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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Are you a high D (Dominant), high I (Influential), high S (Stable/Steady) or a high C (Compliant)?  Are the things that you value theoretical, social, aesthetic, individualist, economic or traditional?  What skills do you have specifically – team player?  Tact and diplomacy?  Self-motivation?  Other-motivation?  Which group do you belong in?  Which box can you be squeezed in?

I’m in the box of people who hate psychometric tests!

Ok, it’s probably because they make you face some harsh truths about yourself in black and white.  I recently had to do an hour of these tests for a theology course I’ve started and one of the results is that I’m a ‘high C’.  According to the lecturer, high Cs are the hardest people to understand and everyone should stick their tongues out at us.  ‘That’s flippin great’, I thought to myself.  In summary, high Cs like to know stuff.  They think about things a lot and analyse, asking lots of questions and pulling things apart to understand them.  They have a thirst for the truth, a sense of awe and curiosity about the unknown.  The upside of this is that good questions lead to good answers, insight and hopefully wisdom that have practical impact on life.  The downside is that a lack of understanding can become unsettling and anxiety-provoking, driving us to over-analyse and mull about things half obsessively.  We can come across as a bit preoccupied and unavailable sometimes – sorry about that!

The other day I was on the train going to meet a friend, gazing out onto the passing fields and my high C brain kicked into action.  This was the gist of the (ridiculous in a lot of ways) inner conversation:

‘I’m really not feeling like going to see this friend.  That means that when I arrive I’m going to have to pretend to be positive and interested.’  (Images of me looking decidedly positive and interested flash through my mind).

(I’m guessing that most people would stop here if they had this thought in their head and then they’d move on?)  But no, my mind is perplexed and continues to ask:

‘Well, isn’t that being inauthentic and fake then?  And therefore, should I bother trying to be interested and positive at all when it’s not really real?’

‘If I have to force myself do something I know is right rather than spontaneously wanting to do it and ‘feeling it’, is it just me being a hypocrite, a cup washed on the outside but filthy on the inside?’

‘Yeah, and taking it one step further, is the Holy Spirit of love not really alive and well in me, causing me to be naturally loving and good (as described in my blog ‘Two ‘Apple’ Trees’ a few months ago)?

This is the point at which it feels like my over-analysing brain has deconstructed everything to the lowest common denominator (usually self-bashing) and I’m feeling a bit glum and tied in knots.  That can be the problem with thinking a lot!  It’s really kind of funny/silly looking back on it now.

But, thankfully, as I was gazing out of the train window that day, another perspective piped up in my mind:

‘Well, maybe it’s a misunderstanding to think that when God’s spirit of love flows into us he completely takes over and we effortlessly become changed, better people.  We don’t become robots having our mind and will hijacked by God.’

‘Ok, so maybe it’s more like the spirit works alongside us, awakening our consciences, prompting us to do something, bringing things to light, convicting us and creating the desire in us to want to be different, even if we can’t instantly be so.  The choice as to whether we act on those promptings is still ours but if we do then we’re working in synergy with God.’

‘Hmmm, in that case, with regard to my friend, perhaps I’m not being fake if I try to be interested and positive even though I don’t feel like it.  Perhaps I’m actually responding to the nudge telling me that it would be right and most loving towards my friend to relate to them in this way today.  And as I try to, God will help me.  I don’t ‘feel it’, but I want to do best by my friend, so I’m taking the necessary steps towards that anyway, and that’s evidence of the Holy Spirit.’

‘Yeah that makes sense.  Especially based on my own past experience’.

End of conversation.

Well, it wasn’t really because I wasn’t dead, but for the purposes of this blog that was the end of the mind conversation!

I suppose this whole reflection on the train was really digging deeper in to the whole ‘saved by grace or works’ question.  In the distant past, people seem to have focussed more on the ‘saved by works’ side, which meant earning God’s approval and favour by being good.  These days though I think we are emphasising so much the ‘saved by grace’ side alone that we don’t do much and are then astonished when our life and character go on as always with all the same old habits and struggles.

