Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
The Beauty of Creation?
I’ve finished rereading The Open Secret by Alister McGrath. It presents a powerful picture of natural theology as touching every aspect of life.
One of the branches of evidence for the argument from design is the notion that the world in which we live is beautiful. However, many have rightly noted that there seems to be a disconnect between this picture of the world as beautiful and loving and the reality that nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Yet Christian natural theology has a more complete view of the world:
…[N]ature as presently observed, cannot be assumed to be nature, as orginally created… The creation stands in need of renewal from a God who will create all things anew… There is a profoundly eschatological dimension to an authentically Christian natural theology… The fading beauty and goodness of the world are to be interpreted in light of the hope of their restoration and renewal. (208; 206, cited below)
Christianity does acknowledge the notion that creation is “groaning” and that nature may show much disorder and vileness alongside beauty and transcendence. The former attributes are results of the fall, but as McGrath noted, Christian natural theology is eschatological: it looks ahead to a future where all things will be renewed and consummated God’s divine plan.
It seems to me this vision of the future is something which gives natural theology within Christianity a broader explanatory scope which may not be matched by other systems. By orienting this world as it is in between a broader historical scheme of creation, fall, redemption, consummation, this vision of natural theology allows for and even expects many of the observed phenomena.
What do you think? What is your view of how the beauty of creation may be balanced with some of its ugliness?
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Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
“A New Vision for Natural Theology” A Book Review of “The Open Secret” by Alister McGrath– I review the book discussed in this post. It presents a vision for natural theology and apologetics.
We need to rethink our view of the natural world we have held since former Manichaean Augustine that the natural world is a fallen and corrupted version of its original perfection. We now know that nature was red in T-Rex tooth and Velociraptor claw long before man came on the scene. The natural world we see on David Attenborough or discover in the fossil record is the creation God called good. If you read the creation accounts in Job 38 and Psalm 104 you will see God claiming credit for providing prey for hungry young lions and ravens. God’s care for his good creation includes watching the sparrow fall and feeding hawk’s nestling. But I do agree there is a profound eschatological dimension to creation described in the bible. We are told God subject his creation to the bondage of decay Romans 8:21, (with no mention of this being the result of Adam’s sin), but Paul describes this as the pains of childbirth v 22. God created a world red in tooth and claw that he called good, but would lead to something even greater in the fullness of time.
Right, I think we need to distinguish between “the Fall” in the natural and the spiritual realm and the impact it has on humanity. Though I tend to lean towards Augustinian theology, I agree that we should avoid the tendency to make the Fall into an event that overthrew the natural order entirely.
Going with that, what do you think of the creation groaning? It is often cited as a proof for the notion that all of creation is indeed in just such a fallen–unnatural–state.
I think we need to rethink the idea of a spiritual fall too. Our fall is falling short (Rom 3:23) of God’s high call, not falling from an original state of perfection. Eve couldn’t rise beyond her natural appetites and desires.to follow God’s command. Gen 3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise…
You could associate creation groaning in labour with Eve’s curse Gen 3:16 “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing”, though that is addressed to Eve and other women by implication, not the rest of creation.But the imagery of labour pains goes back further into creation than that Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, Brought forth yalad means to bear young, while formed chul means to writhe in the pains of childbirth. Psalm 90 is describing all of creation, in being created, as subject to the pains of childbirth. Paul seem to be taking this idea, seeing creation still going through labour pains and interpreting it eschatologically. There is also no mention of Adam and Eve in Romans 8, the reference is to creation and all that has been created rather than the fall.
The responsibility that Adam has to tend the garden is the same priestly instruction given to the Levites who are to protect and tend the ark. If we go back to Genesis, the serpent is Nahash, the Leviathan, the sea monster. Yet Adam does not defend the garden or his bride from Nahash. What would it have taken for him to do so? More importantly, is self sacrifice built into the “very good” of God’s creation? Is it part of God raising our dust and the perfection creation groans towards and awaits?
We imagine halcyon days. Might they have always been in the future? Might the garden have been the place where creation could have been perfected? Certainly, Gethsemane and Golgotha are the gardens where Christ definitely chooses to tend and protect us.
Darach beat me to the punch: the design of the biosphere is predicated on prey/predator, so assuming a much different creationist beginning is a necessary premise for McGrath’s argument that is not associated by any evidence from or with the reality it purports to describe. By definition, this is a work of fiction and should be read a such.
I’ll let Darach respond for himself, but I’m pretty sure his point wasn’t so much that it was fictional but rather that the concept of pointing to the Fall as an explanation for death and animal suffering may be insufficient.
It’s wandering off the topic of death and predation in the natural world, but yes, I think our theological concept of the Fall that needs reexamining. I do read the story of Adam and Eve as a parable (and think Paul interpreted the story figuratively too, Adam is a figure of the one who was to come Rom 5:14. But even if you see Adam and Eve as historical individuals called by God into covenant with him, there is no suggestion in scripture that Adam and Eve were morally perfect or that we inherited a fallen sin nature from them. James 1:14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. this doesn’t just describe how we sin. Eve in the story was just the same as us.
Thanks for clarifying. Have you read the recent Zondervan Counterpoints book on “The Historical Adam”? I think you’d quite enjoy it and your view seems to line up with the archetypal view of John Walton.
McGrath has done some solid work in the realm of theology/science, especially in engaging the work of T.F. Torrance. This looks like an interesting book.
It might be my favorite book by him that I’ve read. I’m a huge fan of McGrath. He hasn’t let me down in anything I’ve read from him.
J.W.Wartick Thanks for clarifying. Have you read the recent Zondervan Counterpoints book on “The Historical Adam”? I think you’d quite enjoy it and your view seems to line up with the archetypal view of John Walton.
I haven’t read it but I have been following blogs and Biologos discussions on it. I have read snippets of Walton but prefer the term parables or apocalyptic to archetypal – bit too Jungian and more likely to turn people off. But the OT does use metaphorical personifications like that, especially dealing with history: Jeshurun, Jerusalem and her sisters.