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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 » “The Groaning of Creation” – Chapter 4: “An Adventure in the Theology of Creation” – Part III

“The Groaning of Creation” – Chapter 4: “An Adventure in the Theology of Creation” – Part III







Q: What are the two categories of atonement theories that Southgate mentions in Section 4.7? Which category does he argue for, and how does Southgate explain the atonement? Does his concept of God taking responsibility (76) and experiencing suffering as a human thereby gaining moral authority (endnote 115) hold water for you or not?



The two categories of atonement theories are Objective where God heals the world without human intervention and Subjective where humans respond to his offer of forgiveness and redemption.  Southgate favors overall Objective, but with some subjective human response to God’s objective atonement.


This concept of God taking responsibility and experiencing suffering as a human does hold water for me.  This may be the best of all possible worlds, but there is still much pain and suffering.  To experience the pain of a human being, to be hungry, tired, dirty, scared is necessary for true empathy of our situation.  There’s always some sort of disconnect when a rich person makes the claim that they understand the situation of poverty and knows how to fix the problem, as he almost self-defensively plays up his humble working-class roots.  People love when an elite front-of-the-class decides to join the back-of-the-class.  I remember the public ate up pictures of Prince William doing menial service such as scrubbing toilets during his tenure in the British Armed Forces.


Why is there suffering is one of the oldest questions man has and we demand from God why he, as a loving God, allows it.  Job asks that very same question and the initial reason we have as the reader isn’t very comforting- God and Satan made a bet.  We demand an explanation, but there isn’t a good one that will satisfy everyone.  God is wise enough to know that we don’t really want an explanation, what we really need is meaning.  God’s suffering as a human is this ultimate “I’m sorry, I have experienced your pain first hand and know.”  Just as with the adage that when you have children, you truly forgive your parents.  You don’t excuse their behavior, but you understand why having experienced the exhaustion and stress of caring for and trying to mold a tiny baby into a responsible functioning member of society.






Q:    In 4.4, provide Southgate’s definition of deep intratrinitarian kenosis. Where does he use this concept in his overall argument? Do you agree or disagree?

And how does dwelling “within the triune love” (Section 4.5, page 73) jive with “total self-renunciation, at dying to all self-will” (Section 4.5, endnote 95)?



I missed it initially, but Southgate already describes deep intratrinitarian kenosis (DIK) in Section 4.2, where he engages Von Balthasar in contradistinction to Moltmann. “It is the self-emptying love of the Father in begetting the Son that creates the possibility that other selves can be formed… Otherness in the Trinity is the basis of the otherness of creation” (59).


Then in Section 4.4, Southgate expands on DIK as being the self-abandoning love of all three persons of the Trinity for the world and for each other (63). He also describes being imaged according to the Trinity as the capacity to give love and to receive love from the other selflessly (73).


I see three different ways Southgate uses DIK in his argument, namely enable, emulate, and enter.


(1)    It is “from this self-sacrificial love… that each created entity gains the distinctive pattern of its existence, that which prevents the creation from collapsing back into an undifferentiated unity” (63). Per Section 4.2, DIK enables the existence of all other selves as particular entities.


(2)    DIK also provides an example for creation, particularly human beings, to emulate to the aim of self-transcendence, via the Incarnation. “Jesus gives us the example of what it is to keep one’s orientation firmly and wholly on God… What is said of Christ’s equality with God in Philippians 2 is true of authentic human being in itself – that it is not something to be grasped at, but to be received and responded to in service of God and others” (73).


(3)    Finally, DIK is a love that human beings can enter into. “… A human person living in free, loving, undistorted relationship with other has been drawn up into the life of the Trinity… We only grow into that image [the imago Trinitatis] as we grow into God, as we learn to dwell within the triune love” (73).


It seems to me that the concept of triune love, and Southgate’s entire argument vis-à-vis DIK, have some similarities and some differences to footnote 95’s “dying to all self-will”. Similar are the mechanisms of action, namely some sort of giving-to-the-other.


The differences seem to show up in the details. Southgate argues that triune love is what enables individual selves to exist and selve. But this seems to be the opposite of “dying to all self-will” enabled by the Spirit per footnote 95.




Regarding my impression of his overall argument: I may be missing something here, but my read of Southgate’s arguments is that there seems to be some contradictions, of which there are three.


(a) Maybe I’m reading into this, but it seems to me if the most fundamental reality of the Trinity is kenosis, then having standalone desires separate from self-giving are in discord with entering the life of the Trinity. So how can selving, which to me sounds like the opposite of self-giving, also be in conformance to the divine Logos?


Is the point of selving merely to create a differentiated individual so that self-giving is meaningful, similar to love being worth nothing unless it’s freely given? But if self-giving is in conformance to the divine, then the opposite of it, self-assertion (per page 59) is also in opposition to the divine. How can this self-giving be freely given then? How can this be “divine respect for the freedom of the self-conscious selves that have evolved” (72)? Free has to be free, with no strings attached.


Or can a state of selving exist that is in conformance to the divine Logos but is not equivalent to what Southgate defines as the opposite of self-giving, namely self-assertion? “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 (59).”


