Evolving Theology

Tags

, , , ,

By David Sullivan

Deity in the ancient world

Interest in and worship of deity are probably as old as humanity itself. The ancients had stories about their various understandings of the deity, stories which have been powerfully influential on communities and cultures right down to the present day. I suggest that the constancy of the interest in deities and their stories in history, however, suggests a deep need within humanity for something transcendent that will help people make sense of the world as it is.

Deity of the ancient world was most commonly understood in terms of multiple gods or goddesses. The ancients also believed that the origins of the deity and of the cosmos were closely connected. The sun and moon and stars, for example, were often depicted as gods. In one well-known creation myth of ancient Babylon, the Enuma Elish, deities emerged out of the primordial waters, and the heavens and the earth were ultimately formed out of the carcass of one of the deities slain by another.

Ancient cultures understood the origins of the cosmos in what is best described as functional terms. People in the ancient world believed that something existed not be virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function within an ordered systems (John Walton). (In our modern world, because of the huge increase in scientific knowledge, we tend to think of existence primarily in material terms.) The author of Genesis, being an ancient, was no different from his or her contemporary world in having a functional understanding of what it meant for something to exist.

The ancient deities were not unlike human beings, with similar daily routines, desires, needs, and moods. Their anatomy was also similar, being equipped for sex and childbearing. Human beings in almost all of the ancient creation stories were made by the gods to be slaves for the gods, in which their role was to satisfy the needs and whims of the gods. Humanity, then, was not highly valued, and sacrifices to appease the gods often included human sacrifice, including sacrifice of children.

The Deity of the Bible

In the book of Genesis and the books that follow in the Old Testament we find a very different story from other ancient texts about the deity. Whilst the cosmology of Genesis is very similar to that of other ancient texts (e.g. flat earth with a dome over the earth to hold the waters), Genesis has a very different understanding of deity. Genesis 1 describes the construction of the cosmos as a temple. The deity, whilst deeply and lovingly involved in the running of the cosmos, remains separate. In the Genesis creation account, the cosmos, whilst not divine, is sacred.

It was common amongst the religions of the ancient world to place an image of the deity in the temple to represent the deity. Genesis is no different. The deity places an image in the cosmic temple, but in this case the image is the human person, whether male or female. The role of human beings as image bearers is to have dominion over and care sacrificially for the world.

In being made in the image of the deity each human being is exalted by the deity. Humans are not made as slaves to meet the needs of the deity, for the deity has no needs.

What is the deity of the Old Testament like?

It is clear from the foregoing that the deity of the Old Testament is unlike the deities of other ancient religions. This fundamental characteristic of this deity is goodness. Everything this deity has created is good, in fact very good, implying that the deity is also good. The goodness of this deity is manifested in blessing, particularly in the blessing of humanity (Genesis 1:28). The goodness of this deity is also manifested in steadfast love (psalm 36:5), compassion, as rescuer of humanity, and wrath against injustice. Some, like the atheist Richard Dawkins, may describe the deity of the Old Testament in negative terms, for example, as genocidal, or as a bully, but this does not square with the descriptions of the Old Testament itself.

Conclusion

Stories have a powerful influence on communities, nations and cultures. The stories of deities are no different. The question of deity addresses questions about the world, why it is like it is, who we are, and what our role in the cosmos is. We owe it to ourselves to take the subject of deity seriously. The question will be, then, which story makes the most sense to us, offers the most satisfying explanation for the world as we know it, and offers hope for the future. And perhaps not knowing where all that might take me, am I willing to take the chance of going down that road?

Advertisements

Evolving Biology, Evolving Theology

Tags

, , , , , ,

On the last day in September, a group of eight brave people organized (and implemented) a public presentation in the North-Eastern region of Melbourne.  ‘Evolving Biology, Evolving Theology’ was the title they used and the forum was held in an Anglican Church hall.  Seventy people attended the forum and it was comprised of two 20-25 minute talks followed by a comment/question time with a panel of four (three scientists with active Christian faith and one Vicar).