Of course we have been rescued by God from the tyranny of evil and been adopted into his family so that his spirit can come and live within us now and actually transform us as a completely free gift.  However, unless we take hold of that gift and apply it to ourselves in some way, and then act out of it, we will never be transformed so it won’t become a reality in our lives.  It’s the same as the love of a lover.  It’s the most wonderful thing, but unless you grasp it and open up to it, it won’t have any effect on you.  And it will have even more effect on you if you commit back to the lover with all the effort that this actually requires.  It’s not wrong to not feel like doing something good.  Loving with all your mind means choosing the right decision even when you’d rather not.  Surely this is most often the only way forgiveness has half a chance of coming about, it certainly doesn’t usually start with beautiful feelings!

Surprise, surprise, I love the way this all ties in with psychology!  Neurologically, you can transform who you are by what you regularly do.  When you make a certain choice time and time again (such as to stay behind after the meeting and do the dirty job no one else wants), eventually your brain will form long-standing connections between nerves so that you no longer have to consciously think about what you’re doing.  It’s just the same as when you learn to drive.  At first it takes a lot of thought about the gears, the pedals, the steering and hopefully also the brakes.  But sooner or later it becomes so automatic because your brain has laid down a ‘neural highway’ to travel along every time you want to drive.  You have learned the skill.  And of course, once behaviour has become automatic it has become your character.  You are actually a different person rather than just acting like one.  When you do good things they are no longer the exceptions, done with great effort, but they have become the air you breathe, the atmosphere you live in, your very self.

Discipline is necessary.  Sometimes that means making the difficult choices.  Sometimes it means taking the time to place yourself somewhere, somehow so that God has the chance to transform you, be that in meditation, study, service, confession, celebration or any of the many disciplines.  When you really long for a lover you will do whatever it takes to get into their space, to be with them, to make yourself available to them, to know them, to be affected by them, to please them, to strengthen your relationship, just to make it work, even if it is difficult in many ways and sometimes you don’t feel like it in that moment.

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The saying that ‘virtue is easy’ is true ‘only to the extent that God’s gracious work has taken over our inner spirit and transformed the ingrained habit patterns of our lives.  Until that is accomplished, virtue is hard, very hard indeed.  We struggle to exhibit a loving and compassionate spirit, yet it is as if we are bringing something in from the outside.  Then bubbling up from the inner depths is the one thing we did not want, a biting and bitter spirit.  However, once we live and walk on the path of disciplined grace for a season, we will discover internal changes.  The spirit of compassion we once found so hard to exhibit is now easy.  In fact, to be full of bitterness would be the hard thing.  Divine love has slipped into our inner spirit and taken over our habit patterns.’

‘What then is Paul saying in Colossians that Christians must do?  Answer:  He is telling them to develop, in the present, the character which will truly anticipate the life of the coming age….What we need to grasp as being of the essence of his summons to Christian virtue, is the moral effort involved.  “Put to death…..”, “Put away….”, “Put on…” – these are the points of interest….The point of virtue is that eventually, as a person’s character becomes fully formed, such things may indeed begin to ‘come naturally’.  But the steps it takes to get to that point involve hard decisions, hard actions, choices that run counter to the expectations, aspirations, desires and instincts with which every human being comes equipped.’

‘ “If we live by the spirit, let’s line up with/walk by the spirit”….The point here is clear:  just because you “live in the spirit”, that doesn’t make following the spirit’s direction automatic.  You have to choose to do it.  And you can.’

– Tom Wright in ‘Virtue Reborn’ (or ‘After you’ve Been Saved’ in America.  Isn’t it strange how different cultures need and respond to different titles?  What does that say about them?)

 

These cover illustrations are really beautiful. There's something etheral and other-worldly about them, as if there's a incredible secret just through those windows or along that pathway.

 

‘The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths.  They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm.  They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world.’

‘Our ordinary method of dealing with ingrained sin is to launch a frontal attack.  We rely on our willpower and determination.  We pray against it, fight against it, set our will against it.  But the struggle is all in vain and we find ourselves once again morally bankrupt or, worse still, so proud of our inner righteousness that ‘whitened sepulchres’ is a mild description of our condition……We have no intention of exploding with anger or parading a sticky arrogance, but when we are with people what we are comes out.  Though we may try with all our might to hide these things we are betrayed by our eyes, our tongue, our chins our hands, our whole body language.  Will power has no defence against the careless word, the unguarded moment.  The will has the same deficiency as the law – it can only deal with externals.  It is incapable of bringing about the necessary transformation of the inner spirit.  When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realisation:  inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received.  The needed change within us is God’s work not ours……The moment we grasp this breath-taking insight, we are in danger of an error in the opposite direction.  We are tempted to believe there is nothing we can do…..we must wait for God to come and transform us….Strangely enough the answer is no……We do not need to be hung on the horns of the dilemma of either human works or idleness.  God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace.  The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.’