Or is there no middle ground? That if there is no active pursuit of “sharing of resources with the weak and the non-kin, on reproductive processes accompanied by self-giving love and sustained companionship, on a recognizing of all humans as one’s neighbor, and on sacrificial actions” (72), then all of creation will default to anti self-giving?


(b) It seems that self-transcendence is framed entirely in how much one can self-give. What about receiving love? Sure, one can point out that we receive love by expressing gratitude for God’s self-giving to let us be differentiated. But it’s easy for me to view Southgate as only paying lip service to receiving love, that all the heavy lifting is done by giving love and not receiving love.


(c) Finally, Southgate on page 66 gives some examples of evolutionary self-transcendence, such as symbiosis in eukaryotes. But right afterwards Southgate writes, “But clearly such cooperations are limited, and take place within a larger context of competition among the extended selves for scarce resources” (66). Can you really get away from a zero-sum game? Can you justify cooperation and self-giving only within your immediate kinship group and against the larger group?


I conjecture that only in the context of heaven can you get away from a zero-sum game, which I guess will be discussed in chapter 5.






Q:  Again we see the connection between what it is to be an authentic human being and the relationships  of freely given mutual love and response that are attributed to God as Trinity” (73).  Is this an example of selving or self-transcendence? Are selving and self-transcendence divergent from each other, or does one build on top of the other?


This is an interesting question. I think that the realization of human potential is achieved in co-existence with God (or the Trinity, if one is to follow Southgate), so I see this as selving rather than transcendence. Still, it can be a case of transcendence once an individual has a spiritual awakening that takes him out of his religious comfort zone. So while God created us with the possibility of achieving our peaks at individual levels, the reality is that we are born in socio-economic-religious contexts that can dent the lines of selving to unremarkable lows (specifically, I am referring to conforming to particular denominations’ understandings of “God’s way”, which can be very unrewarding on their own but are idealized as fulfillment). In those cases, seeing a bigger truth outside one’s religious comfort zone, and having the courage to follow it at the expense of severing ties, is transcendence. But I think in the end, if followed all the way and achieved, it is still a case of selving.

The two concepts can exist separate from one another. One can be born into a socio-economic-religious context in which there is no need for transcendence. Where they correlate, is where that context is missing and it takes courage to pursue one, and reach the other.








Q:   In Section 4.6, explain Robert J. Russell’s argument on God’s intervention. Do you agree or disagree with it and why?



In this section, titled “God’s Providential Action in the World”, Southgate considers “God’s continuing interaction with the creation.”  Here he gives an extremely brief overview of theologian and physicist Robert J. Russell’s views on God’s involvement with creation which he calls “non-interventionist objective divine action.”   According to Southgate, Russell believes “that God may have acted at the quantum level to influence mutation events in evolutionary history.”  Southgate points out that Russell emphasizes that God is in many respects limited in his involvement and action with creation in his respect to creaturely freedom.  Furthermore, “God’s respect for creaturely freedom might well mean that divine action at the level of mutation decreased as more and more complex creatures evolved.”


I personally believe that if you take the divine noninterventionist viewpoint to its logical extent, this will have to mean that God did not intervene in the process of evolution in our planet, including that of homo sapiens.  Evolution shows that there is basically no thing as a straight linear path of development in the evolution of species – it’s quite random.  There are many species that go extinct, only to be replaced by a different more successful species to take its place.  I don’t believe that any living species was specifically “purposed” to existence by divine intention, even that of homo sapiens.


Perhaps if you wound up the history timeline of the earth and tweaked it a bit, maybe dolphins might have become the dominant species to inherit the earth and took the mantle of worshipping God.


Also, as some theologians like N.T. Wright have stated, the popular notion that God somehow dips his finger if you will from the outside to penetrate or reach down from the heavens onto earth to radically change things from time-to-time is essentially a deist idea in the first place.  In this view, God is far off in the distance and then slips in and out whenever he feels like it- again.  The more biblical idea is that God is ever present in and within creation, never apart from it.  This is not to promote a pantheistic viewpoint, but more of a panentheistic viewpoint I believe.


I believe that God lets living creatures to be autonomous, and in that autonomy, it isn’t that God abandons creation entirely, but he does so out of love for his creation.  Both creaturely freedom and God’s providence aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.  Rather, they exist in direct relationship with one another.  In other words, the closer creatures are to God, the more they can truly be themselves.  The closer we are drawn to God’s love, the freer we are.


In line with Russell’s belief, as evolution initiates more and more complex organisms, possibly gaining greater cognitive abilities, the less direct divine intervention is involved.  It may be the case that God may in some way “assists” or “gets the ball moving” at the quantum level in sparking an evolutionary mutation, but at the macro-level, it becomes more and more autonomous, and therefore, the need for divine intervention is dramatically lessened until it eventually is nil. Of course, one may argue that many things within quantum mechanics, such as virtual particles, do not necessarily need to have a cause as particles can “pop” in and out of existence on their own within the fluctuations of the electromagnetic field throughout the universe.  All this means is that even in the quantum level, divine intervention may not be necessary here and that his non-intervention extends even to the Planck-scale of time and space (the smallest known units of time and space in physics).


However, all this begs the question of how does one measure divine intervention in the first place scientifically speaking?  This falls outside the realm of science therefore and becomes a question for the realm of theological reflection and speculation.





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