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Home » The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil » Chapter 4: “An Adventure in the Theology of Creation” – Part I

Chapter 4: “An Adventure in the Theology of Creation” – Part I

5/14/2017

 

Howard

 

In 4.2 “The Suffering of God”, do you believe that belief in a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, impassible, etc. (i.e. the classical philosophical attributes of God) is compatible with the notion of a God who suffers? Why or why not?  Do you agree with Thomas Weinandy’s view of Jesus and of God who “does not suffer change, because what we see in the Incarnation is God’s eternal nature”?  Did God not go through or experience some sort of change at Christ’s crucifixion?  Or do you agree with Paul Fiddes’s point that God “adapts the divine being to the actions of our world… God freely chooses to be open to the hurt that will befall, with its unpredictability”?

 

 

“Erased” or in the original “Town Without Me” was a story about a guy who went back in time to his 10-year-old self and tries to save a classmate from a bad situation.  He is a closed person and initially thinks he can save the classmate and at the same time remain emotionally detached, but realizes that in order to successfully save his abused classmate, he needs to open himself up and allow himself to be emotionally affected.  To truly convince someone that you care is to actually care about him or her.  Caring will open yourself up to being rejected and hurt, to suffer.

 

Yes, I believe that God can suffer and still have the classical philosophical attributes of God.  To paraphrase Kenneth Surin, a God who doesn’t suffer is a hard God to proclaim.  It is very hard to trust and accept help from someone who doesn’t feel our pain.

 

I don’t agree with Thomas Weinandy’s view that Jesus and God don’t change at all.  Biblically and theologically, Jesus’ resurrected body still had the nails in his hands and wound at his side, implying that Jesus was changed in some way.  I agree with Keith Ward that with the suffering, God attains new level of self-realization, or in other words, God becomes more like God, deeper in the nature of God.

 

Yes, I lean more toward Paul Fiddes’ view that God chooses to be hurt and the unpredictability of being tied to humans which includes the explosive surprise of joy.  Joy and hurt go hand in hand.  Some antidepressants take away depression by simply numbing all emotion, including the happy ones.

 

 

 

 

Doris

 

In 4.2 “The Suffering of God”, do you believe that belief in a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, impassible, etc. (i.e. the classical philosophical attributes of God) is compatible with the notion of a God who suffers? Why or why not?  Do you agree with Thomas Weinandy’s view of Jesus and of God who “does not suffer change, because what we see in the Incarnation is God’s eternal nature”?  Did God not go through or experience some sort of change at Christ’s crucifixion?  Or do you agree with Paul Fiddes’s point that God “adapts the divine being to the actions of our world… God freely chooses to be open to the hurt that will befall, with its unpredictability”? 

In 4.2 “The Suffering of God”, is God’s suffering different from the way humans experience suffering in that “God does not suffer in any way corresponding to the suffering we know about as humans”? Why or why not?  If God does suffer (either like humans or not), can God experience “new levels of empathy with creatures” and attain “new levels of self-realization”?  Can God experience new things?  Or is it impossible in his nature because he is omniscient?  Or does that mean that he not omniscient?  Explain your views. 

 

I do not think that the notion of God suffering or grieving detracts from his God attributes. Loving and suffering go hand in hand. God did not create us because He was lonely. He was already in a perfect love relationship within the trinity. [I just read about the Trinity: “The Nicene Creed articulates the mystery of the Trinity with the wonderful phrase “begotten not made,” meaning that the Son is not a creature but rather shares in the selfsame nature as the Father. The Holy Spirit is then the life-giving love breathed out between the Father and the Son.]” But when the triune God created us, he created us outside of that selfsame nature, he created us as imperfect beings endowed with free will, thus establishing an “otherness” that enabled us to be “selves”, and a good dose of unpredictability. We seem to be on an evolutionary path from survival, to independence and autonomy, to interdependence and, finally total dependence on God?