Richard Foster, in ‘The Celebration of Discipline’.

‘What is the good of pretending to be what you’re not?  Well, even on the human level you know, there are 2 kinds of pretending.  There is the bad kind where the pretence is there instead of the real thing, as when a man pretends to help you instead of really helping you.  But there is also the good kind where the pretence leads up to the real thing.  When you are not feeling particularly friendly but you know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as though you were a nicer person than you actually are.  And in a few minutes you will be feeling friendlier than you were.  Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already………  Put right out of your head the idea that these are only fancy ways of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out….They mean something much more than this.  They mean that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in a very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you.  It is not a question of a good man who died 2000 years ago.  It is a living man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as he was when he created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self he has.  At first only for moments.  Then for longer periods.  Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a new kind of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in his power, joy, knowledge and eternity.’

– C.S Lewis in ‘Mere Christianity’

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A few days ago, a friend of mine posted some quotes and comments on Facebook about Stephen Hawking’s latest views, expressed in his new book.  Those were the first rumblings for me that something was up in the Science-religion world (again!)  Apparently Hawking believes that it’s not necessary to invoke God in ‘lighting the blue touch paper’ to set off the Big Bang at the dawn of all creation.  He states that because there are such laws as the law of gravity, the universe could have spontaneously come into being.  Straight away the question that jumps to my mind is ‘where did the laws of gravity etc come from then?’ but I may just be a dunce and I haven’t read the book so I might be totally misunderstanding Hawking’s views!

A day or 2 after the facebook incident I received an e mail from CIS (Christians in Science) containing a link to an article in the Guardian, which was supposed to be a Christian Scientist’s response to Stephen Hawking’s writings (www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/sep/03/physics-science-theology-universe).  To be honest. I read it and didn’t think a lot of it as it was a bit simplistic and ‘heard-it-all-before-ish’!  But after I read it I made the mistake of looking at the hundreds of comments posted by readers (oh-oh), and these are what struck me.  Almost literally in fact.  I mean, I felt like I’d been physically beaten into a stupor after reading for 20 minutes.  Virtually every single comment was extremely aggressive, mocking, taunting, deliberately patronising and insulting to anyone who may have any kind of faith in a god.  It got me wondering, not in an irritated way but a genuinely thoughtful kind of way, why many people are so angry with the whole idea of God?  I mean, they could just ignore God-stuff and not really be bothered about it, especially if it’s having no effect on their life from day to day anyway.  But they don’t.  The idea of God, and that anyone else could believe in God, seems to make many people very furious.

Yes there were a fair few comments about fairies in the sky and wishful thinking, but opinions like that might bring on frustration at the very least, not raging anger.  But many people seemed to want to actively be rid of God rather than just allowing others to get on with him, which suggests that they see God as a bad thing, not as a good (or even a neutral) thing, hence the anger.  A lot of the comments hinted at the feeling that God is all about fear, about doing things right or wrong based on fear of punishment or hope of reward, about keeping us in line.  The lack of God, they suggested, would bestow on us all freedom, peace and unity.  Given many of the past and present effects of religion, not least the recent infuriatingly stupid threats by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11, I can’t deny that these people have a point.  More than that in fact, given my own experience of the personal fear of God and how that’s at times affected my life and choices negatively, I can deeply sympathise with the point (and I was raised in a very loving home and church with virtually no hell-fire talk!)

And yet the stories of Jesus are unasamedly, blatently called gospels, which means ‘good news’ and it’s obvious that those who first heard and received what Jesus brought considered it so overwhelmingly positive and joyous that they gave up everything for it.  They talk as if they had been set free rather than caught in a restrictive net, given an abundance of peace rather than a shadow of fear and an unconditional love for themselves and the whole world.  What are we missing that those early people saw?  Every now and again I catch a glimpse of what it’s really all about, something so good that I’m surprised that I or anyone else would wish angrily to be rid of it.  It has to do with an overwhelming, releasing, selfless, humble love lavished over us, taking root in the core of us and fortifying us in security and confidence so it can freely spill over from us to every part and person of creation.

