Reimagining Adventism, Part 6b: Creation and Absurdity

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Reimagining Adventism, Part 6b: Creation and Absurdity

I want to leave, to go somewhere where I should be really in my place, where I would fit in… but my place is nowhere; I am unwanted. – Jean Paul Sartre

 

In his debate with Ken Ham, American television presenter Bill Nye opened his remarks saying, “Here tonight we’re going to have two stories. And we can compare Mr. Ham’s story to the story from what I will call ‘the outside’…”[1] In effect, Nye was summarizing the entire creation and evolution debate, with all of its complex variables, down to the bottom line—stories. Creation is a story. Evolution is a story. One is rooted in existential claims, the other does not presume to enter such themes, but it nevertheless provides its student with a diverse narrative of human origins.

 

Thus, the father of evolution—Charles Darwin himself—could speak of this view of origins as one which contains “grandeur.”[2] This perspective was robustly captured by the late historian of science Will Provine when he referred to the concept of “Intelligent Design” as “utterly boring” —a thing he couldn’t “even be bothered thinking about anymore.”[3] Likewise, in my own personal discussions with atheists, the same theme repeats with some going so far as to say that the notion of evolution is a humbling and exhilarating proposition.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: 9 Truths the Creation Account Teaches Us

 

But “grandeur,” “exhilarating,” and “humbling” are not the kind of words one would use to describe stoic propositions. Rather, they are reserved to describe the things which touch us on a deeper level—things like stories.

 

In light of this, I have found it best to engage creation not as a contentious postulation at war with materialistic theories but as a story that stands on its own beauty. In doing so, I bypass much of the propositional debate and instead invite the seeker to consider the biblical origins story as just that—a story with a plotline that presents us with a narrative of life, self and destiny fundamentally distinct from modernisms naturalistic claims. In doing so, I am not suggesting that one is superior to the other but rather that they are simply different. The conviction that will lead a person toward accepting that they came from the heart of God and are in fact, his work of art, is a conviction I leave entirely up to the Holy Spirit.

 

To this question some ask—what do you do when a person demands an exploration that transcends stories? But to be honest, I have never encountered this scenario. Not only has postmodernism assuaged such dogmatic approaches to the origin of life but my goal in connecting with secular culture has never been to convince the mind opposed to God to accept God but to journey with the mind that has already encountered God and is searching to put the pieces together. A person on that journey is generally open to alternative viewpoints because the introduction of a supra-physical being brings with it a set of variables that automatically alter one’s dogmas.

 

However, for those who do require a deeper and more detailed exploration of the issues, my advice would be to outsource that part of the journey to ministries and thinkers who are immersed in that space. Once that recommendation has been made, you can invite the seeker to consider the narrative of creation for what it is worth nonetheless and thus, embark on the journey. As I mentioned in the previous article, once I have collapsed the distance between science and faith through an exploration of methodological naturalism’s dome and the meta-physicalism that scripture claims transcend the dome I then engage the seeker in two diverse but interlocked perspectives: creation as overflow and the essential “what” of creation. I will explore the first in this present article and conclude with the second in the next installment.

 

Creation as Overflow

 

The concept of creation as overflow is simple in that it merely takes the narrative of God’s heart we have already begun exploring in the doctrine of God and Trinity and asks a simple question—why is this God creating?

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Biblical Creation and Ancient Near Eastern Evolutionary Ideas

 

The question alone is profound. First of all, the very fact that creation has not always existed but has a beginning at a point in history speaks to the conscious and individual nature of God. Were God to be a mere energy from which creation flows, then one could posit that creation has always existed along with God. After all, what is to stop creation from being created if its source is eternally self-existent?

 

Think of the sun for example. For as long as there has been a sun, there has been light proceeding from the sun. The sun is the source and the rays of light flow from it for as long as it has been in existence. In a similar fashion, if God were an impersonal source of the universe’s existence, one would expect the universe to be as eternal as God himself—proceeding from him for as long as he himself has been—that is, eternally. However, this is not what we see. Instead, contemporary cosmology demonstrates that the universe indeed has a beginning and, in fact, quite possibly an end.

 

The only explanation that makes sense in this scenario then is that God is a person with a will who could decide at what point to bring creation into being. That is, creation does not helplessly flow from him but he, by decision and individual choice, willed to bring it into effect at a certain point in history. Such a proposition negates the “energy god” so popular in modern New Age ideology.

