The Good News of Creation
The behavior of lower animals is largely governed by instinct. Human beings likewise are guided by subjective standards. However, as humans, we proceed to use these subjective standards to consciously test our perceptions. For example, one person may say that the temperature outside is too high, while another may say it is too low. As humans, we may also turn around and use our perceptions to consciously adjust our subjective standards. This helps us adapt to environmental temperatures. When this writer first moved to Georgia, the summer weather was much too hot and humid. However, now it generally seems quite comfortable. This is because I have adjusted my “thermal” standards.
An awareness or consciousness of God is mankind’s most fundamental standard. Thoughts about our nature, origin and destiny are all extensions of our conceptions of God. These symbolic conceptions attempt to make sense of our existence and give meaning, value and purpose to life.
Over the last 4,000 years, man (male and female) has proposed various “standard” models for God and, consequently, for the interaction of God with man, man with God, and man with man. As our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe has changed, so our conceptions of God and God’s relationship with mankind also have changed. Nevertheless, all these old models for God have been guided by standards that are basically subjective.
Old Views of God
1. Man Himself Is God.
One of the old conceptions is that man himself is God and that, as God, man somehow has been imprisoned in a material world. In this view man ultimately will break free from nature, from the restrictions of time and space, and return to the transcendent universe from which he once fell. The material universe thus becomes temporary and irrelevant, ideally qualified to be “trashed.”
2. The Universe Is Its Own God.
Another old conception is that the universe is autonomous or independent of transcendent Being. In this view the universe is its own God. Everything that exists came into being purely by chance and is entirely subject to chance. Of course, if the universe simply happened to be, it can simply happen not to be. The universe is thus an accident waiting “not to happen.”
3. God Commanded the Universe into Existence.
Still another conception — the old “orthodox” model — is that the Supreme Being, God, commanded the universe into existence. By divine fiat he created the first human beings, “Adam” and “Eve,” and placed them in Paradise under specific restrictions. Here our first parents remained innocent and holy until they succumbed to temptation. Because of their “ original sin,” they were filled with guilt, expelled by God from the Garden, and condemned to suffer and die in God’s deliberate absence. However, at the expense of great suffering by God’s representative, Jesus Christ, some descendants of Adam and Eve may regain Paradise and again become subject to God and his eternal commands.
In light of current human knowledge, insight and understanding, none of these old conceptions of God and related human existence is suitable. Indeed, each is fatally flawed. Because of this, mankind today is desperately trying to exist without an adequate subjective model either for God or, consequently, for human existence in the face of God.
A New View of God
As we have noted, an awareness or consciousness of God is mankind’s most fundamental standard for all existence. Because of the glaring inadequacy of all subjective models of God, our publishing efforts have focused on presenting an objective model that better reflects contemporary knowledge, understanding and needs. Very briefly, we believe that God intends to move man from an internal, subjective, subconscious standard for God to the external, objective reality of God with whom all mankind can relate humanly. We believe that the radically egalitarian Jewish peasant, Jesus Christ, is that objective model of God. Furthermore, we believe that Jesus Christ is that human God. We also believe that the Christ event is therefore central to the creative (not redemptive) process of transforming mankind from an animal to the truly human image of God.
Since our articles have represented efforts to examine various aspects of this objective model of God, it is appropriate to briefly outline the basic premises of that model. They are as follows:
1. God as One Supreme “Being” and “Becoming.”
There is only One Supreme, Self-existent, Intelligent Being behind, before and above the universe. That Being is God. However, God is more than “Being.” He also is the Supreme “Becoming.” Unlike the immovable, unchangeable, unapproachable God of Plato and Aristotle, the true God is involved in creating himself as well as others. In this process God changes in order to relate to his own Creation. This is known as God’s “kenosis” (self-emptying condescension).1
2. God’s Creation of the Physical Universe “Out of Nothing.”
God first created the universe of time and space out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). The universe of time and space includes an unobservable reality that scientists call the “quantum field.” This field is the source of all matter and energy in the cosmos.
