FROM THE SMALL CATECHISM
TO THE BIG BANG
George L. Murphy,
St. Mark Lutheran Church,
Tallmadge, Ohio, U.S.A.
From Glaube und Denken (10.Jahrgang 1997), pp.29-45.
When we hear the word "creation", we are likely to think back to events of the distant past. The origin of the universe, the formation of the earth, and the development of life are the subjects of creation. The first verse of the Bible is "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." And science also speaks about the distant past. Weinberg's The First Three Minutes 1This provides a good introduction to modern scientific cosmology. describes what science has learned about that brief period of a couple of hundred seconds shortly after the Big Bang, some ten billion years ago.
When we think of creation in this way, discussions about the relationships between science and religion focus on the past. What can science say about the past, and what do its discoveries have to do with our religious beliefs about origins? We concentrate on the grand, large-scale questions of the origin, structure, and ultimate fate of life and the cosmos.
We must deal with those questions, but they are not the most profitable place to begin the dialogue between science and theology. I suggest that we follow the more modest procedure by which science has achieved its successes, and start by considering what goes on in the world in our own neighborhood at the present time. Such a procedure is in no way foreign to theology. In his Small Catechism, Luther explains that to believe in creation means, first of all, that God provides each one of us with what we need for our life today.
This approach to creation brings out the connections between this doctrine and the most distinctive feature of Christianity. Our doctrine of creation is part of a theology of the cross.
2. SCIENTIFIC COSMOLOGY
Science has been successful largely because it has concentrated on understanding the world of everyday experience before trying to deal with the grand questions of the structure and origin of the universe. The regularities of nature were first realized by observing the motions of the heavenly bodies, and the larger picture given by astronomy has always been kept in view. But consider how astronomical phenomena have come to be explained in the modern era.
In the time of Newton, the planetary system was thought to be described by the Copernican model which Kepler had improved. The planets moved around the sun in elliptical orbits, as did moons around their planets. But why did they move this way?
Newton's crucial insight was that gravity, which causes objects to fall to the earth, might extend into the celestial realm: he "began to think of gravity extending to ye orb of the moon."2 The story that this was prompted by seeing an apple fall to the ground is probably fictitious, but the idea may be correct. "Perhaps," Newton may have thought, "whatever makes an apple fall to the earth also makes the moon fall around the earth." Calculation shows that this may be correct if gravity weakens in proportion to the inverse square of the distance, and if - a critical assumption - the laws which govern the motion of apples on the earth also apply to the moon.
Perhaps all bodies have this power of gravitation. That could explain the motions of the planets around the sun. Eventually this idea of universal gravitation was extended far beyond the solar system to determine the masses of stars and help in the development of theories of stellar evolution. Today it is the tool we use to try to estimate the masses of galaxies.
None of this work involved reflection on how the universe as a whole came into being. There were cosmological speculations such as Kant's, but they were of secondary importance. Scientists concentrated on studying matter and motion in our own neighborhood of space and time, and then began to extrapolate what they learned to distant regions and the far past.
Physicists applied what they learned in their laboratories to the study of starlight, and thus were able to learn about the distribution, structure and evolution of stars. By the early years of this century astronomers knew that we were in the midst of many millions of stars spread through a disk about a hundred thousand light years across. This is the Milky Way, which is easily observed in our night skies in summer. But it was soon found to be only one of such galaxies. Others, such as the galaxy in Andromeda, are millions of light years away.
It was humbling to find that the universe of galaxies stretches out for thousands of millions of light years, but this was not yet the major breakthrough which set modern scientific cosmology on its way. The really radical discovery came from two lines of evidence which indicate that the universe is expanding - that the galaxies are moving away from one another.
