Reflection August 5, 2019
"Continuing Cosmology" by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Recently, I wrote about the theological implications of what’s known as cosmology: our understanding of the cosmos and how we, humans, “fit in.” I’ve been thinking more about this as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I’d like to add further reflections in this Advance.
One of the major questions we face in life is this question: is the universe benign, indifferent, or hostile? How we answer this question will determine to a significant degree how our life unfolds. A benign universe is a universe that has purpose behind it, a universe that welcomes us, so to speak. An indifferent universe is a universe that doesn’t care if we are here or not, a universe that has no heart. A hostile universe is a universe that doesn’t want us here and is actively trying to get rid of us.
These seem to be our only choices: a benign universe, an indifferent universe, a hostile universe. Are we welcome in the universe or not? Is the universe happy that we are here or is it trying to expel us as an unwanted plague or virus? While we may not normally put the question in such a stark manner, it’s a vital question to be pondered, especially in our day and in our time.
Part of the difficulty we encounter in trying to answer this question is that science seems to present us with an indifferent universe, a universe that doesn’t have any guiding purpose behind it, a universe that just came to be for no apparent reason.
But I believe our faith, in dialogue with science, teaches us that the universe welcomes us; that the universe has been unfolding so that human consciousness could come to be. I believe our universe not only welcomes us but that the universe was created so we could be here.
I believe Christianity is deeply rooted in this belief. As the theologian Ilia Delio argues: “Christ does not save us from creation; rather, Christ is the reason for creation.” (Christ in Evolution)
Jesus Christ is the reason for creation. This is an incredible truth to ponder. This is the truth behind Christianity. This is the truth under-girding Christianity. Creation came to be in order to allow the great Love-Gift that is Jesus Christ to come fully into creation and complete creation. Now I know this theology may be very different from what most of us were taught when we were young. But we need to embrace this “cosmological” view of our faith if we want to keep our young in a healthy Christianity.
Christ did not come primarily because of an ancestral fall from grace. The “Fall” is only a partial truth. Christ became human because God, from all time, wished Christ to come. Christ came into creation to help creation become completely whole and completely holy. Jesus Christ came into creation so all creation could be joined in an unbreakable bound with our God.
And the Spirit of the Living God is at work not only in our world but the Spirit is at work everywhere, binding together all creation into a deep and loving web of relationships. There is a purpose to creation and that purpose is found in the Love of Jesus Christ. Christ is the purpose of creation. Christ is why creation happened!
And creation is continuing. We’re active participants in God’s unfolding creation. Creation is not just something that happened long ago, creation is continuing. And we are part of this continual-unfolding.
There have been arguments raging a long time now between those who believe in Darwin’s approach to evolution and those who subscribe to creationism. But I believe this is a foolish debate. It saps the energy of everyone engaged in it and this debate makes Christianity appear to be against science. Christianity is not and cannot be against science.
Christianity, at its best, works together with science and all human knowledge to help supply meaning to what we, humans, discover. Science is ill equipped to answer questions of meaning and purpose. Science can help explain how the universe came to be and how life unfolded, the how of creation, but science cannot speak to the why of creation. Only the wisdom of religion can offer answers to why creation happened and why we have come to be.
I believe Christianity offers the best answer to the why of creation. But Christianity has often become sidetracked by misguided disputes over the accuracy of the two creation accounts found in the first chapters of Genesis. Years ago, we explored these accounts in our Bible studies.
But these are not the only accounts of creation found in the Bible. Psalm 104, for example, is a profound account of creation given by the Psalmist. The opening of the Gospel of John is a further creation story.
Our Christian faith seems to be losing our young and this includes members of my own family. We may be losing them because Christianity appears outdated and irrelevant. Among our young, Christianity is often perceived as being against science. Among our young, Christianity is often perceived as being against intelligent discourse and calm debate.
Christianity is often perceived as being only concerned with the next world, while abandoning this one. Christianity is often perceived as being without love and care for the world in which we live. But these perceptions are based upon the misguided and dangerous theology known as “fundamentalism” which can be found all around us.
Christianity, at its best, gifts us with a wonderful cosmology, a wonderful view of the universe in which we find ourselves. As Delio notes: “The Spirit of God who hovered over this creation from the beginning continues to breathe … among us, luring us into a new creation.”
Read again the opening words of the first account of creation in Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1: 1–2) What beautiful images these images portray! And this Spirit of God is still sweeping over the face of the waters. This Spirit of God is still sweeping over the face of everything. This Spirit of God has never ceased sweeping over every nook and cranny of creation.
The universe has come forth from the abundance, the fecundity, the fertility, of God. Every creature, every person, every planet, every star, every galaxy, comes forth from the womb of God. Where else could it come from? I spoke about this “womb-imagery” in a recent sermon.
The reason underlying this great outpouring is Jesus Christ. As my favorite professor, Zachary Hayes, notes: “we discover … in Jesus the divine clue as to the … meaning not only of humanity but of the entire universe.” Our vast universe has a purpose. Our unimaginably-large and complex universe has a destiny. The universe, along with our beloved world, will, in the end, be completed in and through the Great Love that is Jesus Christ.
As Hayes writes: “(The universe) will be brought to the conclusion which God intends for it from the beginning, which is anticipated in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and glorified Christ.” In other words, our universe is not only benign. Our universe is benevolent. It welcomes us and invites us to share in the work of healing creation in and through Jesus Christ.
This open-ended, extravagant theology is how Christianity can again speak to our young; not a Christianity trapped in the isolation of fundamentalism; not a Christianity mired in countless “culture wars; not a Christianity afraid of its own shadow. We’re called to embrace and profess a Christianity that is in love with the world, not a Christianity that hates the world, not a Christianity drunk on the poisonous brew of Armageddon.
We, Christians, would do well to preach a conscious Christianity that applauds what science learns, applauds what science teaches, rather than labeling science an enemy of faith.
All creation is called to participate in the mystery of Christ. This is our faith. As our brother Paul writes in the Letter to the Ephesians: “Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power … this grace was given me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” (Ephesians 3: 7–9)
And further words from our brother Paul’s masterpiece, the Letter to the Romans: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now …” (Romans 8:19-22)
Our task is evident: to help make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things … (and) to assist creation in its labor pains. Our universe is not hostile. Our universe is not indifferent. Our universe is benevolent. Our universe is welcoming. Our universe, swept up by the Spirit of the Living God, is actively completing itself.
This past Sunday, part of my preaching revolved around the Psalms and how the Psalms serve us as great examples of prayer. So let me conclude with the Psalmist: “Praise God all you angels … Praise God, sun and moon; praise God all you shining stars!” (Psalm 148:2-3)
Let’s add something further: Praise God, you Milky Way Galaxy! Praise God, you galaxies scattered throughout the great expanse of space and time! Praise God, all you creatures great and small! Praise God, everything that has breath! Praise God, everything divinely-gifted with life! Praise God, everything in our vast Cosmos!
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643