 

Second of all, the question brings us back to the Triune nature of God. Because the Bible declares that God is both “love” and “one” we are immediately confronted with a self-contradiction. How can God be both “one” and “love”? Love is other-centeredness. But if God existed for all eternity as a strict singularity then who was the “other” upon whom he centered? Thus, if God is one, the most we can say is that once he created he began loving. In other words, God can be loving and one, but he cannot be love and one. Unfortunately, the Bible says he is one and love, which leaves us in contradiction. That is, of course, until we discover that God is an eternal community of being who has existed for all eternity in an eternal relationship of agape love within the plurality of his being. In this sense, the Triune nature of God solidifies his ontology of love.

 

And this now leads us back to creation. Why would a God of love create? What would have been his motivation? What purpose would have undergirded our existence? Did God create us because he needs something? We have already seen that this is not the case. Did he create us because he wants us to do something for him? We have already seen that this likewise is not the case. Unlike the pagan gods who made man by accident, to accomplish a task they could not be bothered doing themselves or as slaves, the God of scripture did not design us for any of the above. So then, why did he create us?

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Creations Intimate Touch –God’s Three Revelations

 

By virtue of elimination we are left with only one alternative. If God did not create us to get something from us then he must, by necessity, have created us to give something to us.

 

God’s ontology of love provides us with the “something”—agape love. We can henceforth perceive of a God who, in mystery, existed for eternity in a relationship of other-centered love within the plurality of his being. The Father loved the Son and the Spirit. The Son loved the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit loved the Father and the Son. Thus, they are one and love because they are the very essence of other-centeredness—a singular-plurality that has existed for all eternity in a harmonious interpersonal exchange of other-centered passion—this is God. And this God, it appears, came to manifest his love by sharing it.

 

Thus, we can imagine a moment in time (in our limited human conceptualizations) in which God entered into counsel and chose at that moment to create a universe of sentient beings in his/their image. This means these beings would possess autonomy, differentiation, and individuality—all elements that are predicated on freedom of the will. And then, from this foundation, God would have created a new reality in which its inhabitants could freely enter into a mutual and reciprocal exchange with him. A dance in which both parties pour out onto the other—God’s love to man and man’s love reciprocated back to God—a divine cacophony of romance, meaning, and beauty.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Does Evolution Qualify as a Scientific Principle?

 

This perspective, when properly introduced, immediately interacts with the secular language of being which values autonomy and self-determination. But likewise, it raises many questions. For many, the only picture of God they have ever encountered is narcissistic, dictatorial, and demanding. What are they to do with a being who, according to creation’s narrative, made us to give to us and not take from us? The imagery is immediately liberating and confronting.

 

For those who have a smidget of religion to contend with, a complex reordering of their ideological gears begins and at first, the result is confusion. So much needs to be rethought and revisited that it can almost appear overwhelming. After all, religious culture is predicated on “don’ts” (don’t do this, go there, eat that, listen to those, watch these or be associated with their so that you will not become as they) and the tragic outcome of this is God comes to be seen as a demanding being who wants to take everything remotely enjoyable from us because it doesn’t make him happy. For those who increasingly have no religious background whatsoever, the proposition that we exist to be the recipients of eternal love flies in the face of everything they have likewise believed to this point—that is that man’s existence has no deep meaning, that life is a futile struggle against the indifference of nature on the one hand, or a self-determined opportunity to concoct meaning out of the absurdity on the other.

 

Suffice to say, this is not a perspective that one can tap on like a tourist rushing through the Holocaust Museum in order to catch the next train to France so he can snap pictures of the Eiffel Tower as the sun sets followed by a quick snooze at the local hotel before his early bus trip to Italy. Rather, this is a perspective upon which we must rest a while for it confronts the angst of the existentialist, the nihilist, the humanist, the postmodernist and the materialist all in one fell swoop.

 

To the absurdity of a heart gasping for significance in the face of a universe indifferent to such primordial desires—creation arrives like a tender mother stroking her fingers through her child’s hair, whispering, “there, there”. To the nihilist declaring that all is naught, that life is nought, that pain and suffering are naught and that destiny and meaning are illusions bathed in subjective desire, the narrative of creation is like a father who gives all he has for his daughter as if to say, “you are worth more than being itself”. To the humanist desperately constructing his own meaning by gathering the pieces of existence and grafting them together into an explicated bricolage, the narrative of creation is like a grandmother who motions to her anxious grandson, “come here… rest”. To the postmodernist who mocks the naivety of enthusiasm, creation says “come and be naive a while”. To the materialist who denies any deep meaning to the human experience, creation asks, “will you venture with me, beyond the dome?”