The first evidence came from the analysis of light from galaxies, which is found to be shifted toward the red end of the spectrum. The simplest explanation for this is the Doppler effect. When a source of waves approaches an observer, the waves are squeezed together and the wavelength is decreased, while waves from a receding source are stretched out and the wavelengths increased. This can be heard in the sound from the horn of a passing automobile, which drops in pitch as the car passes you. That shows how "down to earth" the Doppler effect is. But the effect is also seen in the light from celestial bodies. The shift to longer wavelengths at the red end of galactic spectra suggests that these galaxies are receding from us.
At around the time this discovery was being made, Einstein realized that the key to understanding gravity was the old observation that all bodies fall at the same rate in a gravitational field. This led him to the use of non-Euclidean geometry and an explanation of gravitation in terms of the curvature of space-time. When his theory was applied to cosmology, it was found that the simplest models of the universe were expanding or contracting spaces. Such universes could not remain constant with time, but evolved. Thus Einstein's theory can provide models of an expanding universe in which galaxies recede from one another.
So observation and theory both point toward a "Big Bang" model, in which all the matter in the universe is expanding as from a cosmic explosion in the past. From measurements of galactic distances and speeds, we can estimate that this explosion occurred between ten and fifteen thousand million years ago, our present value for the age of the universe. The age of the earth, estimated from abundances of radioactive substances, is about five thousand million years.
These facts of modern cosmology were discovered by extrapolating discoveries made in our own vicinity. Our basic assumption has been that the laws of physics which describe phenomena on the earth today also apply throughout the universe of space and time. If this is so, we have the possibility of understanding the cosmos from our own quite small observation post.
That assumption could be wrong. The laws of physics which apply across vast stretches of the universe might differ from those we find on earth. Scientists who developed the Steady State cosmology thought that the law of conservation of energy was only an approximation, and that matter and energy came into existence at a very slow rate throughout space. Extrapolation of the cosmic expansion back to a Big Bang would then not be valid. The universe could expand forever without undergoing any systematic change, for the continual origin of matter would keep the average density of matter throughout the universe always the same.
Did the universe in the past differ from its state today, as the Big Bang theory says? Was the universe in the distant past much denser and hotter than it is now? The answer, we now know, is "Yes." In the 1960s, scientists detected microwave radiation from all parts of the sky. Measurements of this "microwave background" have convinced almost all cosmologists that it is a relic from the early universe, perhaps half a million years after the Big Bang.
Extrapolation of the laws discovered on earth has taken us close to the beginning of the universe. And we can get even closer. The lightest atomic nuclei were, we believe, formed by fusion reactions in the very hot conditions just after the Big Bang. By applying our knowledge of nuclear physics gained in terrestrial laboratories, we can find out something of what the universe was like when it was only a few minutes old. (We cannot reproduce all the conditions of this period together in a laboratory, since temperatures were several thousand million degrees. But we can study the individual nuclear reactions which may have taken place at that time.)
Cosmologists today are applying theories of particle physics and gravitation to get even closer to the beginning, within fractions of a second. The hope is to be able to get as close as possible to the very beginning, and thus understand why the universe today is as we observe it.
Keeping in mind these facts about our picture of the universe and the way science has gained them, we turn to the Christian understanding of the world's relationship to God. In traditional theology there were two relevant parts of the doctrine of creation. Creation in the narrow sense was God's act of calling all things into being ex nihilo in the past. This work of origination was thought to be supernatural, beyond the scope of philosophy or science. But creation also included providence, sometimes described as "continuing creation." While this might include miracles, God's ordinary providence was understood to take place in the everyday processes of the world. This was formalized in ideas of "co-operation": God "works with" the processes of nature, as a carpenter works with a hammer or saw to build a house. (One difference is that God created his tools out of nothing, which ordinary carpenters cannot do!)
Through God's providential acts, the original creation is preserved and governed toward the ends which God wishes to accomplish. Providence was thought of as a work secondary to God's original work of creation. That is why creation so often is identified with the beginning of things. I suggest that we reverse the way in which we think of origination and providence, and discuss first God's action in the world today. After we have a coherent way to think about this, we will go on to consider the divine work of origination.
