Part of the confusion we run into when discussing the sometimes conflicting claims of scripture and theology, on the one hand, and science and history, on the other, has to do with what (if anything) God intends to accomplish in and through natural and historical processes!? Why would almighty God place so many souls at risk by introducing them into such a life–the outcome of which (for many of them, at least) would seem to be anything but good? Not only do human beings undergo great suffering in this world–we are also told that our eternal well-being is somehow at stake; our immortal souls somehow hanging in the balance! Is this not (simply on the face of it) incredible!?
Is it really plausible (for example), that God is using the process of natural selection (in biology) to achieve some spatiotemporal end? While this idea is defended by some advocates of “theistic evolution” (aka creation by natural selection), how seriously should we take such claims?
Would it not make more sense to say that God is (in a manner of speaking) creating the whole universe– in its entirety –at every instant and that every instant is, as such, an end in itself? This is implicitly affirmed by Descartes, when he writes:
“…this is certain, and an opinion commonly received among theologians, that the action by which [God] now sustains [the world] is the same with that by which he originally created it…” (Discourse on Method, Part V)
But what was merely implicit in Descartes, was said very graphically and explicitly a few hundred years earlier, by Meister Eckhart:
“What does God do all day long? He gives birth. From the beginning of eternity, God lies on a maternity bed giving birth to all. God is creating this whole universe full and entire in this present moment.” ~ Meister Eckhart
“If anyone went on for a thousand years asking of life: ‘Why are you living?’ life, if it could answer, would only say, ‘I live so that I may live.’ That is because life lives out of its own ground and springs from its own source, and so it lives without asking why it is itself living. ” ~ Meister Eckhart
Indeed, why should we not think of the flow of appearances as a kind of kaleidoscopic manifestation of an eternal Reality which IS as it IS? That would account for the apparently “intelligent design” of the phenomenal world while, at the same time, making every moment of our lives an end it itself. There would be no necessary ‘telos’ to phenomenal processes (as such) beyond that of motivating us to transcend the bonds that such limited (merely physical or historical) perspectives tends to impose upon us in the first place.
From this standpoint, our most problematic experiences as empirical subjects become intelligible NOT ONLY IF (or insofar as) they are understood as the means to some biological or historical end, but also insofar as they encourage us to realize that we are not merely empirical subjects– that we are not merely biological entities with a natural history or genealogy; and that we are not merely socially conditioned members of society, either –but that we are in some sense “incarnations of God” who are (so to speak) “born of the Spirit” (or “born from above”) whether or not we fully realize it.
To be sure, Jesus exhorts Nicodemus to remember who he is by saying, “ye must be born again”–suggesting a fundamental transformation of sorts (John 3:7). But is it not also said that we are chosen– indeed, created —in Christ . . . in and from the beginning? (cf. Ephesians 1:4; 2:10) As such, are we not destined (by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit) to experience a moment of clarity in which we, like the prodigal son, remember our Father’s house and the very fundamental and irreversible relationship which that implies? (see Luke 15:11-32 and also The Hymn of the Pearl)
It is also worth noting that a corollary of this kind of realization (or remembrance) is that our lives, so lived (primarily oriented toward the very different center of gravity that is our Father’s house), also function to reflect the aforementioned “eternal Reality” (or heavenly kingdom) into this world– i.e. into our sphere of influence —if and insofar as we willingly participate in the life and passion of Christ with all that that entails. Thus Jesus– while often suggesting that the kingdom of heaven is, in some sense, within and above us –also counsels us to pray to the Father:
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..” (Matthew 6:10).
So, as I see it, the revelation of God and the good news of the gospel is that we are not merely biological organisms (nor are we merely members of society), but we are, at the most fundamental level, spiritual beings who, created in the image of God, are Christlike; born of the Spirit– heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ —and that, as such, we not only share in the One Life, Divine, but we also participate in its ongoing revelation (if and insofar as we remember who we are).