Everyone bears responsibility for themselves and I reckon that a lot of Guardian readers should actually find out more about a faith before mocking their own mis-conceptions so simplistically.  But on the other hand, I can see where they get their impressions from and maybe if God-people could hold onto the truth for more than just brief glimpses, and then communicate and express it, perhaps they themselves would feel exuberantly liberated and Guardian readers would not feel such seething anger and contempt at the very mention of God.

For some (better!) responses to Hawking’s comments, see www.iscast.org/response_to_hawking (one day I’ll figure out how to make those things into a direct-click-link!!)

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In one of my last posts I wrote about the awesome beauty and wonder of space.  It surely is breath-taking, magnificent, vast and incomprehensibly stunning.  I mean, Jupiter’s famous ‘Red Spot’ is a storm, a vortex the size of several earths, which has lasted for at least 3 hundred years – and that’s just a spot on the planet’s surface!  And yet, there is something not only ferocious and hostile about space, but also plain lonely and cold.  What’s more, this hostility and savagery extends to our Earth.  And this raises questions and potential problems for me as a ‘Jesus-follower’.  I know it’s not usual to air these questions publicly, especially when you have no water-tight answers yet.  But seeing as these things go round my mind a lot anyway, I might as well discuss them with you!  My aim in this post and no doubt in future posts, is not to be contentious and deliberately difficult, or to knock down my own faith, but to freely ask questions and allow space to be honest.  Who knows, some answers might gradually form.

It seems to me that this Monty Python ‘hymn’ articulates the unease I feel pretty well:

‘All things dull and ugly, all creatures short and squat.  All things rude and nasty, the Lord God made the lot.

Each little snake that poisons, each little wasp that stings.  He made their brutish venom, he made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous, all evil great and small, all things foul and dangerous, the Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet, each beastly little squid.  Who made the spikey urchin?  Who made the sharks?  He did.

All things scabbed and ulcerous, all pox both great and small, putrid, foul and gangrenous, the Lord God made them all.’

-The Fairly Incomplete aand Rather badly illustrated Monty Python Song Book’  (Methuen Publishing Ltd, 1994)

The brilliant and very likeable naturalist, David Attenborough, also once said in an interview,

‘I often get letters…….from people who say they like the programes a lot, but I never give credit to the Almighty Power that created nature.  To which I reply and say it’s funny that people, when they say this is evidence of the Almighty, always quote beautiful things – orchids and humming birds and butterflies and roses.  But I always have to think too of a little boy sitting on the banks of a river in West Africa who has a worm boring through his eyeball turning him blind before he’s five years old.  And I reply and say, ‘well, presumably the God you speak about created the worm as well, and I find (it) baffling to credit that action to a merciful God….’

Hmmm, starkly put.  Not to labour the point, Charles Darwin (who was not a triumphantly anti-God man as is sometimes portrayed, he just wrestled with the truth as he saw it before him and suffered for it) stated ‘what a book a Devil’s Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horribly cruel works of nature’ and ‘I can not persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars’.  The problem to me is a vast one and it doesn’t only cover biological organisms but also such things as earthquakes, volcanoes and other geological hazards.  The earth seems to be convulsing from the inside out, though I wholeheartedly affirm the beauty and goodness of much of creation.  The odd thing is that the ultimate purpose of nature seems to be ‘to be better than your neighbour at getting genes into future generations, in which those successful genes provide the message that instructs the development of the next generation, in which the message is always ‘exploit your environment, including your friends and relatives, so as to maximise our genes’ success’, in which the closest thing to a golden rule is ‘don’t cheat, unless it is likely to provide a net benefit’  (Biologist, George Williams in Plan and Purpose in Nature (New York:  Basic Books, 1996).  This seems so at odds with a creator who is supposed to be like Jesus, laying down his life for the sake of others, displaying that ‘power-over’ others is never the way to, or the final result of victory, but rather that ‘power-under’ is.  Jesus went around healing, not harming, lifting up the weak and helpless, not saying it’s a good thing if natural selection can kill them off and rid us of their weak genes.  That sounds like Hitler.

I know of a few different answers to this problem, none of which ultimately satisfy so far, but I’m always on the look out for other perspectives!