3. Responsive Creation as an Active “Ongoing Process.”
In an ongoing process of Creation (creatio continua), matter and energy have been in continuous action, interaction and development in response to God’s creative intervention. Thus, God is not involved in creating a passive universe but, rather, an active universe capable of undergoing infinite change, adaptation and development.
4. God’s Intervention to Create Biological Existence.
Having created the physical universe of matter and energy, God intervened to create biological existence — life and living forms. Here God’s intervention is essential because, contrary to “reductionism,” the properties of life do not reside in matter and energy itself.2
5. Responsive Creation and Biological Evolution.
Again, in an ongoing process of Creation (creatio continua), living forms created by God have been in continuous action, interaction and development in response to his intervention. Biological evolution is one of God’s instruments to foster this responsive and adaptive Creation.
6. The Gift of “God-Consciousness” to Mankind.
Having created both physical and biological existence, God later intervened to give man the gift of “god-consciousness.”3 This gift provided mankind with an awareness of God and with an initial internal, subjective standard for God.
7. The Gift of Self-Consciousness to Mankind.
Then, about three to four thousand years ago, God acted to shift mankind’s god-consciousness to a subconscious attribute and, in its place, grant self-consciousness.4
8. Self-Consciousness and God’s Covenantal Relationship with Mankind.
Because this emerging self-consciousness gave God the opportunity to communicate with mankind as responsible individuals and community, God then entered into covenantal relationship with man. Covenant is impossible without two engaged and consenting parties. The covenantal agreement was a critical step in establishing both God and man as objective and relational realities to each other.
9. Self-Consciousness and Mankind’s Progress.
The gift of self-consciousness also gave mankind tremendous initiative and freedom for acquiring knowledge, understanding and skills and for the development of culture and civilization based successively on pastoral, agricultural, industrial and informational technologies.
10. Freedom and Mankind’s Self-Deception.
With the freedom associated with self-consciousness, mankind also became capable of self-deception. Under this self-deception man claimed that the loss of god-consciousness meant the absence of God and mankind’s abandonment by God.5 As a consequence, man developed a sense of fallenness (alienation), guilt and resentment. This has long inclined man to revert to predatory drives for power, domination and submission.
11. Mankind’s Establishment of Religious and Political Hierarchies.
These predatory drives in the assumed absence of God have led man to take the initiative in establishing religious and political hierarchies to wage war on his fellow man externally and to impose predatory laws internally. The empires of Babylon, Egypt, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome were aggressive, warring, political hierarchies. The nation of Israel, restored from Babylonian captivity to its Promised Land with the help of Ezra and his colleagues, became a rigid, religious hierarchy that burdened life with laws that only the privileged could possibly keep.
12. God’s Creative Intervention in the Christ Event.
Yet, in the fullness of time, God “emptied” himself (Greek, kenosis)6 and became incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth (Galatians 4:4). This humble, egalitarian, Mediterranean Jewish peasant was not merely a symbol or metaphor for God. He was the objective God himself. By adopting the creature as his own reality, the Creator-God encountered man’s predatory hostility, endured creature-man’s death, and rose again as the first fruits of a new and transcendent humanity. The Christ event is thus the axial point in God’s own “becoming” and in his creative intervention.
13. The Risen Christ and Transformation.
In himself the Risen Christ has given a new definition to “nature” — a nature no longer condemned to decay and death. He has given a new definition to “history” — a history no longer to be the sad recital of mankind’s predation. He has given a new definition to the “transcendent” — a transcendence that is no longer the unapproachable abode for God. Now the transcendent is the realm where mankind and God will relate as individual human persons in community, with the freedom and responsibility of co-creation in a transformed universe.
14. The Mediatorial Presence of the Risen Christ.
The Risen Christ is mediatorially (relationally) present with mankind.7 That is, we reach him through our neighbor, our neighbor reaches him through us, and we reach each other through him. We may therefore speak of this “reaching” as Christ’s “intermediatorial” presence.8 The purpose of Christ’s mediation (“intermediation”) is not to command mankind’s transformation to humanity with himself but, rather, to invite mankind to accept such transformation.