 

However, I don’t believe he suffers as we do, just as I don’t believe he loves as we do. His love is unconditional, it is not a need love. He does not grieve and suffer because his needs are not met (as we do) but because of our suffering.

 

 

 Patricia

 

In 4.3 “Divine Self-Emptying”, Southgate writes, “Outside living organisms there are no selves, no discrete entities with interests to which ‘evils’ can occur.” Does God’s concern over creation involve only living or biological entities or can his love and care extend toward non-biological creation such as rocks, mountains, planets, stars, and galaxies?  In regards to biological entities, do you agree with his assessment that “The character of created selves is typically not that of self-giving but of self-assertion, for that, in a Darwinian world, is the only way biological selves can survive and flourish”?  Do values arise only through this self-assertion?  Is all of biology driven by self-interested needs?  Is it ever altruistic?

 

 

The more I read about contemporary understanding of molecular science, the less I am able to state for a fact that consciousness does not exist in inorganic matter. The laws of physics look very different once you go down to subatomic scales, and there are physicists who venture to address the possibility of consciousness in those spheres. This is highly speculative stuff, but there is a case to be made that God’s self-emptying in creation means his totality of expression at all its levels, the smallest and the largest of which go well beyond human comprehension. I suspect Southgate would be willing to embrace this theory in thinking about non-biological creation.

 

As it stands, he makes a coherent argument that the recycling that naturally takes place in nature—no atom goes to waste, implies that evil does not exist, or at least, it does not affect non-biological beings, even when they involve natural “destructive” phenomena. I think that’s right from our observable dimensions, especially as creation depends on this ongoing  recycling. Is that right at a subatomic level? The science there is so weird that I can’t tell for sure.

 

In terms of the Darwinian aspect of self-assertion in living matter, this is true, but I’ll posit that it is only one aspect of existence. There is also a great benefit to most biological forms of life from co-existence and even altruism. The Origins of Virtue, by Matt Ridley, makes an excellent anti-Darwinian case by pointing to life forms all around us that thrive specifically on altruism as a way of existence, though to be fair, it is not entirely anti-Darwinian: the life forms and non-human societies that he describes that benefit from altruism have plenty to gain in terms of individual self-protection by respecting the rules of an altruistic order. Obviously, the truth of existence is in the middle: creation uses both Darwinian self-assertion and altruism in order to flourish. In the human realm, certain societies value one over the other; in the non-human realm, each are built into the evolution of adaptation. I think it is the balance of the two, when the individual well-being sits outside the natural order of self-interest, in other words, when a choice has to be made that benefits another and not necessarily oneself, that creation gives rise to values.

 

Christopher

 

In 4.1 “Introduction”, Southgate mentions a “theology of creation that allows for a God who creates an ambiguous world, a biosphere based on an inherent coupling of values and disvalues.” Do you agree with him that God has created an “ambiguous world”?  What do you think he means by it?  Or do you believe that creation is clear-cut and unambiguous?  If so, why do you believe this and disagree with Southgate?  State your reasons.

 

 

Regarding Southgate’s term “ambiguous world”, I refer to the third of his 3 key Christian convictions as listed on page 55:

 

“3.) Creation understood both as creation, made, loved, and interprenetrated at every moment by the energies of the triune persons of a perfectly loving God, and yet shot through with the sort of ambiguity that evolutionary understandings compel us to acknowledge – beauty compounded with suffering, beauty forged out of suffering.”

 

I will also quote back to Section 2.6, page 29:

 

“It is that the very processes by which the created world gives rise to the values of greater complexity, beauty, and diversity also give rise to the disvalues of predation, suffering, and violent and selfish behavior.”

 

So, far from the universe being fallen through human action from a perfection initially given it by God, I hold that the sort of universe we have, in which complexity emerges in a process governed by thermodynamic necessity and Darwinian natural selection, and therefore by death, pain, predation, and self-assertion, is the only sort of universe that could give rise to the range, beauty, complexity, and diversity of creatures the Earth has produced. (Italics his)

 

Based on these, it seems to me that he is arguing that God has created a world where positive values (beauty, complexity) are combined with negative values or disvalues (suffering, selfishness).

