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Home » The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil » Chapter 5: “Heaven for Pelicans? Eschatological Considerations – Part I

Chapter 5: “Heaven for Pelicans? Eschatological Considerations – Part I

7/16/2017

 

Howard

 

Q: In Section 5.4, do you believe that Moltmann is right in saying that “If we were to surrender hope for as much as one single creature, for us God would not be God”? What is Moltmann saying here about God’s being and his relationship with nature?  What do you make of Southgate’s statement for animals that “if the new life is only a compensation for previous lack of fulfillment, such an existence need be an eternal one, or whether after a period of struggle-free flourishing a redeemed animal life might fade away?”  Must their redeemed life be an eternal one of non-suffering and fulfillment, or can it be a temporary thing and then afterwards they can slip away into non-existence or annihilation?  Would that cheapen the eschatological redemption if their redemption was only temporary?  If all other individual creatures are present in the redeemed cosmos, will that include all extinct species, like dinosaurs, as well?  What about individual plants, trees, and vegetation?  Aren’t those living things part of God’s creation as well?  Will there be forests and flowers in the new creation?

 

 

 

“It’s not the dying that frightens us.  It’s never having stood up and fought for you.” – Belmont from Netflix’s new “Castlevania” series.

 

The nature of God.  That seems to be the question behind the suffering of animals.  It has more to do with God’s justice and love than does nature have an immortal soul.

 

Does Genesis 1:28, where God commanded man to have dominion mean nature, unimportant except to serve man?  Or are we to be like God, to love and nurture?

 

Is cruelty to animals acceptable or is cruelty not worthy of God, so it should not be worthy of us regardless to human or animal?  Numbers 22 illustrates the injustice Balaam showed his donkey who diverted from the path away from the angel of the Lord with a drawn sword thus saving Balaam’s life.  In return, the donkey was rewarded with a beating revealing who the true ass was.

 

An episode of the law drama “The Practice” had an episode where a teenager killed a cat on a dare.  It was pleaded out with community service, not even going to trial until the owner, a sweet elderly woman, impressed upon the district attorney that even though it was just a cat, it was an act of cruelty and injustice.  During trial, as the witness described the callous act of torture, the disgusted judge angrily demanded, what was the teenager thinking? No one wanted to ruin this teenager’s life who was about to enter college over a cat’s death, but as a society they could not allow such barbarism without a just punishment.

 

Does redemption equate to an afterlife or eternity?  I don’t really know what the afterlife for humans is so I hesitate to speculate for animals.  Interestingly, if you had asked Augustine or Saint Paul if he was worried about heaven, he would not understand the question.  All he could do was be the best Christian he could be, and it was up to God to determine what happened to his soul.  1 Corinthians 4:4: “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me.”

 

I’ve personally gone back and forth on the heaven and eternity thing, and lately, it isn’t that important to me.  Focusing so much on it to me is a fear-based belief instead of a superior love-based relationship.  For redemption, everlasting life may not be as important as a meaningful life.  This reminds me of a war movie scene where a young dying soldier asks affirmation from his commander that it was worth it- they dying here served a purpose.

 

Doris

 

Q: In Section 5.2, summarize John Polkinghorne’s view of a “transformed cosmos.” How does he view the human body and soul as?  What will matter be like after cosmic resurrection?  Do you believe that the new creation will be recycled from the information and bits of the old universe, or will it be absolutely new and beyond the physical laws we understand them to be now?  Would you be OK with the new creation “persisting only in the memory of God” or must there be another physical or tangible reality at the end?  Why or why not?

 

I was fascinated by Polkinhorne’s ideas (lots of strange and unusual names in this field of sciences and theology).  What is already eternal in us, our ‘selved’ souls, are preserved in a new type of body which God has created as part of a new creation– another cosmos that operates under a new set of laws—or in His divine love. In this new cosmos, the second law of thermodynamics is no longer active. There is no ‘need’ for competition, decay and suffering as we have fully ‘selved’ and have exercised our free wills and made our choices. There is still the dimension of time which is “so fundamental to our experience”. We continue to grow and become more ‘complete’ but this time in His divine presence, especially those who did not get the chance for ‘completion’ in the old creation … referring to Ernst Conradie’s comment on page 87. I agree with Gunton that the personal (relationship) will be of greatest importance in this new creation. The new creation will be of exceptional beauty and resonate with our souls.