15. The Continued Self-Deception of Mankind.
Despite the presence and gifts of the Risen Christ, man in his self-deception has sought to extend his predatory domination and control, not only over nature, but also over history and the transcendent order — all in the name of religion. While mankind’s efforts have brought some benefits, they also have brought the world to repeated crises.
16. The Transformative Goal of God.
God’s response to man’s self-deceptive predation is not to intervene to destroy mankind, the world or the universe. Rather, God’s purpose is to continue his creative involvement by the transformation of man from animal existence to human personhood. This goal soon will be realized at Christ’s appearing — the Parousia.9
These premises form an initial foundation for our understanding of the journey of God and his Creation through time and space. We believe that God has been intent on identifying himself with his Creation. We also believe that he has been intent on transforming creaturely man into the image of his own human personhood, created and revealed in Jesus Christ.
God’s purpose in creating human persons in his own image cannot be accomplished by divine fiat or command, since commandable entities can only be subordinate, submissive robots. God has therefore employed the process of emergent evolution to fulfill his purpose. Only at critical junctures, where Creation has had to be lifted to newer, higher and unprecedented levels, has God directly intervened.10 Thus, in the final stages of development, God humbled himself to become the creature, to become human, in order that he might inspire, invite and assist mankind in accepting transformation to the higher reality of a transcendent humanity.
A Concluding Word
We earnestly invite you, as readers and fellow humans, to critically examine the various aspects of this theological model and to make your own assessment. At the same time, we intend to carefully examine each of these premises in the light of past and contemporary scholarship. Our purpose is to review, revise and communicate an understanding of the good news of God’s creative and transforming relationship with man. In all this, our central presupposition will be that the Christ event provides the fundamental, objective definition for the origin, nature and destiny of a human race still in the process of Creation.
- The Greek word for self-emptying is kenosis. The understanding of God’s kenosis as “self-emptying condescension” is found in Philippians 2:5-8: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who . . . made himself of no reputation [kenoo] . . . humbled himself, and became obedient unto death . . . ” (KJV). “ . . . God is considered as absolute letting-be, as self-giving, as self-spending. Kenosis [Greek, kenosis = self-emptying] is understood as the way God relates to the world; creation is a work of love, of self-giving.” — Lucien Richard, Christ: The Self-Emptying of God (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), p. 94. (go back)
- Reductionism is the philosophy which claims that all forms, structures, events and developments in the universe simply reflect the properties and actions of elementary particles such as atoms and electrons. In this view, if a person consciously drinks a glass of water, one can be sure that the glass of water is (frighteningly) conscious of being swallowed. Such a philosophy wholly eliminates God. (go back)
- See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990). (go back)
- See ibid. (go back)
- For example, see the account of the Fall in Genesis 3. (go back)
- See note 1. (go back)
- See John Dominic Crossan, “Responses and Reflections,” in Jeffrey Carlson and Robert A. Ludwig, eds., Jesus and Faith: A Conversation on the Work of John Dominic Crossan (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994), p. 143. (go back)
- Rather than a nonrelational, immediate presence, in which we absorb the Transcendent (“God in us”) or are absorbed by the Transcendent (“us in God”), the evidence indicates that the Risen Christ mediates his presence with us in history. That is, he reaches us through our neighbors. We reach him through each other. We reach each other and our own objective selves through him. This relational “reaching” may therefore be referred to as Christ’s “intermediatorial” presence, which is defined by the gifts of faith, hope and compassionate love. See “The End of Human Alienation,” subhead “The True Resolution of Human Alienation,” Outlook (Prequel 1994.7). (go back)
- The Greek word parousia, translated, means both “presence” and “coming.” See Wikipedia — The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Second Coming, Terminology” at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Coming#Terminology. See also James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 2006: “Parousia is an ancient Greek word meaning presence, arrival, or official visit” (p. 299). (go back)
- See “The Judgment of Creation,” Outlook (Prequel 1995.3). (go back)
This article was originally published May 1995 under the Destiny imprint.