Here is a summary of the kind of material that was handled during the talks:

The goal of the evening was to explore how humankind seeks to understand the matter of the universe and how it was formed.  The first presenter (a scientist with faith) focused on the unfolding of matter and life on earth.  We looked at human stories, myths and narratives that arose to comprehend the universe and our place in it, and also how modern science developed and evolved to examine and understand the physical nature of the universe.  The speaker invited us to ponder how it is that life emerged from the dust so that it may speculate and observe itself.  So the first talk considered ‘science’.

The second talk explored our spiritual intuition and God’s creation and belief that the universe has agency in God.  The speaker (an Anglican Vicar) took us on a journey through history looking at how mankind has understood, and related to, Deity at different times up until the present day.  The concept of atheism was considered and we were given a fresh look at the creation story recorded in Genesis.  The presenter contended that science and spirituality can, and should, complement one another and draw synergy from each other.  It  was demonstrated that the theological underpinnings of science are that God created a rational and intelligible universe which humankind can investigate.

evolving image(image by Natalie Tuke)

These talks, therefore, were concerned with the ‘middle ground’ between science and spirituality, and invite us to consider that science and belief in God are in fact complementary and draw strength from each other.  Often people experience challenges in reconciling the two and feel that they are mutually exclusive.

Over the next six weeks, we will further explore this topic.  The posts will be written by a variety of people and we would encourage you (the reader) to engage with the discussion and express your opinions through making comments or asking questions.  Everybody’s contribution is valuable and adds to the wisdom of ‘Evolving Biology, Evolving Theology’.

Our Evolving Lives

Tags

, , , , ,

The verb ‘to evolve’ is one of the most beautiful words in the English language.  It means to develop, mature, move forward, grow, open out, unfold, unroll, expand, enlarge, extend.  The word holds the connotation that this unfolding, this unfurling, will happen gradually with a pace of development which is slow and natural.  As things evolve – whether it be a part of nature or our understanding of what it means to be human – the changes come gently and are usually accompanied with a sense of anticipation and gratitude.  We see the new thing, or new thought, arriving and are ready to receive it with celebration at the coming of something that we have waited for and pre-empted.  There are no shocks or traumatic shifts with an unfolding.  The unfurling of a fern is a predictable and controlled growth experience like coming to know a great truth slowly; gradually over time.

So, the development of life on earth has experienced long periods of unfolding as species have evolved certain traits and the environment has either favoured these characteristics or rejected them.  Size, color, function, intellect and many many other aspects of living creatures can be judged ‘good’ and carried on into the next timeframe or ‘unworthy’ and left behind.  There have also been cataclysms (sudden events of an extreme nature) including ice-ages that have suddenly cut off whole branches of species like some kind of cosmic gardener let loose with large secateurs.  Other species then take over the dominant narrative from the dormant nodes of earlier stories considered dead and buried.   This has been the dance of evolution on the earth over millions and millions of years.

And here we are today.  Humans are the dominant species on earth.  Some think this happened by chance, others wish we were not quite so dominant, and still others consider it quite miraculous (aided by the intentional hand of the Divine).

Like Dr Brian Cox, I think it was in some mysterious way INEVITABLE.

Hope and experience

Tags

, , , , ,

I was discussing faith issues with some friends and we were trying to work out what people were looking for in their spiritual journey. Our conclusion was that there were those who were looking for an experience of the Divine and those who were needing hope to get them through life’s journey. I am sure there are other motivations and desires but these were the two that we arrived at during our brief discussion.

In some ways the two are similar, as our experiences of the Divine, such as thin places, moments of intuition, the still small voice within etc. remind us that we live in a universe that is so much richer than our five senses can detect. And even that we are not alone. And this can give rise to hope. Hope that our circumstances can improve, hope that what we do here on Earth can have a fuller, richer meaning, hope that there is an ultimate purpose to existence.