 

 

 

Christopher

 

Q: In Section 5.1, Keith Ward wrote, “If there is any sentient creature which suffers pain, that being… must find that pain transfigured by a greater joy.” Furthermore, he stated, “Immortality, for animals as well as humans, is a necessary condition of any acceptable theodicy.”  Do you agree that Jesus’ redemption or God’s redemptive purposes must include animals or all other non-human creatures that can experience pain?  Is immortality for animals a “necessary condition”?  Does God only care about human beings? Why don’t most sermons or works by theologians ever mention an afterlife for animals?  Is it silly and a waste of time, or is it a serious issue that must be considered?  Why or why not?

 

Part of me does feel that without including animals, God’s redemption would be incomplete. God has to care for all of creation. This is for two reasons:

 

  1. For those who accept the most current scientific theories, say evolution, humans are part animal at the very least, and so what is relevant to us is also relevant to them.
  2. For those who maintain to be Christians, the Scriptures describe God creating all, and also God redeeming the entire cosmos, per Romans 8, Isaiah 11, Isaiah 65, etc.

 

On the other hand, I feel no guilt in swatting a mosquito potentially giving me a disease. And I suspect that most “bleeding heart liberals” would feel the same (but notably not Jains). So how much do I really care about other animals? I’m not even vegetarian.

 

As for immortality, I’m not sure if it’s a necessary condition, with being redeemed via “survival in the mind of God” (Section 5.5, page 87) and/or remaining in type may be sufficient for me.

 

I can imagine an eventual weariness to life, with immortality shutting off relief. But presumably “life with God” would not be weary. An example would be the “beatific vision” in Catholicism.

 

In any case, I feel way out of my league in speculating what would be complete redemption and if it’s actually going to happen. I would just hope that God would act to produce a commensurate and satisfying outcome.

 

As for the lack of sermons covering the redemption of animals, it seems to me that it’s because it’s humans who are the ones listening, not animals. It’s humans who are the ones who are able ask the preacher for comfort or exhortation.

 

Michael

 

Q: In Section 5.3 Southgate outlines three motives for believing that the new cosmos would not just exclusively center around humanity.  Which of the three motives he gives is most compelling to you and why?  Which one or ones, if any, are you least convinced of and why?

 

 

This is a bit of tricky question to answer primarily because any response would be based on a litany of presuppositions that can only be inferred from reading the texts of the Bible.  Nonetheless I’ll seek to provide an adequate opinion on the matter because it’s a question that intrigues me the most.

 

 

Ever since the emergence of natural science and the field archeology, the Church as a whole was confronted with a treasure trove of data indicating that the planet as well as the universe in general is much older than originally thought.  More disturbingly, the discovery of fossils throughout every continent have shown that millions of species that once existed on Earth no longer do and have as a result gone extinct.  This ought to have been disturbing for many Christians who buy into the narrative of Genesis’s global flooding account as historical fact, because the question inevitably rises, “what happen to the dinosaurs”?  One could also ask, what happen to the millions of mammals and reptiles that went extinct following the Jurassic period.  But the main point in all of this is that modern homo sapiens as we know it have only been in existence for a mere 200,000 or so years on Earth.  Yet the Bible seems exclusively focused on the existence and redemption of humans since the days of Abraham in a tiny section of the world known as Israel.  How does a Christian reconcile with the pain and suffering that the rest of the living organisms on the planet endure?

 

 

I think Southgate makes a convincing argument from his reading of Paul’s sudden digression in Romans 8 that God does indeed consider the fate of creation as a whole and that there does exist a “cosmic Christology” of Colossians and Ephesians.  I don’t think his other two points that follow are necessarily weaker arguments or less convincing, but it’s clear that the Bible does not rule out the redemption of the Cosmos as a whole.  The more fundamentalist sects of Christianity have and continue to argue that because the Bible isn’t clear on the subject of “animals in heaven”, this is a non-issue that the Church shouldn’t engage its congregation with.  Others would say outright that “no”, your pet dog or cat will not be in heaven because the Bible doesn’t say so.  In truth, this topic of discussion has only really come to light in modern history since human affinity for pet animals became prevalent as a direct result of increased living standards.  In the past, very few people often had pets in their households mostly for financial and economic reasons as well as hygienic ones.  But going back to the original question, if indeed God plans to redeem the entirety of Creation then clearly how could he not include the living animals that coexist with humanity and the other organisms that have existed in the past.

 

 

I think the big elephant in the room that Southgate does not mention in his book is that possibility of living organisms outside planet Earth.  If extraterrestrial beings do indeed exist especially those that have consciousness equal to or greater than that of human beings, one would be hard pressed to exclude them from God’s redemptive plan.  Plus it would raise all sorts of other questions, which I myself won’t go into for the sake of space and time.  However, it would be interesting to hear what Southgate would have to say about God’s redemptive plan for extraterrestrial life in other parts of the universe.