Firstly, in an attempt to minimise the problem and possibly let God off the hook, some people say that animals don’t actually suffer, especially as they’re not conscious and aware of themselves like humans are.  This to me seems like a complete cop out and actually makes me quite angry.  Ok, an animal may not be able to anticipate and dread its suffering and death like we can, but it may well have nerones very similar to ours which cry out ‘pain, pain, pain’ when stimulated.  And you don’t have to be a genius to see that a dog which has been regularly beaten displays fear and trembling as it cowers in a corner.  To be honest, even fishing gets me riled up, especially when someone denies that wrenching a creature from its natural environment where it can not breathe such that it is thrashing around with a hook through its jaw, and then smashing its head in on a deck is not in some small way cruel.   And yet I’m more than aware that Jesus fished, hung with fishermen, advised them, BBQ’d and ate with them.  What’s a girl to do?!

These days it has also been recognised that many animals do have a level of consciousness (many Jews believed that animals had souls).  Chipanzees seem to have some ability to think themselves into the position of another.  Dolphins recognise themselves in mirrors.  Certain crows have a theory of mind.  So even the lack of consciousness argument starts to fall down.  Besides, this idea doesn’t even begin to address such problems as volcanoes.

Another argument is that there was no other way for God to make the world except as it is.  Earthquakes and volcanoes are simply the result of tectonic plates moving about and without this movement, new magma would not rise to the surface and replenish it.  It’s possible I suppose.  But I’m pretty sure I believe that God could have made an earth that didn’t have to run on magma and didn’t require tectonic plates.  Also, surely he could have made some sort of alarm bell to go alongside plates which he could ring every time an earthquake was about to go off?!  It seesms unlikely that the universe had to be made this way.  There is something to be said for the idea that real good often has to bring with it the possibility of real ‘bad’ by necessity though.  for example, if we have nerves that warn us of danger or potential harm then they will also feel, at times excruciating, pain.  If we want to be able to swim and splash around in water then we might also drown in it.  Maybe some suffering is inevitable in a physical world.  Maybe this is how it had to be and it is simply silly to consider natural phenomena ‘evil’, as if they had deliberate intentions to harm.

Others suggest that ‘the end justifies the means’.  In otherwords, God wanted the Earth to develop diversity, beauty and intelligence, but the only way to do this was to begin with simple organisms and work through evolution and the process of natural selection.  One day the world will reach its potential and glory and then all this killing and overpowering will have served its purpose and will be able to cease.  But, once again, if I have learned anything from Jesus, it’s that the end does not justify the means.  You don’t bring about God’s peaceable Kingdom on earth by violent aggression and fighting.  This just keeps the evil in operation, it feeds it.  This is precisely what Jesus was saying when his disciple Peter tried to defend him against a Roman soldier and cut off the soldier’s ear.  Jesus emphatically said, ‘no, put away your sword.  This is not how we do things in my kingdom.  If you live by the sword you’ll die by the sword’.  By going to the cross Jesus absorbed all that hatred, aggression and violence without paying back in kind.  He broke the cycle at the highest level.  His means brought the right ends.  So no, even if only 1 child has to suffer and die to build a Utopia, it’s not worth it.

Another idea is that the world (in fact the whole universe) has become the way it is because God holds strongly to free will.  And not just free will for human choices (which surely accounts for a vast amount, but nowhere near all, of suffering) but also free will for nature itself.  This may sound crazy, but it has to be said that the God of the bible seems to like delegating, he’s very social!  In the Genesis creation stories God says ‘let the earth put forth vegetation….and bring forth creatures of every kind’ and ‘let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures’.  It’s as if he’s asking creation itself to do it.  In his interesting and honest book, ‘The Selfless Gene’, Charles Foster writes that when God is issuing commands to create the earth in the Genesis accounts, creation seems to respond in ever more disobedient ways.  He also makes the point that the author of Genesis would have been very aware that he (or she?!) was communicating this point deliberately.  When God says ‘Let light be’ (Hebrew translation), ‘light be’ is what comes back.  When God then says ‘Grass grass’, the response this time is the earth ‘put forth grass’.  The slight discrepancy/’disobedience’ grows such that when God asks the waters to ‘bring forth the water animals’ , we do not hear that this is what happens.  It seems that God is forced to create directly, where he wasn’t before:  ‘So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm’.  There is the possibility that creation and nature itself had some form of freedom from the beginning and didn’t necessarily develop in the way intended by God.  Whilst I don’t dismiss this idea, and you may find it quite compelling, it does seem tenuous to me.  Firstly, I think it is stretching the text somewhat (although I’m not genius enough to be able to analyse the Hebrew) and possibly reading more into it than is wise.  But secondly, it seems incredible that God could have considered the freedom of nature so important that it should be allowed to generate such horrific suffering caused by all manner of bacteria, parasites, earthquakes and hurricanes to say the least.  What would be the point?  In what way would we be understanding the consciousness, and thus free choice, of nature?  Sometimes people seem to think that nature isn’t all that bad, as if it’s not really gone too far off track.  I love John Polkinghorne’s response, that we sometimes imagine ‘evil’ as the wasp that is buzzing around, spoiling the otherwise lovely picnic.  Humbly he says ‘in reality, there is more wasp than lemonade’ at the picnic of the earth, and he is a committed Christian and Scientist!