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Creation’s Intimate Touch –The Testimony of Nature

 

Creation as overflow is thus more than a mere Biblical point to be made but a profound, soul crushing revelation that has the potential to redefine a person’s entire substructure. It shatters our sense of value, deconstructs our relationship with the self and rearranges our entire worldview (and constructs one anew for those who have never had one). To consider for a moment that you exist to be the recipient of divine love and that the universe itself is in motion because an eternal community of agape love chose to bestow that love upon created beings is powerful enough to redefine the why of stars, galaxies, and human consciousness.

 

“Why am I,” asks the heart of man. “To be the recipient of God’s eternal love” is creation’s answer. And what are we to do with such a claim? We can mock its enthusiasm, doubt its avidity and reject its ardor but one thing is clear—this story is one that refuses to conform, for it aims to sweep us off our feet, to shock us in the midst of our enlightened intellectualism like a love-struck youth and laugh amorously at our uptightness and informed rigidity. Lighten up, won’t you? Is the question etched into those playful eyes that both promise liberation and anxiety? Idyllic and charming, a beauty grounded into its very prose, one that needs not to attack, to mock, or to degrade in order to make up for its own deficiency in the face of modernism’s scientific revolution.

 

No, the narrative of creation is far more than a molotov-cocktail to be thrown at the convoy of naturalistic advancement but rather, a delightful revelation woven into the fabric of scripture by the very voice that beckons us from beyond the dome—a voice that teaches us, bound and incarcerated souls, to dream once more, and to self-liberate our imaginations from the constraints of laboratories and charts into the improbable and perhaps even impossible possibility that we, the crowning act of creation are just that—beings etched in autonomy and freedom, for one singular purpose—to eternally bathe in the cosmic rays of eternal love for which we were designed and to which we are beckoned from birth to destiny. To this end, we, at last, have a response to the “nowhere” philosopher Jean Paul Sartre spoke of when, in his search for a place to belong, concluded that he was “unwanted.”[4] Not according to the creation narrative, for there we discover that there is indeed a place we belong and in fact, that our very existence boils down to this one simple proposition: we are wanted.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Debunking Darwin

 

Do our evangelistic presentations capture such seduction? Or are we weaponizing creation to instill fear of science, to rage against the very structure that is responsible for the existence of the laptop we are using to produce our PowerPoint presentation or to profit from its narrative by taking advantage of the occasion to promote our own agenda of Sabbath observance? I cannot speak for every preacher, for every evangelist or for every campaign but from what I have seen, creation is a theme we touch on long enough to sneak our Sabbath agenda in, an agenda that we then season with the tantalizing spice of dramatic anti-science discourses that make claims such as there would “never have been an evolutionist”[5] if we all kept the Sabbath. Not to mention the free resource provided by the General Conference evangelism resource center titled, “Don’t Let the Monkey Fool You”[6] in which creation is approached from the beginning as a contra-science perspective, engaged with at a shallow and elementary level only a pre-conditioned fundamentalist would approve of and then, half way through the sermon, the entire discourse shifts from an exploration of creation to a sermon on how to have a better marriage. Is this really the best we can do in light of the challenges posed in our contemporary age and the opportunities that beckon us from within the depths of Genesis 1-2? I hope not.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Evolution of Adventists’ Creation Belief Statement

 

Are there significant questions to explore? Yes. Is creation a historical reality and not merely a wondrous poem with existential value? Yes. But we begin the journey with its inherent beauty and from there, we can embark on the messy adventure of appreciating the advancements possible within the dome of methodological naturalism while dancing with the tension of a story rooted in what Nye, as quoted above, referred to as from “the outside”, that is a story rooted in the beyond which the dome itself cannot conceive. To develop such an approach in our evangelistic proclamations ought to have been a priority a long time ago.

 

This now brings us to the point of tying it all together in the essential “what” of creation which we will explore in the next article.

Click here to read the rest of this series on Reimagining Adventism.

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Notes.

[1] Bill Nye. “Bill Nye Debates Ken Ham – HD (Official)”

[2] Charles Darwin. Origin of the Species p. 490. As quoted in: “There is Grandeur in this View of Life.”

[3] Will Provine. “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” (2008, Documentary).

[4] Jean Paul Sartre. “Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre/ Camus and the Death Penalty.”

[5] Ministerial Association, General Conference. “God’s Seal for Survival.”

[6] Ministerial Association, General Conference. “Don’t Let the Monkey Fool You

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About the author

Marcos Torres

Marcos Torres is a pastor in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. He loves talking about faith, culture and Adventism. You can follow his blog at www.thestorychurchproject.com.