 

Danny

 

Same question as Doris’.

 

For physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne, a “transformed cosmos” is a new “physical” type of cosmos that will arise from the “transformed matter of this dying universe” through a “cosmic resurrection” in an act of God.  This transformation includes the re-embodiment of the human body and soul.  For Polkinghorne, “the soul is the immensely complex ‘information-bearing pattern’ in which the ever-changing atoms of our bodies are arranged.”  Apparently, he believes that the soul has some sort of materiality in it to contain bits of information to exist in reality at the very least.  And in the general resurrection, these patterned bits of information will be rearranged and transmuted by God within a body made of new matter having “new properties, consistent with the end of transience, death and suffering, because it will be part of a new creation.”

 

 

My taking, in alignment with Polkinghorne, is that the new heavens and the new earth will, if it is consistent with Christ’s Resurrection, be something completely new in every sense of the word.  I don’t think it will be a recycling of the old universe (as might happen in a “big bounce” theory of the universe as it collapses in on itself, it will “bounce” back out again to start up a new universe).  I believe that in the new transformed cosmos, God will create something new, with new physical laws and a possible reversal (or elimination?) of the second law of thermodynamics that will eliminate the effects of entropy.  Will that mean that there will be no oxygen in this new cosmos for living organisms to breath in?  Most likely, since it is oxidation that causes things to rust, decay, and destroys cells over time.  It would be reasonable to assume that our bodies and the new cosmos will most likely be made from some different arrangement of atoms and or from totally new forms of elements that will not be subject to entropy and henceforth a totally new form of (resurrected) biology and physics.  Again, it is very difficult to speculate on how a new cosmos will be like with our incomplete understanding of physics, quantum mechanics, particle physics, and other sciences, or just knowledge in general.

 

 

Another option is the possibility that this reality or cosmos will be transformed into a purely digital form, as in the arrangement and coding of information in a computer, thereby it won’t be subject to physical limitations and impediments.  There are some theories in both philosophy and science that say that we are living in a computer simulation (the philosopher Nick Bostrom being one of the foremost pioneers in this thought); if so, perhaps there’s a massive upgrade or new patch that happens within the universe (or cosmic computer) by God that reprograms or reboots the entire simulated universe into something new.  Or perhaps everything (our physical reality) becomes digital and our consciousness gets downloaded into new resurrected digital avatar bodies that won’t have to worry about decay, death, disease, etc. – aka a “digital” or simulated immortality if you will.  The speculations on this range far and wide.

 

I believe a new creation that persisted on only in God’s memory would somewhat “cheapen” creation and God’s glory in many ways and relegate everything to mere sentimentalities. I believe that it would mean that God would only have cared about immaterial souls and bore a dislike of materiality, something that goes against the biblical witness in practically every level.   Of course, God can do anything he wants – he can even choose to do absolutely nothing after the universe’s death- but then it would make everything seem like an endless waste and as Ted Peters emphasized in the beginning of this section, “[T]hen we would have proof that our faith has been in vain.  It would turn out that there is no God, at least not the God in whom followers of Jesus have put their faith.”  If we are to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as believers, then we have the hope that what has happened to Christ will be promised to us and that our faith was not in vain as the Apostle Paul states in 1 Cor 15: 13-15 and 1 Thes 4:14: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we also believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”

 

In Revelation 21:5, John sees a vision of Jesus sitting on the throne in heaven saying, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  This is the essence and hope of the Christian faith.  A hope that God, in and through Jesus Christ, will, in the end of all things, “wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Rev. 21:4)  The theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg described Jesus’ Resurrection event as the future breaking into the present. In the Resurrected Christ, God gives us a glimpse of what the future holds for us.  It is not a resuscitation of old matter being invigorated again, only to decay and wither once again, but a completely new unimaginable reality – a never-ending and everlasting one.  Reading and then contemplating upon the first half of this chapter about the new cosmos and eschatology has reinvigorated my faith in God in many respects in spite of how sullen, melancholy, skeptical, and cynical my faith can get in many respects.  I am reminded of how Christian eschatology, when properly understood, is one of the most hopeful, loving, and redeeming notions ever conceived.  It is true that other religions have similar eschatologies of the resurrection of the dead (like the ancient Egyptians did) and beliefs about the destruction and rebirth of the universe (such as Hinduism and Buddhism have), but none give such hope as the Christian message has I believe.  Perhaps it is this hope that keeps me believing in God and the person of Jesus Christ.  If all what the Bible says is true about the new cosmos, how wonderful must it be!  “’What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ – the things God has prepared for those who live him.”  – 1 Cor 2:9

 

 

 

 

 

 

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