts, the unconscious and women. Priority is given to the word of ideas, and there is suspicion ad repression toward a science centered on the observable and material. In certain Christian fundamentalist theologies a flight from the world is encouraged.

The creation with its immense diversity is one and part of a unified whole.

The only adequate theological view as a response to our complex world is holistic thinking.

Theological holism is firmly grounded in one creator God.

1.1 God is the one who creates the whole cosmos as one diverse but inter-related system

1.2 The same creator is present to every part of the cosmos sustaining and empowering it

1.3 God will bring the whole movement of evolving creation to its completion.

Creation is one world, united in its origin, with self-realization as goal. There is an inner similarity and inter-relationship of all creatures. In this community of all creation each species has its own unique place. Every creature bears the stamp of origin; the one primordial ground of all being.Every creature reflects something of the mystery of the creator.

Humankind is part of the world of beings which are all interrelated to one another as one community grounded IN God ( Earth community)

Relationship between spirit and matter

Often humans see their body as connected to Earth and the rest of creation and their soul as being in the pure world beyond bonds of matter.This vision will lead to a devaluing of the body and of Earth. But matter and spirit cannot be divided; they are radically interconnected in the community of creation. That we discover when we reflect how in our own life matter and spirit are connected.

Matter is what we experience as specific, concrete, bodily. It is also how we experience ourselves and the outer world as factual realities, with their own proper and independent existence. Because we are matter we can live, encounter others, express love end communicate love. Matter tells us about the otherness of other beings. Matter is needed to become conscious of ourselves and of the mystery that encompasses life.

Spirit is the human insofar the human becomes aware of self in an absolute way. Self-consciousness occurs by the fact that we differentiate ourselves against the absolute reality as such and towards the one ground that we call God. Spirit is the human person insofar as he or she is conscious of self and of the mystery that surrounds our life in the world. In the free acceptance of this mystery the human person is most radically spirit.

Matter and spirit are two related elements of the one human person. Only when both are considered, we are open to all dimensions of the human person.

Matter and spirit make up one world. They share a common history: matter has evolved to spirit or consciousness. Matter comes from spirit and is oriented toward spirit . “Matter develops out of its own inner being in the directions of spirit. The development of biologically organized materiality is oriented in terms of an ever-increasing complexity and interiority towards spirit, until finally, under the dynamic impulse of God’s creative power, and through the process of self-transcendence of this kind, it becomes spirit.”( K. Rahner)

The material world is radically and fundamentally one. God communicates in love with the non-God: the material world is the addressee and the recipient of God’s self-utterance.

We human beings, with our ability to think and reflect, our self-consciousness, our capacity for communication and love, our creativity in art and science, are intimately bonded in a relationship of mutual interdependence with al living creatures on the planet. We are related to the whole great world of matter. We are part of it, from the giant supernova in space to the tiny electron responding mysteriously to the presence of the human observer in the laboratory, from the greatest whales in the oceans to the tiniest insects in the rainforest.

2.Human beings as the cosmos come to self-consciousness

How are we to understand the place of the human in the evolving cosmos?

The old ways of understanding the place of the human in the cosmos, where all was created for the human and everything evolve around the human, has led to disastrous effects. It is this paradigm or worldview that has led to the way of seeing the Earth as a storehouse to endlessly take from for human comfort and greed. This view is called anthropocentrism. It was this vision that caused the brutal opposition against scientists like Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Galileo to their vision and conviction that human beings are not at the centre of the universe.

It is this antropocentric vision that was used as justification by corporations and states to rip the rainforests, to pollute the water, the empty the seas and annihilate countless species.

It is the transition from an antropocentric worldview to an ecological worldview that is at the heart of ecological conversion. It is a matter of change of perception: what do our eyes see when we look at the Earth and all her beauty and resources? Who do we think we are in the midst of all creation?Can we accept that we humans are only but one species among many others and that they have no more dignity and rights than other species? Yet also here we have to reflect more deeply on our position. If the human is seen as having no more value than a worm or a fungus, we can fore go the oppressed poor of the Earth and we separate ecological justice from social justice.

Some visions about the place of the human in the cosmos:

Karl Rahner stated that the human person can be understood as the cosmos coming to consciousness about itself. Humans are part of the cosmos, part of one single history of evolution. Within this one history human beings are the cosmos come to self-awareness. The material universe finds itself in them.  K. Rahner.

Teilhard de Chardin:  human beings discovered that they are nothing else than evolution becoming conscious of itself.

Thomas Berry stated that human beings appear as “the moment in which the unfolding universe becomes conscious of itself.’ “We carry the universe in our being as the universe carries us in its being – the two have a total presence to each other and to that deeper mystery out of which both the universe and ourselves emerged’. ( The dream of the Earth) This gives a new perspective, a new depth to the relationship that human beings have with all matter, to every giant galaxy thousand of million light years away ,and to every subatomic particle. Humans are all of this come to awareness of itself.

The unfolding of the cosmos continues in the human person and in the human community. It is manifest in growing awareness of the Oneness of all life, in growing solidarity, in culture, and in human interaction with the rest of creation.

The movement of self-transcendence however does not reach fulfillment simply in human life, or in the human community, but only in the embrace between creature and creator. This is grace.

Grace is at the heart beat of the universe. It is God bent over to us in love. The life of faith is a free response to this love, directed toward us from every point of the universe.