When Luther explains in the Small Catechism what it means to say that God is "creator of heaven and earth", it is the present divine activity in the world which he emphasizes.3
I believe that God has created me together with all creatures. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property - along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. God does all this out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
"All creatures" includes dinosaurs and distant galaxies . But Luther does not emphasize God's work in the past. His focus is on the fact that God puts shoes on our feet and bread on our tables.
For definiteness, let us concentrate on the way we get our food. The Bible says that God provides it: "The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing" (Ps.145:15-16 NRSV). But there is another way to speak of the matter. Grain grows in the fields through processes of weather, soil chemistry, genetics, and photosynthesis by which green plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates. The energy in sunlight comes from thermonuclear reactions in the center of the sun. When wheat has grown, it is turned into bread through the work of farmers, millers and bakers, and the various activities of the economic system.
All of those things that happen in order for us to have bread can be explained quite naturally without any reference to God. We understand these processes in much greater detail than anyone in Luther's time; but long before the sixteenth century, people knew that bread came through the regular processes of nature. If you don't sow and harvest, you go hungry. Intelligent Christians have always understood that when they pray, "Give us this day our daily bread", God does not normally respond by making loaves of bread appear out of nothing.
There is a network of natural processes which connects sun and earth and seeds and the bread on our table. God's action is not some special link in that network, to which we can point as evidence of God's involvement. God is at work in every process, co-operating with it.
Natural processes are thus instruments with which God works. But they play another role as well. Since we can understand what happens in terms of them, we are never able directly to observe God at work in the world. No matter how carefully we study events with scientific techniques, all we will see will be the materials of the world interacting in various ways. Natural processes hide God from our direct observation. And this is precisely the way in which Luther speaks in another place:4
What else is all our work to God - whether in the fields, in the city, in the house, in war, or in government - but just such a child's performance, by which He wants to give His gifts in the fields, at home, and everywhere else? These are the masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things.
Natural processes are not only God's instruments but God's masks, larvae dei.
The idea that God is "concealed" by the ongoing work of creation goes to the heart of Luther's theology of the cross. Since God is hidden, we cannot argue from the beauties of nature or the regularities of physical processes to the existence or activity of God. Such arguments are common ways in which people try to arrive at some understanding of God, as the continuing popularity of "arguments from design" for the existence of God testify. Luther too, at times, accepted the traditional idea that even the heathen should be able to recognize that there is a creator by such considerations. But in his theses for the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, he rejected attempts to discover God by such means as false "theologies of glory." Luther's distinction between such theologies and the genuine theology of the cross is set out here.5
That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.
He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
The hiddenness of God's activity in natural processes is the same type of thing as the hiddenness of God's saving work in the cross of Christ. Nothing seems less salvific to our natural way of thinking than the God-forsaken man who hangs dead on Golgotha. Yet God is revealed to faith precisely here, in the apparent absence of God.
God is present in the beauty of the world and the regularities of nature which science describes, but that is not where we begin to discern God. We know the true God who is present and active in the world only when God has been revealed in "suffering and the cross." The characteristic activity of God is to accomplish his gracious work in spite of the apparent lack of any possibility of it from a creaturely standpoint. The God revealed in the cross is the one "who justifies the ungodly, ... gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Rom.4:5, 17 NRSV). And the task of theology in its interaction with science is to discern the activity of this God in the phenomena which science explores. I have called this approach to the science-theology dialogue "chiasmic cosmology", a search for the God "placed crosswise [echiasen] in the universe". That is a phrase which Plato used in his creation story in the Timaeus, and which Justin Martyr thought was a prophecy of the cross of Christ.6
To see the world in this way, as a creation of the God revealed in the crucified and risen Christ, is a matter of faith. We believe in God as the creator. Science can tell us how things happen in the world, but not that the world is the work of a creator. The scientist may be struck with a sense of awe and wonder at the order of the universe. But science cannot compel one to believe in a creator, let alone tell us who that creator might be.