 

I tend to agree with Southgate on page 29 that allowing for negative values are the “only way” for positive values to be brought forth in a Darwinian universe. This is in the same vein as the standard theodicy of “the possibility to hurt is required for the possibility to love freely.”

 

On the other hand, I don’t want to go so far so fast to assume that you can classify between positive and negative values. What defines “positive” and what defines “negative”? Maybe I’m being hard on this, but there seems to be a tinge of moral evaluation here (not merely benefit evaluation), which requires the prior existence of moral agents to perform these evaluations.

 

So it seems to me that only when you can assume moral agency do you have criteria to evaluate whether creation is ambiguous or unambiguous.

 

And in that sense, it’s almost begging the question – once you’ve assumed a distinction between positive and negative values, then it goes without saying that the world at large contains a mixture of these two values.

 

I do think that Southgate has assumed a priori that there actually is a good God out there that grounds categories of positive versus negative moral values. And I think he is upfront about this assumption at the outset. Without this assumption, his theodicy falls apart, so he has to include it in his argument.

 

Whether I agree or not with his assumption is a separate question outside the scope of the book. That gets into a larger question of “does God exist and is he good” etc. I don’t want to get into that now, but I’m arguing that one has to pull beyond the book to address this assumption made in the book.

 

Nevertheless, I’d like to finish the entire book first so that I can see if the argument that he makes using that assumption works or not. Then that lends weight to the plausibility of the assumption or lack thereof.

 

 

 

Michael

 

4.1 “Introduction”. Southgate mentions a “theology of creation that allows for a God who creates an ambiguous world, a biosphere based on an inherent coupling of values and disvalues.” Do you agree with him that God has created an “ambiguous world”?  What do you think he means by it?  Or do you believe that creation is clear-cut and unambiguous?  If so, why do you believe this and disagree with Southgate?

 

I find it interesting that Southgate does not describe in detail by what he means by the word “ambiguous” and, more specifically, what he thinks the opposite meaning of “ambiguous” would be.  The fundamental problem I have with this idea of an ambiguous world is that we define the meaning of the word based solely on the human perspective of the world and universe we live in.  For those of you who took Project Berean with Ron these past few months, modern human beings have only been in existence for less than a million years on Earth.  Earth itself has been in existence for more than 4 billion years while the universe, as of today, is known to be close to 14 billion years old.  Likewise, Earth and the solar system it resides in is a mere speck in the entire cosmos.  Who knows how many intelligent beings actually exist out there in the universe and we cannot even begin to contemplate how they would understand the meaning of existence.  So clearly Southgate talks about an “ambiguous world” from the standpoint of modern human beings living on Earth in the 21st Century with the limited knowledge that we have of the observable universe.

 

The world seems “ambiguous” only because we as humans cannot seem to make any sense of it using the limited brain capacity that we have.  While the whole entirety of existence seems to mesh with the laws of thermodynamics, it still does not explain the existence of ordered structures like stars, planets, comets, meteors, quasars, galaxies, black holes, etc.  Nor does it explain the complex beings such as plants, animals, humans and the ecosystems that they reside in.  In this sense, I would have to disagree with Southgate with the notion of an “ambiguous world”, but at the same time, from limited perspectives, it does appear that creation is not as clear-cut as it seems.  This obviously harks back to theodicy and the existence of pain, suffering and death we mentioned in our previous gatherings.  If the author is focused on the meaning of suffering, then perhaps we can say there is a lot of ambiguity in the world, which science itself cannot sufficiently answer for.  Perhaps in the distant future, humans may be able to tap into different dimensions of existence or encounter advanced alien civilizations who might provide us with more information that will allow us to get a better picture of creation so that future writers can provide more comprehensive analysis.  Who knows?