We are called to grow in this expanding consciousness of the Oneness of the cosmos and the mystery of the Creator expressed in the cosmos. It grounds our hope in the fulfillment of the coming history of the cosmos and of each individual cosmic consciousness, which consists in the direct experience of God.” ( K. Rahner)

In each human being the cosmos presses forward to self-consciousness.

We have reached a time in which this urgency has never been greater. Upon it depends the immediate future of all life on the Planet. Is it God’s call that wants to awaken us, in the growing consciousness about the state of the planet, ecological crisis and the need to change our worldviews? This awareness about the role of the human in the cosmos is a place of great dignity for humanity and for each individual who has been awakened to this vision. It is a very different vision than the antropocentric self-understanding of humans.

This view is profoundly relational: we humans are intimately related to the Earth and are all creatures in bonds of kinship. We are of one blood.

The stories of cosmos and humankind are a single story. It is the story of movement from matter into life, from life to self-consciousness . And it is the experience of conscious and free persons of God’s self-communication by grace.

If human beings are the cosmos come to consciousness before the grace of God, if they are the self-transcendence of matter, they are and remain profoundly inter-connected with birds and bees, with insects and photosynthesis, new born stars and the our home The Milky Way.

3. God- the dynamic principle from within all creatures

How can we understand the whole evolutionary movement? Can it mean something to our “small and significant lives? ” How can we explain the emergence of a human world and the developments up to the present? Can it give us a new perspective in dealing with the massive ecological crisis?

At the end of the twentieth century scientists present to us a new and scientific paradigm – the self-organizing universe.

Besides working with the laws of entropy ( the measure of disorder in a system) there is also ,within the universe and its processes , a concentration of energy which builds things up. We come to understand how open systems can increase in order and complexity. This helps us to understand evolution.

There is in the universe a widespread tendency to self-organization and a capacity to cross critical thresholds into new stages of order and complexity.

This can happen at any moment and without a clear cause. There are sudden and spontaneous leaps into new forms and new consciousness. The results are greater complexity, cooperative behavior and global coherence. (P. Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint)

In the 1970s James Lovelock introduced the concept of Gaia into cosmology.

Gaia ( after the name of the Greek Goddess of Earth)is a way of thinking about the Earth as a holistic organism, just as the human body is a holistic system. An organism which itself shapes the land, the atmosphere and the oceans in such a way as to make them suitable to sustain life. He saw the deep interconnectedness between the Earth and her processes and discovered how the Earth is kept in a relative constant balance. The atmosphere, the oceans, the climate and the crust of the Earth are maintained at a state which is comfortable for life because of the behavior of living organisms.

Theology and the New Story of Creation

The biblical story of creation is not in competition with the scientific story, but a revelation capable of giving profound meaning to scientific discoveries.

Christian theology has the task of reflecting on the story of the universe told by contemporary science, including the big bang, formation of galaxies, development of our solar system, nuclear reaction in the sun, formation of the Earth’s crust, emergence of life, photosynthesis, the balance in the atmosphere, the animal life , the mergence of mammals and humans. We will discover how the cosmos is sustained and upheld by a mysterious being who escapes our comprehension, yet is engaged with us in love ( deifying) This God who is at work in the becoming of the universe is drawing the world toward a future which is both unpredictable, and a fulfillment beyond all hopes.

The openness of the cosmos to what is new, always new, its capacity to leap forward across thresholds, its abundance, its size and beauty, the stunning reality of planetary life, the emergence of intelligent beings capable of love and community – all of the these direct the believer to the nature of the divine presence empowering the whole cosmic process.

Where is the place and role of God in all of this? Is God the great clock-maker, starting a process and then standing back? Is God intervening at some points like the moment the human emerged in the cosmos, or I God to carry creation across the great thresholds of new possibilities?

Some visions:

God is not only the starting point at the Beginning, but there is a continuous engagement. God creates in the most radical sense out of nothing.

Creation is fundamentally and essentially relationship. Creatures do not create themselves, cannot account for their own being. They exist because the absolute being of God. God is being. Creatures have being as a participation in God’s absolute Being. ( still a static view of creation) (Thomas Aquinas)

Creation is continuous. When Christians speak of the beginning of time, it means that time is also created. God’s creative act, which is eternal and identical with God, establishes a temporal world.

What does it mean to speak of God’s absolute being holding creatures in existence, when we know that our Earth is a tiny part of an expanding universe, and that human beings are part of a chain of life which began with blue-green algae 3500 million years ago?

God in creation is now understood as the dynamic power which enables evolutionary change to occur. Creation is now understood, not as a relationship between the absolute being of God and a static world, but as a relationship between the dynamic being of God and a world in process of coming to be. Karl Rahner

In the history of evolution, creatures become more than they were. Inert matter becomes living organism. Living beings become conscious of themselves. So we see a process whereby reality becomes not just more than it was, but essentially different. The new dimension cannot simply be due to the creature in itself.

There is an evolutionary change because of a power that comes from within the creature, but that power is not due to the nature of that creature. It must be understood as the pressure of the divine being acting from within. God is at the heart of evolutionary change. The power that brings the evolutionary change about comes from within the cosmic process. The inner power does not belong to the being of the creature, but to the fullness of God.

Evolutionary change is empowered by the dynamic presence of the absolute being of God. Evolutionary change occurs because of the presence of transforming love, which continually draws creation to a surprising and radically new future from within.

Dennis Edwards, Jesus and the Cosmos, 1991 Paulist Press

ISBN 971-510-070-8

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