This is no appeal for theologians to tell scientists how to do their work. Within its own domain, science needs no theological assistance. There is a story that Napoleon asked the physicist Laplace why he had made no mention of God in his monumental work on celestial mechanics. The scientist is supposed to have replied, "Sire, I did not need that hypothesis." And as a scientist, Laplace was right! No competent scientist, whatever his or her religion, would be content to explain a puzzling result of an experiment by saying "God did it."
God is hidden by natural processes because of the thoroughness with which they can be described by rational laws. The idea that the world can be understood "Though God were not given"7 is demanded by the theology of the cross. If some natural phenomena could only be understood by reference to God, if God were only partly hidden, then God would not be hidden at all.
This suggests that God freely limits the use of his power in creation, and normally acts only through natural processes. The divine activity is kenotic: As Christ "emptied himself", took the form of a slave, and was obedient to death on a cross (Phil.2:5-8), God has "emptied" himself of the prerogative of acting arbitrarily, and limits himself to working in accord with the laws of nature which he has created. In the language of scholasticism, we observe in the world the exercise of God's ordinate, but not God's absolute, power.
This does not rule out all miracles. We will see that the laws of physics have enough flexibility to allow unexpected things to happen. Miracles are best thought of as rare phenomena which God has allowed for in the laws of physics rather than as "violations" of those laws. But we should resist an undue eagerness for miracles, which is often a sign of a theology of glory.
God's self-limitation is a tremendous gift. If the universe did not operate in accord with rational laws, we would not be able to make sense of the world. Not only would science be impossible, but life itself would be a nightmare. We wouldn't know what substances were nutritious and which were poisonous, when the sun would rise, or whether water would flow uphill or down. But because the universe is rational, we can live in it, not as slaves or animals in a zoo, but as intelligent citizens of the cosmos. This is an aspect of the goodness of creation (Gen.1:31), which van Till refers to it as creation's "functional integrity".8 The world works thoroughly and well. God does not have to keep taking his tools back to the shop for repairs.
4. THE TOOLS OF GOD
Science by itself does not tell us about God, but theology by itself does not tell us about the instruments God uses. To understand these we must consider the present state of physics. A full survey is impossible now, but some points relevant to our discussion should be noted.
First, the world does make sense. We never will understand the world completely, but the successes of science can give us confidence that it has a rational pattern to which our laws of physics are approximations. These laws are not merely imposed on the world in our attempts to control it. The objective rationality of the universe is shown by the fact that our theories are able to predict new phenomena, which are then found to exist in reality. Halley's prediction of the return of the comet named for him and Yukawa's prediction of the pi-meson as the mediator of nuclear forces are only two important examples of this predictive capacity of science.
The cosmic order is mathematical: "God is a mathematician of a very high order," exclaimed Dirac, "And ... he used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe."9 But the particular order that we observe is not a necessary truth. Since the discoveries of non-Euclidean geometries in the nineteenth century, we have known that there is not just a single valid system of mathematics. Other universes, embodying other rational patterns could exist. Torrance has thus spoken of the doctrine of the contingent rationality of the universe as an expression of divine freedom and divine reason.10 The universe makes sense, but a sense which God has freely chosen. Thus observation of the world, as well as thought, must be used in order to find out what the universe is really like.
Secondly, our world is one of change. This dynamic character is obvious with the expansion of the universe, biological evolution, or continental drift, but we also see it on the smallest scales. The world is not composed of particles of inert substance which bounce off one another in various ways. At a fundamental level, matter is interaction. Two electrons interact with one another by exchanging light quanta, but a single electron also emits and absorbs quanta, and these processes of emission and absorption make the electron what it is. This is a consequence of Einstein's relation E = mc2 between energy and mass: The energy or operation (energeia) of a system is identified with the material of that system. What appears to us merely as inert mass can be converted into other forms of energy and can make things happen.
Matter interacts through gravity, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong nuclear forces. Progress has been made toward unification of these interactions, and some physicists hope to understand them all as manifestations of one underlying force. This would, in principle, give us a full understanding of the nature of matter. But whether or not such a "theory of everything" can be achieved is still an open question.
