Sunday, 8 September 2013

An 'Ecology of Evil'?

"From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need
And there are no guns, no bombs and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed
From a Distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance".

Yesterday, I touched on the legacy of Robert Farrar Capon, briefly alluding to his wonderful focus upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ as the underlying glory and truth of history, and the catholic ramifications for us all. In Capon's theology, there simply is no value for religion which seeks to blind us to such splendor and romance. I love how he rightly sees this as the truth that underpins everything else, leaving no place for some dualistic divide between the material and the spiritual (God is truly here!), but I also pointed out that there are a few problems, and one of the deepest I have is with regards to Capon's understanding of evil in creation.

Here's a quote from something he said in a 2004 interview with Tim Brassell  (italics added): 

"To return to (my book), Genesis: the Movie, the world as it’s presented in the mind of God in chapter one of Genesis is good. Evil doesn’t show up until chapter three. Obviously, however, evil is built into the world from the beginning. When God makes the creatures of the sea, how do they live? They eat each other. When he makes the creatures of the land—same thing.
He makes the world as an ecology—it works by life and death. Death is the engine that drives life—creatures kill and eat one another to stay alive. Even plants die so that animals can live. And it has always been that way—it’s the nature of creation. Creation is an ecology of life and death, and it works! The brilliance of the ecology is that it is created purposely to operate on sheer chance, that is, creatures eat the next edible thing that they see. Foxes eat chickens and so on. All that is done within the ecology God set in place".
Capon's view works because, as in the song above, God views creation 'from a distance', so from such a pinnacle, there are 'no guns, no wars, no disease', and everything is "good", even though death is the key principal already at work!
If we truly believe the opening passages of Genesis, however - that all things were created not only 'good', but 'very good' - a genuine delight to the giver of life - this cannot surely be right. Does God truly enjoy a world concluded in death and the evil that accompanies this? If nature is primarily red in tooth and claw, then what have we to say - there may as well be only a future made cold by entropy, than a eternity of cruelty and blood.
Now whilst I entirely accept that there is a 'mystery' of death at work even in Eden (Genesis 2:21) and the primal creation (Genesis 1:11), this was something inherently different to the nature of death which came about as a direct result of the fall of humanity (2:17), which denuded us of our original glory (2:25, 3:10). Evil, so far as humanity's nature is concerned, begins not in Eve's beguiling (3:6), but in the willful rebellion of Adam choosing to justify his rebellion before a God searching for him (3:8,12, Romans 5:12). It was, we are told, as a direct result of this event that sin not only became inherently part of us, but that nature itself changed (Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 8:20), so that all things in heaven and earth require redemption, provided in Jesus Christ at the cross (Colossians 1:19, 20).
God's work of redemption in Christ, therefore, is not only the underlying truth of all things, it is evidenced in the new creation, which makes all things 'new' (renewed to their original glory - Job 19:25,26).
Why, then, is there a form of death in Genesis (amidst some living things)? This, surely, is because of our one great need in Eden - to discover the love of our creator to us in His Son. How this would have become more evidenced can only be glimpsed at, hinted at, in those short moments of Genesis 2, in the creation of Eve, but it was clearly God's intent to show us much more, explicit in the presence of the tree of life (Martin Luther's commentary on this makes for interesting reading!).
The enduring and meaningful work of God is marked by bringing life, because that is inherent to His nature (John 1: 4). Sin, evil and death (aside from a means of redemption) are contrary to this, so the aim, the goal of His work is to bring about a culture where these things are no more (Revelation 21: 4, 24, Romans 8:21) - God Himself being at the very core of this, tasting death for all, to make what He loves truly free.
The 'ecology' of Eden shall be seen again, but it shall be one where the rule of the tree of life, sustained by the throne of the Lamb, is fruitful forever.


Glen said...

Yes, Capon's views here don't sit well with Romans 5 or 8! Death and frustration are later intruders.

Fascinating that the foretaste of death (in Adam's death-sleep) is not the death of the weak for the strong (i.e. it's not like the chicken killed by the fox), it's the death of The Man in order to create his bride. That's a very different "ecology"

Glen said...

In other words, whatever is foreshadowed in the darkness-conquered-by-light or the seed-dying-and-rising or Adam's death-sleep - it's not the survival of the fittest through the destruction of the weakest. It's the sacrifice of the fittest in order to bring life to the weakest.

Utterly anti-Darwinian!

Howard said...

Many thanks, Glen. It's imperative we take Paul's theology here seriously, so why is it that so many theologians especially from Augustine onwards have sought to play down not only the value of the Genesis record, but the very nature of creation and the earth? Capon is right in his analysis of the incorporation of the hellenic teaching of the immortality of the soul into the very core of Christianity has tainted our views of life after death and thereby the crucial role of the material itself (it's just a pity he didn't see this with regards to the original/redeemed estate). There's lots to unpack here.