What do you think people are looking for? Are they just answering a primeval urge to seek the Divine or are they wanting to receive something back as well?

I hope that you get to experience the Divine in some way this week.

Blessings.

feminine divine, ‘sorry’

Tags

, , , , ,

In regards to Elohyim, as we do not see you as powerful

In regards to Creator, as we do not know you have fashioned all things

In regards to El shaddai, for we have not allowed you to feed us

In regards to Ruach, for we have not received breath from you

nor have we moved with the winds of your spirit; your plans

 

In respect to Yahweh, as we have ignored your right to define yourself

In respect to Lord, for we have not understood your authority

In respect to Shepherdess, as we have not welcomed your protection

In respect to Wisdom, for we have shunned you and chosen folly

and did not see you become flesh; Yeshua, the Christ

 

In relation to the Lamb, as we have not honoured your gentleness

In relation to the Lioness, for we have not admired your strength

In relation to the Spirit, as we have discounted you and grieved you

In relation to the Fire, for we have quenched you and silenced you

To our shame and own peril, we have done this great injustice

 

In spite of all this, you have pursued us as the beloved

You have gathered us to yourself as chicks under the wing

You have consoled and comforted us as the Great Mother

You have taught us, healed us, guided us, stayed with us

loved us with everlasting love; drawn us with true kindness

The Smithy

Tags

, , , , , ,

What do you want from me?
How hot must the forge be?
Why take me back to the anvil
… yet again
I despise the hammer

I despise the hammer
the tool used to shape me
to temper me
Why do you demand strength from me
the heat, the tempering
Was my heart hard like a rock
unmalleable
Was I too stubborn for the potter’s hands
too unyielding

What do you want from me?
How hot must the forge be?
Why take me back to the anvil
… yet again
I despise the hammer

The potter treads the clay
The winemaker treads the grapes
The potter forms the chalice
The butler fills the cup
The farmer grows the grain
The baker makes the bread
The blacksmith heats the metal
The blacksmith beats the metal
I despise the hammer

What do you want from me?
How hot must the forge be?
Why take me back to the anvil
… yet again
I despise the hammer

Did I ever say to the potter
‘You did not make me’
Or did I ever accuse you
‘You have no understanding’
I do not recall saying such things
I know you understand
Being human is what you did
Remaking a pot is your right
You are the potter laureate

What do you want from me?
How hot must the forge be?
Why take me back to the anvil
… yet again
I despise the hammer

 
Polluted now the potter’s field
on it, blood was spilled
Thirty silver shekel pieces
all the clay lay still
God’s human form despised
lay dark inside a cave
Until the sun arose three times
Love destroys the grave

And now I weigh the suns of God
against the finest gold
Regarded not as earthen jars
but … chalices of gold

Even more about faith

Tags

, , , ,

The word “faith” creates many impressions in my mind. From the faith to heal the sick to the faith to move mountains, the common associations come with doing things or seeing them get done. Then there is the faith that is linked to believing things that we cannot prove.

For me, though, the strongest connection to the word “faith” is with trust. Trust that the circumstances I find myself in will turn out alright, or trust that someone else has ultimate control over the universe. This is the kind of faith that I think about the most frequently.

So that then leads to questions about what does trust look like? Can trust sometimes look like inactivity? When is it time to trust and when is it time to take action yourself?

For me I think I know when I have faith at a particular time when I can go to bed at night and leave my concerns behind, or when I can get up in the morning without being preoccupied with the concerns of the future.

And that only comes about when I remember that the Divine One loves me and cares about me.

I hope that you can find comfort in that.

More about faith

Tags

, , , ,

‘Faith gets excited about change, rather than resisting it’.

You know you are hanging around with some seriously amazing people when, over coffee, a friend says something as profound as this in the course of everyday life. Thank you Cheryl; you are a genius.
This quotable comment is transparent in its meaning, full of wisdom and easily understood.