 

Danny

 

In 4.3 “Divine Self-Emptying”, describe Southgate’s alternative view of kenotic creation which he calls “deep intratrinitarian kenosis.” How does Hans Urs von Balthasar’s model differ from Jurgen Moltmann’s?  What is Moltmann’s view of “divine withdrawal” and divine ontological space?  What is Von Balthasar’s view on the relationship between the God the Father and God the Son in relation with the creation?  How do both theologians view the Trinity?

 

In this section, Southgate introduces the theology of divine “kenosis” or the self-emptying of God in creation.  The term “kenosis” is Greek for “self-emptying” and derives from Philippians 2:7 where the Apostle Paul describes how Jesus had “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (ESV) Through kenotic creation, God gave rise to quasi-autonomous beings which in turn “may be the cause of divine suffering with suffering creatures.”  In Southgate’s version of this form of theology which he calls “deep intratrinitarian kenosis,” he attempts to explain both scientifically and theologically how God gives rise to and relates with biological “selves” that exhibit individual interests, desires, and behaviors.  Regarding his interpretation of Philippians 2:7, he sees two ways of reading it: (1) God the Son (the second person of the Trinity) “empties himself of divine equality to take the form of a human,” or (2) with a more ethical reading of the verse where it emphasizes the second half where it states how Jesus had taken the form of a servant and his self-sacrificial nature.  He draws from the theology of Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar to develop his “deep intratrinitarian kenosis” theology.

 

With Von Balthasar, God the Father’s self-emptying love when begetting the Son creates the possibility of other selves being formed.  This divine self-giving “creates the giving of selfhood to others.”  This action reveals God’s character as one “who gives existence to the other and exposes Godself to the other in vulnerable love.”  Exhibiting and giving love to another as revealed in the Trinity is the basis of the otherness in creation.  For Jurgen Moltmann’s kenotic model of creation, he emphasizes the imagery of “divine withdrawal” where God voluntarily contracts himself to make space where other things or beings can exist.  In his theology, according to Southgate, there might be areas where God is not present or absent in, which Southgate sees as a potential weakness in his theology. The theology of the Cross is very important to Moltmann’s theology where the Son’s suffering and separation from the Father opens both to vulnerability and pain, and thereby reveals the nature of God and his suffering love toward us and his creation.

 

Both Von Balthasar and Moltmann struggle to explain how a God who experienced perfect love within the intratrinitarian community needed to create others in the first place.  If the Trinity was perfectly content with one another in eternity then why create in the first place?  This is a hard question, and their response is that the persons of within the Trinity “contracted” or “emptied” themselves in an act of love and sacrifice, with a willingness to endure suffering and pain in order to expand their love toward others.  Love, by its very nature, cannot be self-contained, but must be expressed or expanded to another being, hence the act of creation is also an act of love on the part of the Trinity.  Moltmann’s “divine withdrawal” seemingly negates God’s omnipresence in stating that there are places where God is not present at.  I’m interested to know how Moltmann explains and expounds on this.  I’m also interested about how Von Balthasar defines or understands the Father “begetting” the Son; does he believe that at one point the Son did not exist and thereby the Father had to create Him in order to experience love?  If so, then that would mean that Von Balthasar does not believe in an eternal Trinity, something that goes against traditional orthodoxy which understands the Trinity to be eternal where God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always existed amongst one another.  Also, surprisingly, though Southgate describes his theology as being “deep intratrinitarian kenosis” he says virtually nothing about the Holy Spirit or his involvement with kenotic creation.  Does the Holy Spirit experience kenosis or is it just reserved exclusively for the Son?  For all three theologians, I would like to ask if the Holy Spirit suffered just as the Son suffered on the cross and the Father shared in his suffering as well?

 

Kenotic theology is a fascinating and important theology to consider when thinking about creation and how it relates with the groaning of creation.  I hope that Southgate expands on his theology of “deep intratrinitiarian kenosis” in subsequent chapters moving along.

 

 

 

 

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