But, alas, more often than not this good news seems to fall on deaf ears (human beings are so easily persuaded that they are merely discrete, physical entities — mere specks of dust, floating around in time and space — existing by sheer happen-stance). Indeed– reminiscent of Narcissus in Greek mythology –we become inordinately enamored with our own reflections (our most superficial, physical appearance) and are thus in danger of living and dying (on that level) without knowing who we really are.
So given the superficiality of our “self-knowledge” and the deceptive nature of the “self-love” to which we are at first inclined, it is perhaps understandable that what is more accurately described as a kind of gnosis– e.g. a knowledge of the union that exists between the mind and the whole of nature, as Spinoza put it –has been more traditionally described (in mytho-poetic terms) as “a new creation” (conceived of as the end product of “salvation history” which is understood, in turn, to be an ongoing process in the wake of “Adam’s sin”). As such, in light of this plan of salvation, the natural world and human history are understood as important elements of a much larger work that is imagined to be in progress. Indeed, we, ourselves, are also understood as being in the process of becoming that which God desires for us:
- atOne with our heavenly Father…
- members one of another in the unity of the Spirit…
- integrally related to the whole of creation which is, by extension, the body of Christ…
In this way, that which we already are is portrayed (in an imaginal way) as something entirely new–something that is somehow being accomplished (metaphysically and historically) through the virgin birth of Jesus, his physical death on the cross, and his subsequent (bodily) resurrection and ascension (together with his anticipated return).
And, indeed, it is undeniable that the life and passion of Jesus (as traditionally understood) has been the central revelation of God in the western world for nearly 2000 years. But the essentially mytho-poetic character of this narrative (if not immediately obvious) is undeniably confirmed by the problem of evil–since, if we construe the traditional narrative(s) to be “literally” true (in any ordinary sense of the word), it results in a conception of God that falls far short of our theological ideal(s) of omniscience, omnipotence, and omni-benevolence and leaves us, instead, with a picture of God as a being who is rather limited, reactive, and subject to change (one, indeed, whose sense of goodness and justice is left very much in doubt).
The contours of this problem are reflected in a wide variety of less than satisfying (not quite coherent) teachings throughout the long history of quasi-mythical, quasi-metaphysical religious discourse. We see it, for example, in:
- The teaching of a fundamental dualism between good and evil that somehow becomes imbalanced (as taught by Zoroaster, Mani, et al )
- The idea of an emergent breach that somehow came to mar the unalloyed light of Divine goodness and resulted, finally, in the creation of the so-called demiurge and other archons, together with all the horrors perpetrated by them (as taught by the so-called “Syrian” Gnostics)
But we see it just as clearly in:
- God’s apparent inability to accomplish his ultimate ends apart from the collateral damage involving the sin, death, and ultimate damnation of a significant number of human and celestial beings (as taught by Christian orthodoxy).
Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that all such accounts are just so stories — particular, culturally conditioned modes of discourse that are tailor-made for our “fallen” (dualistic) minds; modes of discourse, in other words, which at their best function to wake us up (pointing beyond themselves– to the inscrutable, nondual truth of who we really are –while keeping our egos out of trouble in the meantime); but also modes of discourse which at their worst become just another ideology that conceals rather than reveals the truth–since they do not offer any ultimately coherent worldview or metaphysical system (as they so often purport to) but constitute, instead, just another mental position to which the egoic mind can cling as it pursues its perpetual project of self-preservation (competing with other egos for a wide variety of limited resources; standing over-against the various inhospitable forces of nature; and laboring under the inexorable shadow of death which continuously dogs its trail).
Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that while the Reality of the Way, the Truth, and the Life can be realized in a unitive (intuitive) way, it cannot be grasp conceptually — at least not in a way that carries the force of demonstration for an egoic mind which is hyper-analytic and wholly self-absorbed. Those who realize this Reality are those who take up their cross and (dying before they die) become like little children and who, as such, enter the kingdom of heaven NOW…