Finally, the metaphors of "tools" or "instruments" of God should not mislead us into an overly mechanical picture of the world. These tools function in more subtle ways than do the tools of a carpenter. Quantum theory shows that, at the atomic level, matter does not obey the laws which govern machines in everyday life. There are unavoidable uncertainties about sub-atomic processes. They are described by mathematical laws, but those laws predict only probabilities for various outcomes. At the level of everyday life as well, strict determinism is a pure abstraction. The behavior of a complicated system like the earth's atmosphere is so sensitive to small changes in starting conditions that it is impossible to predict the weather for some date even a few weeks in the future with any precision.
Thus there is room for freedom in the laws which describe the events taking place in the world at all levels. The God who works with these processes, and even limits himself to their operations, can still use them to accomplish the divine purpose. That means, among other things, that we can pray for rain and think that our prayers may make a difference.5. "IN THE BEGINNING ..."
We return now to questions of origins. Science deals with these questions by gaining an understanding of processes today and then extrapolating it into the past. We follow the same course in theology, beginning with God's action in the world today and then extending that to understand God's actions in bringing the universe and life into being. We are not thinking of God's co-operation with natural processes simply as a way in which God maintains and governs what God originated. Instead, we try to understand origination in terms of co-operation. By examining ancient rocks and light from distant galaxies, we can tell that the basic interactions of matter have not changed significantly over the course of cosmic history. The tools which God uses have not changed since they were brought into being, though they may be combined in new ways. If God today uses nuclear fusion reactions in the sun to provide the energy which results in our bread, God could use the same processes to create the elements needed for life in the cores of earlier stars which exploded and contributed their material to our sun and its planets. Before that, God worked with gravitation to make galaxies condense when the universe was young. Still earlier, God used the interactions of quantum fields to create the basic particles of matter which compose galaxies, stars, and living things.
And we can try to go back even further in time. Some cosmologists hope to be able to explain the origin of matter itself as a result of rapidly changing gravitational fields in the first fraction of a second of the Big Bang. It may be possible to explain how the material content of the universe came into being in terms of laws of physics which we find to be valid today.
How could this be? Lucretius asserted long ago that "nothing comes from nothing", and that has generally been the attitude of materialist philosophies. However, relativity theory and quantum mechanics give us some new insights. Because of Einstein's discovery of the equivalence of mass and energy, physics today recognizes no separate law of conservation of matter, but only a conservation of total energy, including that residing in apparently inert matter.
We may imagine a state of the universe which initially contains no material particles or energy of any kind. Quantum theory allows us to imagine a discontinuous "jump" to a state in which there are some particles if the total energy remains the same, and that is possible if the negative gravitational potential energy between the particles just balances the positive mc2 of the particles. Matter would have come into being without violating any physical law.12
That is a crude model, and more sophisticated ones are needed if the argument is to be convincing. Einstein's theory will not allow us to speak of matter originating in a pre-existing space and time. Space, time, and matter are linked, and must have originated together. But the model outlined here indicates the possibility of a scientific account of the origin of matter.
In an even more radical way, Hawking has developed a speculative model in which the universe does not come into being at all, but simply is.13 If this attempt were successful, we might need to think of creation as an eternal dependence of the world upon God. In fact, the idea that God is the ontological source of the universe is the basic content of belief in creation. The idea of a temporal beginning, though important in the theological tradition, is secondary.
Theologically, we see such work as an attempt to discover the tools by which God creates the world. Atheists will resist the use of these theories, which they thought had eliminated the idea of divine creation, by theologians. They are correct in arguing that we have not proved that there is a God who is using these natural processes as instruments. It would be inconsistent with the theology of the cross to try to "prove" God or show the necessity of God from scientific cosmology. But we start from the standpoint of faith, the belief that the crucified is the creator, and then try to make sense of that belief. It is a matter of "faith in search of understanding".