Let’s take a look at a frequently used comment about faith: ‘Faith is a crutch’. Now, this statement is usually not intended as a compliment, and often insinuates weakness. It is commonly framed in judgements like: ‘She uses faith as a crutch’ or ‘He needs his faith to get through life’.

Well, good on them! She, who knows how to lean on faith when she feels injured or rejected, and He, who knows that life is hard enough without doing it all alone. Both He and She are willing to draw on the strength and faithfulness of a Divine being. Maybe they have come to know through previous experiences that this God/dess is real and active and caring, and, that this Deity can be relied upon in hard times as well as good times. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps they’re onto something!?

There is a beautiful old hymn that I use to love as a child entitled, ‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?’. I can’t remember all of the words but I can remember these lyrics from the chorus: ‘We have an anchor that keeps our soul, Steadfast and sure while the billows roll, Fastened to a rock that cannot move, Grounded sure and deep in the Saviour’s Love’ (or something like that).

Call it a crutch, call it an anchor, call it a necessity, call it a strength, call it a weakness. By any other name, it is faith. And I think it is beautiful and truthful.

While we are on the topic of faith, I would also like to propose a statement of my own that you may quote if you consider it worthy of such esteem: ‘Faith is sometimes the only reasonable option’. This comment speaks against the dualistic understanding of the relationship between faith and reason. Our regular readers will be aware that many of our blog posts are concerned with the Science/Spirituality conversation and that we like to play in the ‘middle ground’ of this interaction of synergy. We are well aware that faith and reason can, and should, be used in the same sentence as often as possible.
So, it is with this freedom that I dance the dances of faith and I sing the songs of faith. And, I laugh often because I know that I also hold the crutch of faith for times of injury or weakness. And I know the anchor of faith holds me safe and secure in the rough waters of life.

I would like to finish with a question. Is it reasonable (wise, healthy, intelligent) to reject the gift of faith when it is offered to us? Who knows what that small seed of faith will produce.

Faith

Tags

, , , ,

What is faith?  Can we have too little faith?  Can we have too much faith?  Do we have enough faith?  What, or who, should we put our faith in?  If we have faith in a Divine being, what is S/He like?  Is faith quantitative or qualitative?  What does faith achieve?  Where do you find faith?  How do you get it?  Is it worth searching for?  Or will it arrive as a gift?  Is it something we do?  Or something we choose to receive/reject?  What does faith look/smell/taste/sound/feel like?

I will not attempt to answer these questions.  I guess I believe that anyone who asks such questions probably already has faith.  So, instead, I will walk you through what I think I know about faith:

  • Faith is a unique thing for each person; as unique as the relationship Creator has with each one of us.
  • The character of the God that we have faith in is more important than the faith itself.
  • For me, faith is trusting in the faithfulness of God.
  • ‘God is Love’.  I have faith in this statement and this God.
  • It is impossible to please God without faith.
  • In the Hebrew/Greek sacred text, faith is often talked about in the context of small things (mustard seeds, children) so it is probably more qualitative in essence than quantitative.
  • What can be achieved through faith is talked about in the context of large things like moving mountains, growing big trees, enacting miracles.
  • Maybe we should not ask ourselves, ‘Is my faith big/good enough?’, but instead, ‘What color is my faith? What color is your faith?’
  • To believe that God loves me perfectly, sent Christ to secure my friendship and asks me merely to have an inkling of faith to receive abundant eternal life is probably not too much for me (most days!!).
  • If this is too much for you at the moment, may I suggest you hang with someone who has faith in a God/dess that you want to believe in. Also, spend some time with young children (under 7) because they are our teachers when it comes to having faith.

So, please, don’t make faith harder than it is, and don’t judge another person’s style of faith and don’t belittle your own attempt at faith.  All (and any) faith delights our loving, faithful Creator.  Christians believe that when Christ returns, one of the big questions will be, ‘Is there faith on earth?’

I hope the answer is ‘Yes!’

If you would like to read more about faith, I suggest reading this blog post: Faith so Simple