Thursday, December 24, 2009

Word made flesh

Sometimes I get criticized for my stance on understanding homology and biological similarity. OK, that's an understatement. I often get criticized for all sorts of things (one nasty email this morning was especially hysterical), and a common argument is that God's motives in creation are unknowable. Darwin made the argument in his Essay of 1844 (a precursor of Origin):
I must here premise that, according to the view ordinarily received, the myriads of organisms, which have during past and present times peopled this world, have been created by so many distinct acts of creation. It is impossible to reason concerning the will of the Creator, and therefore, according to this view, we can see no cause why or why not the individual organism should have been created on any fixed scheme. That all organisms of this world have been produced on a scheme is certain from their general affinities; and if this scheme can be shown to be the same with that which would result from allied organic beings descending from common stocks, it becomes highly improbable that they have been separately created by individual acts of the will of a Creator. [emphasis mine]

Of course, his conclusion doesn't follow from the premise: just because common ancestry explains the pattern of life, that doesn't change the probability that critters were made by a Creator, especially if the Creator's will really is unknowable.

What I'd like to get at is that notion that the will of the Creator is unknowable. In Evolution, Creation, and Science, Frank Marsh said that questions about why the Creator made homologous structures were "absurd." After all, who are we to question the Creator? I've heard similar comments and accusations of arrogance against me for daring to wonder why.

I suppose if you're a deist, the Creator's will really would be unknowable, but I struggle to understand how a Christian could think so. Over and over again in the Bible, we see a God who reveals Himself to His creation. He reaches out through miracle, prophecy, ceremony, Scripture, and Jesus Christ. When John wrote his gospel, he likened Christ to a word, a word made flesh. In Psalm 19, we read that creation itself speaks God's attributes and that everyone hears the testimony of creation. In Romans 1, we find that the revelation in creation is not only heard but understood by everyone. No one has an excuse.

But wait, what about Romans 9? "But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?" (Rom 9:20-21, NRSV). Sounds pretty clear doesn't it? I'm definitely wondering why God made things the way He did. Doesn't that therefore qualify as arrogance and sin according to these verses?

Actually not at all. Look again carefully: "who... are you, a human being, to argue with God?" I'm not arguing with God, quite the opposite in fact. I want Him to reveal Himself to me, just as He has always done with His people in the past. I want to understand God not challenge Him. Besides, Job was much more pointed in his challenge to God (he wanted to take God to court!), and God said that Job had spoken rightly about Him (Job 42:7-8).

But wait, how can a puny mortal possibly understand God? God is infinite, His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8-9). Human beings can't hope to comprehend Him! Really? Then why in the world does He reveal Himself to us? And how could He hold us accountable for understanding that revelation if God was so utterly incomprehensible? How could Paul say, "I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph 3:18-19). Did you get that? He wants us to "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge."

But wait, this is all God's spiritual will, right? There's no promise that we'll understand God's will for creation. (I've actually heard that argument too. I'm not making this up.)

OK, what does that even mean? "God's will for creation?" How is that different from God's will period? How can we possibly distinguish the two? Did hurricane Katrina happen according to God's spiritual will or His will for creation? How about the Grand Canyon? Or Mount St. Helens? Or Yosemite? Or the Indian Ocean tsunami? What big natural events don't have human and therefore spiritual repercussions?

Look at it this way: I was recently challenged with the theological notion that God actually cares who wins a football game. I can't tell you how repugnant that is to my own selfish, egotistical theology, but consider for a moment all the people who depend on the success of a football team for their livelihood. I'm not talking about overpaid quarterbacks or head coaches. I'm talking about the ticket takers, the concession stand workers, the trumpet players in the bands, the water boys, the trainers, and all the city employees funded by tax revenue from a really successful team. Yeah, OK, I hate to admit it, but maybe... just maybe... God cares who wins a football game.

And if He cares about something as silly as a football game, then how is it that we can separate out His will for creation from his spiritual will for human beings? And if creation really is a revelation of God's nature to us, a revelation so clear we're without excuse, why in the world would anyone conclude that we can't know or understand that revelation? Why relegate it to the inscrutable "God's will for creation?"

No, God wants to be known and He wants to be known through creation. He revealed Himself throughout history, and He revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. This of all seasons, as we celebrate the Word made flesh, should remind us of God's desire to be known. I won't accept this crazy idea that God cannot be known or that desiring to know God is somehow arrogant or sinful. I believe that His desires for creation can be known and it will only be a matter of time before they are known.