God and Cosmic Evil

10 04 2008

Origen seemed to have gotten around the problem of taking Genesis literally by suggesting that the Fall did not happen in physical history, but proposed (based upon his Platonist studies) that in the beginning God created all rational creatures (souls) and that the Fall happened prior to when souls took up physical bodies. Origen then also proposed that wickedness would eventually be destroyed through the slow process of purgation. Over countless ages eventually all rational beings would be reconciled to God.

I’ve heard some claim that Origen denied a bodily resurrection, however in my own readings of Origen it seems he does believe in the resurrection of the body in his system. Unless I’m reading it wrong, but he basically says the same body that is buried rises again, which is standard Christian teaching.

Two things for me, however, is that:

A) I don’t view Evil as having any ontological reality, Evil doesn’t exist as such but is simply the deprivation of Good.

B) I don’t interpret the story of the Fall literally, I think it generally is intended to describe some sort of trans-rational concept for why we currently exist in a world where war, death, plague, brutality and suffering takes place.

In a Christian context the story of the Fall teaches us that while all of creation is good since it was made by the Creator, it is ultimately our own choices to live outside and without the Divine Love that, to view ourselves as our own divinity, that we engage in behaviors that are destructive–the story of the Fall also implicates that human choice ultimately has effect not just on humankind but the world at large.

Within a Christian narrative context the Fall establishes a bedrock by which to recognize the pain, suffering and brutality we observe in the world every day in contrast to seemingly intrinsic notions that there ought to be something better than this. It is human nature to see pain and ask, “Why?!” and while we’ve come up with various religious, philosophical and spiritual theories to answer this question, it’s still one that haunts us.

Nobody is free from the ghastly reality of suffering in the world, each of us is a witness and participant in it.

But for the Christian narrative of redemption it establishes a platform and context in which to view Jesus, who being God comes to participate with us in that same reality which we participate in daily. To bind Himself to us in our weaknesses and sufferings which culminates in His own destruction at the hands of the Romans on the cross.

Which is at the same time paradoxically defeat and triumph. Christ’s triumph is hidden beneath the visage of despair, the image of defeat is the paradoxical instrument of triumph and liberation and this is vindicated and manifest in Christ’s rising from the dead.

I’m not very interested in a literal Adam and Eve or tree of the knowledge of good and evil or talking snakes; I am however interested in recognizing the reality in which we now currently dwell–a world in which pain happens and people suffer and I make the conscious choice to both believe there must be something better, that there is an actual good, and that redemption is real and I choose to see that story of redemption as having really taken place in historical space-time in and through the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Which is why I’m a Christian, which is why I have hope despite what I see, why I can still say with confidence that Death is fundamentally unreal though I hear reports and witness deaths every day and am aware of that my own mortal frame will expire–but I choose to believe and have hope that this mortality is not the fundamental reality in the world but that the fundamental reality of the world is resurrection.

And it is in resurrection that I choose to view things as ultimately hopeful, and ultimately good and ultimately just. That things will be set right and that I can move in the world to live in such a way as to try and make things right in my own microcosm, by loving my neighbor and giving to those I encounter who need I can live out the kind of resurrection justice I believe will ultimately transform and transfigure the whole world when the same Jesus who died and rose will come again.

I can live in the hope that all people will eventually have peace, especially those who never had a chance or opportunity to experience even a small glimmer of peace. To believe that mourning really will become laughter, that tears of sorrow will become tears of joy, that hate will dissipate and only love will remain. Where oppression will no longer be, and there will be perfect freedom. Hope for a world in which swords are broken and turned into plowshares and spears become pruning shears. A world where lion will lay with the lamb, and a child can play without fear in the viper’s den.

Hell and Death will be no more, and all things will be reconciled and brought into the perfect and joyous life of God the gracious and loving Father of us all.


The Experience of God

19 07 2007

Halden over at Inhabitatio Dei wrote a very good post over the issue of whether or not Christ’s suffering means God suffers.

I recommend reading it.

My own thoughts on the issue are as follows:

I think there is a psychological aversion in the minds of many well-meaning Christians to the whole concept of the Incarnation. It’s not so much that they consciously deny it, so much as the implications leave a feeling of discomfort and uneasiness, an unsavory taste is left in their mouth. The idea that God truly joins Himself to human nature seems to make us feel that somehow God is lessened in the process.

I disagree, God is not lessened in the process, not even slightly.

My first comment is that the Incarnation doesn’t say that God stops being God in order to become human, but that God assumes humanity. He joins whatever humanity is to whatever He is (which is Deity), thus we speak of the union of Deity and Humanity. This does not affect God on an ontological level, it doesn’t violate His immutability.

More to the point, I disagree because I think a very strong case can be made that the Incarnation was never an “afterthought” in the Divine plan.

I think that may be the first problem we run into, thinking the Incarnation was an idea of God after the fact. St. Irenaeus of Lyons makes a case, in the second century, that the Incarnation had always been part of the plan.

What I think this means is downright radical.

It was always the intention and plan of God to assume flesh, to be joined to humanity. Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies, in my opinion, argues a powerful case.

Without getting into it too much, Irenaeus’ speaks of salvation occurring precisely because of the Incarnation, in the union of God and man Christ “undoes” what Adam “did”. Christ, the Second Adam, reverses the corruption of Adam in His own humanity. But Irenaeus makes another point, that the Incarnation was always intended, even had there never been a Fall, the Logos would have still “tabernacled” with us.

To this end, I believe, it can even be further argued that since all things were “created by Him and for Him,” that the Incarnation was always meant to be. More than that, Adam and Eve were created in the image of God precisely because God the Logos was to share in their humanity, and they in His Deity.

Thus Fall or no Fall, the Incarnation has always been an essential part of God’s purpose for creation. The union of God and man, of the sacred and profane.

What the Orthodox call “theosis“.

To what degree does this relate to the suffering of God in Christ?

I think it may mean that the experience of God’s assumption of human flesh, the act of God’s condescension into our world of human experience, is somehow reciprocally reflected in both God and man. God to man (since man was created in the image of God), and man to God (since God assumed human flesh and nature).

Without venturing too much further, I think it can even be appropriate to say that man experiences precisely because God experiences, that the very act of “experiencing” something, is, itself Divine, and has been reflected in humanity.

Conversely, man’s experience of suffering, of pain, of sorrow, all due to the Fall, is reflected in God because God, in assuming human flesh, enjoins to Himself what it means to be human.