Objections also come from some Christians. Surely, they argue, at the beginning of the universe we must be able to see God's hand at work. But from the standpoint of faith, we are called to trust in the creator of all things "placed crosswise in the universe". The creator is the one who, as Bonhoeffer said, allows himself "to be edged out of the world and on to the cross".14 He is not "necessary" for a scientific understanding of the cosmos. God creates the universe by means of natural processes, in such a way that only those processes can be observed. God is willing to have those processes which he himself has ordained get the credit and acclaim for the origin of the world. The creator allows himself to be upstaged by his own creatures!
Whether he intended to do so or not, Haydn expressed this idea beautifully in his oratorio Die Sch–pfung. Very quietly come the opening words of the third verse of Genesis, "Und Gott sprach, `Es werde Licht,' und es ward" - and then a thunderous "LICHT!" And the roar and splendor of God's creatures, the musical expression of the light, drown out the "still small voice" of the creator. Space-time and quantum fields are, even more completely than Luther could have imagined, "the masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things." In the very act of creation we see the divine emptying of self which the cross of Christ reveals. As Bonhoeffer says in another place, "From the beginning the world is placed in the sign of the resurrection of Christ from the dead."15
This understanding of creation leads to a very high view of science, but we must be wary of excessively exalted ideas of what science can do. To say that the concept of God is not necessary for scientific understanding of the universe does not mean that science can explain everything. The universe is, as we have noted, contingent. Not only might the things in the universe have been arranged in other ways, but the laws of physics might have been different. Of all the possible universes which can exist in a mathematician's mind, why does this particular one exist in reality? A scientist does not have to ask that question, but of course may ask it. In doing so, however, he or she is going beyond the bounds of scientific investigation.
The Christian understanding of divine creation of a rational world comes through the biblical concepts of the wisdom and Logos of God: "All things came into being through [the Logos]." Connections can be made between this idea and Plato's concept of the material world as a representation of forms. These relationships are significant in view of the platonic strain in the thought of a number of prominent modern physicists, such as Heisenberg and Dirac.
The platonic tradition is helpful, but it can be used in a Christian understanding of creation only with some significant corrections. The material world is not an inferior shadow of the world of forms. If anything, it is superior to a world of bare ideas. "God saw everything that he had made" - not "everything that he had thought" - "And, behold, it was very good."
Connected with that view of the material world is the fact that we know who the Logos is only through the Incarnation. It is necessary to speak of the Logos before the birth of Jesus, the "unfleshed Logos": "In the beginning was the Logos." But the Logos would be only a catalogue of designs for possible universes if it were not that "the Logos became flesh and lived among us." And that brings us again to the cross: "And we beheld his glory."6. THE PRESENCE OF THE CRUCIFIED
The theology of the cross insists that God shares in the pain, abandonment, and mortality of the world. The cross is the cross of God, and on Good Friday, as that scandalous line of Rist's hymn sings, "Gott selbst liegt tot".16 This gives us a fresh way to deal with one of the most difficult problems of theology, the presence of evil in the world and even, according to modern theories of evolution, God's use of evil in the creative process.
When Darwin and Wallace presented their theories of evolution in 1859, they suggested a particular class of processes as critical in the development of life. There are always variations among members of a species of plants or animals, and some members will be better suited for survival in a given environment than will others. Since an ecosystem can only support a limited number of organisms, those best able to obtain food, breed, and avoid predation will be most likely to have viable offspring and pass on their characteristics. Species change slowly over many generations through this process, and new species will come into being. That is why Darwin entitled his theory On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
The idea of a gradual development of living things fits in well with the picture of God's creative work through natural processes. A theological understanding of evolution is an application of the doctrine of providence. We see this mediated creation of living things in Genesis 1. God does not call forth plants and animals from a vacuum but says "Let the earth bring forth ..." and "Let the waters bring forth ..." living things. Many of the church fathers, such as Gregory of Nyssa, saw this clearly, as Messenger has described in detail.17
But Darwin and Wallace said more than that living things have evolved. They argued that natural selection was a major factor in this development. Life has evolved by processes of competition, privation, death, and extinction. We need not exaggerate the picture of "nature red in tooth and claw": The extinction of many species has been a matter of slow decline in birth rates rather than violent death. But extinction is death. There are no more dinosaurs. And the extinction of the dinosaurs made available ecological room for the development of mammals, and eventually of homo sapiens. We are here in part because other species have died.
