Re-membering nature in Christianity

/ 23 June 2016

Elizabeth Johnson is someone whose work I’ve long loved. Her book Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love offers a very different read on what some have called a tension between evolution and Christianity. One of the ways Christianity has slipped into toxicity, particularly of the racist, sexist, homophobic (etc.) kind, begins when we as humans lose our deep organic connections:

Love, of course, can be interpreted in myriads of ways; the literature on love could fill whole libraries. … Among human persons a loving mature relationship builds up the strength of personal autonomy in those loved, whether they be on an equal footing like spouses or friends or at different stages of life like parents and children, teachers and students. Rather than suppressing the gifts of the other, love brings about their flourishing. Rather than stifling the power to act freely, love promotes its growth. Not all manner of relationships do this. In controlling, manipulative, fearful, narcissistic, and egocentric relations, one party seeks to gain advantage by bending the other to his or her will. The core integrity of the other is disrespected by ploys that intend to dominate. Mature love moves in the opposite direction. … In similar yet infinitely dissimilar fashion, creating a universe capable of its own evolution is precisely an expression of the living God who is love, mature divine love. (159) It seems to me that it is so easy to forget this, slipping God into the web of interactions as though the divine were simply a bigger and better secondary cause. But the philosophical distinction between the ultimate and proximate causality enables thought to hold firm to the mystery of the greatness of God and the integrity of creatures in equal measure. Everywhere present and active, the Creator is not an individual factor among others that bring forth species. Instead, the Spirit of God continuously interacts with the world to implement divine purpose by granting creatures and creates systems their full measure of efficacy. This is a both/and sensibility that guarantees the integrity of the created causal nexus while affirming the gracious and intentional immanence of the transcendent God active within worldly purposiveness. To my way of thinking, it is a technical way of interpreting how mature Love acts. (166) Then the most fundamental move theology can make, in my view, is to affirm the compassionate presence of God in the midst of the shocking enormity of pain and death. The indwelling, empowering Creator Spirit abides amid the agony and loss. God who is love is there in solidarity with the creatures shot through with pain and finished by death; there, in the godforsaken moment, as only the Giver of life can be, with the promise of something more. (191-192)