In this chapter, Denis explores a “theology of creation as divine self-bestowal, building in part on insights from Karl Rahner’s thought” and presents his thesis that
this divine self-bestowing love enables evolutionary emergence, creates through processes that involve chance and lawfulness, enables creaturely autonomy to flourish, is characterized by a divine love that accepts the limits of creaturely processes, and acts with regard to creation in a non-interventionist way. (p. 36)
Does God specially intervene in creation? In other words, does God specifically interfere or specifically produce actions that can change the course of creation? (This is sometimes referred to special divine action.)
Edwards refers to the works of Niels Gregersen who points to the sciences of complexity and the example of a cell that emerges as a self-organizing and self-producing (autopoietic) system. In a complex living system such as a cell, there is a whole series of changes and responses going on in relation to its environment. There’s quite a number of steps involved that are not covered by any one specific law but requires many interacting scientific explanations. Gregersen sees God as being involved in a kenotic way in all the particular details of a self-organizing creation which leaves room for freedom and enabling the creature to explore and expand its own capabilities. (p. 37)
In the very act of creation, God is choosing to give and express his love to something that is not divine. (This is in line with Karl Rahner’s theology of creation.) In God’s actions with the world and the universe, it should not be thought of only as a series of discrete and disconnected acts, but as one divine act. In other words, when one talks about God’s actions in creation, the incarnation, when He’s bestowing grace, etc., these should all be looked upon as a singular act by God. It can all be looked upon as a “Trinitarian act of self-bestowal” where God gives himself to creation in not only the Word and the Spirit, but also in other diverse and creative ways through creation, grace, the incarnation, and final fulfillment. (p. 39)
Why did God create the universe and all that is in it?
According to Rahner, God’s main purpose and meaning of the creation of the universe was for the Incarnation.
In most traditional (orthodox) theology, it is assumed that the reason why God the Son (the second person of the Trinity) came down to become a man was to remedy the problem of sin in mankind (i.e. he had to become man and die on the cross as a ransom for Man’s sin); however, another tradition holds an alternative view of the incarnation in which God’s intention from the beginning was to give Himself to creation in the incarnation. (This was a view adopted by the Franciscans and Duns Scotus (1266 – 1308).)
Rahner holds onto the view that God freely chooses, from the very beginning of all creation, to create a world in which the incarnation would play a significant role in everything. (p. 39) In other words, God-in-flesh (aka Jesus Christ) is not to be thought of as a later event that happened in creation or something God did afterwards to correct something that went wrong in creation due to sin.
The Role of Evolutionary Emergence and God’s Actions
In creation, God has chosen to create and enable entities with the capacity for self-transcendence and the ability to become something new.
Rahner states that God sustains all creatures in being and enables them to act. We see this in when viewing the history of the universe- in particular, when matter became life, and when life became a self-conscious spirit.
God acts in and through an evolving and evolutionary universe. Evolution and evolutionary change is an intrinsic component of creation brought about through the creative power of an immanent God. (p. 43)
God not only enables things to exist and act, but also enables them to become something radically new, where God enables creation to become more than it is in itself.
The key to understanding evolutionary emergence and God’s actions is by looking through the lens of relational and Trinitarian terms. In other words, God has a dynamic relationship with all things in the evolving universe through the indwelling, live-giving Spirit. It is through the (Holy) Spirit that enables something new to emerge from creation itself through the processes we see, study, and observe in the natural sciences.
The emergence of life in the universe is an example of the universe transcending itself. With the emergence of human beings (aka homo sapien sapiens), the universe has become open to self-consciousness and freedom, and able to personally respond to God and his grace.
The arrival of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection is the radical “YES!!” of creation to God’s self-bestowal. In his humanity, he is, like us, part of the evolutionary history of life on Earth and a product of the long history of the universe, made of elements formed in stars. (p. 44)
What Edwards writes about here, and is something that fundamentalist or conservative Christians might find very offensive, is the stark fact that in Jesus’ humanity as a man who lived and died over two millennia ago, was himself a “product” (if you will) of the drama that unfolded billions of years ago. Jesus is very much the product of evolution like every single one of us. When Edwards refers to “stars” he’s referring to the fact that all the heavy elements in the universe (like carbon, iron, oxygen, etc.) that are necessary for life were formed in the belly of a massive dying star collapsing under its own weight billions of years ago where it undergoes nuclear fusion to create heavy elements and then spews all these elements out in a supernova explosion. (This is a process known as stellar nucleosynthesis.) In a nutshell, you, me, and everything you see on the earth (including the solar system and our Sun) were produced inside the belly of an exploding super-massive star billions of years ago. Yes, we are all in a way, literally made of star-dust. This gives new meaning to the words, “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground…” in Genesis 2:7.
Jesus, in his life, death, and resurrection, is the culmination of the process of evolutionary emergence.