These ideas are disturbing because they suggest a picture of God quite different from the one we expect. They have made it difficult for many modern people to believe in divine creation. How could a God who is both good and powerful use suffering, loss, and death to bring about life? It is not surprising that Darwin, who intended to study for the ministry when he first went to the university, was by the end of his life not sure that he could believe in any God.
But the true God is not "good" or "powerful" in the way that theologies of glory demand. God does not simply make everything work out well by divine fiat. Nor is God an amoral deity who ruthlessly forces creatures to suffer in order to work out the divine purpose without himself being affected by their fate. In the Incarnation, God becomes a participant in evolution. And on the cross, God participates in that process on the side of the losers. In natural selection we see the hand, not of a beneficent God of a theology of glory, but of the creator who is "placed crosswise in the universe."
The theology of the cross does not give a neat logical solution to the problem of evil. It does mean that when creatures suffer, are abandoned, and die, God goes through it with them. Luther said, "The cross alone is our theology."18 We may add, "The cross alone is our theodicy."
And the resurrection of the crucified shows that while "survival of the fittest" may be an accurate description of the biological process through which life has evolved, it is not God's last word. There is hope for those who have not survived - and in the end, that includes all of us.
The hope that is given in the resurrection of the Crucified extends beyond our human species. We are not the only object of God's love and concern. Paul speaks in Romans of "the whole creation" finally being liberated from bondage to decay and being given "the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom.8:21-22 NRSV. Cf. also Sir.18:13). As the vision of Isaiah 11 suggests, all living things have a place in God's ultimate future.
How could this be? One of the basic christological principles is "what has not been assumed has not been healed."19 To save the whole human, God became fully human. But we are organically related to all other species on earth, and each of us bears in our body the evolutionary history of humanity. The fully human Jesus also embodies that history. He too is related to all life on earth, and thus recapitulates creation. And fully divine, he brings all things back to God. "Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Col.1:20 NRSV).
1. Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes, updated edition (Basic, New York, 1988).
2. Melbourne G. Evans, American Journal of Physics 26, 619, 1958.
3. A Contemporary Translation of Luther's Small Catechism (AugsburgFortress, Minneapolis, 1996), p.21.
4. Luther's Works, Vol.14 (Concordia, St. Louis, 1958), p.114.
5. Luther's Works, Vol.31 (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1957), p.40.
6. Plato, "Timaeus" in The Collected Dialogues of Plato (Princeton University, Princeton NJ, 1961), p.1161. Justin Martyr, "The First Apology of Justin" in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1 (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 1979), p.183. George L. Murphy, Trinity Seminary Review 13, 83, Fall 1991.
7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (Fontana, London, 1959), pp.120-121.
8. Howard J. Van Till, Science and Christian Belief 8.1, 21, 1996.
9. P.A.M. Dirac, Scientific American 206, May 1963, p.53.
10. Thomas F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order (Oxford, New York, 1981).
11. Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe (Penguin, Baltimore, 1951), p.31.
12. George L. Murphy, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 39, 221, 1987.
13. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (Bantam, New York, 1988), Ch.8.
14. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, p.121.
15. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall/Temptation (Macmillan, New York, 1959), p.19.
16. Eberhard J¸ngel, God as the Mystery of the World (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 1983), p.64.
17. Ernest Messenger, Evolution and Theology (Macmillan, New York, 1932).
18. "CRUX sola est nostra theologia". WA 5, p.172.
19. Aloys Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, 2d ed. (John Knox, Atlanta, 1975), pp.321 & 531.