But, apart form our frequent sense that nature is hostile and out of wack when truly exposed to it, the bible does seem to support this too.  For starters, I’m intrigued by the food laws for the Jews in Leviticus.  George Caird notes, ‘among creatures which the Levitical code declares to be unclean….are all the beasts and birds of prey….are we not dealing here with a naive expression of the idea that nature red in tooth and claw has in some measure escaped the control of the divine holiness?’   All blood had to be drained out from meat before it was eaten because the ‘life’ was considered to be in the blood.  Going through that difficult, messy process would surely remind the Jews of God’s original intention that blood should not be spilled at all.

Even earlier, in the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve and all the animals every plant to eat.  It is very clear in the text and considering God gives very little instruction at this point, I reckon this detail is quite important.  It’s only after they have eaten of the tree they’re not supposed to that some animals get killed to create coverings for Adam and Eve’s newly recognised nakedness.  It’s like their wrong-doing has meant something else has had to suffer.  Then after the flood (by the way, yes, that is a difficult story to explain too, don’t ask me at this point!) God seems to make a concession and specifically gives permission for animals to eat eachother.  But it is a concession.  Later on, Isaiah describes what the kingdom of God is going to be like when it finally comes, when things are set right again.  He evokes images of wolves, lambs and lions all lying down and grazing with eachother, children playing with snakes and there being ‘no killing on my holy hill’.  I understand that this is imagery to show peace, and that the bible is not meant to be taken as a scientific text book, but sometimes I feel the ‘literalness’ of such passages can be dismissed too lightly (perhaps because we like our steaks too much?!).  I also know that it raises heaps of questions like ‘won’t the earth get over-run by animals and pests if we don’t eat them?  What would a vegetarian lion even look like as so much of a lion has developed to be a predatory killing machine’?  I don’t know, but I fully believe God’s kingdom will contain no violence and that includes violence towards and among animals.  (This is also, incidentally, why I’m unapologetically vegetarian-call me a sappy hippy if you like!)  The odd thing is that in Genesis, when God comands the anials to eat only green plants, the author then puts ‘and it was so’.  But surely the author of Genesis was perfectly aware that it was not so.  I mean, he had seen how lions hunt and kill, he lived in the real world, he wasn’t stupid.  So after all, it seems that creation and Eden are not so much scientific or even historical accounts as a prophetic picture of God’s dream for the world, a ‘statement of original intention and eventual outcome’.  I remember Roger Forster preaching exactly along these lines some years ago, emphasising especially God’s rest on the last day as a symbolic picture of the world finally entering God’s kingdom and fulfilled rest in the future.  Charles Foster again:  ‘The Genesis story of universal vegetarianism tells us not that lions ever ate cucumbers but that God’s reaction to animal pain is the same as ours is, or should be:  He is disgusted.  He created a world that worked – that was very good in that sense.  The verdict ‘very good’ is pronounced on the placid, vegetarian world.  He would never have said that about the Ngorongoro Crater.  Nor, from what we can see in Genesis, would he ever have endorsed, let alone designed, an engine for continued, evolving creation which was necessarily fuelled by pain, selfishness and waste.’  Don’t get me wrng, I believe in the process of evolution by natural selection, just not that it was God’s intended plan.

So why does it exist?  Why does the natural order seem to operate in this way?  Christians have always been quick to say ‘it’s because of the fall of man.  We disobeyed and that caused not only us to fall but corrupted the whole of nature too.  Death came into existence’.  I don’t see how any honest, thinking person can still hold the view that before human beings the natural world was perfect.  Ok, I know that’s harsh and maybe arrogant and one day I may be put in my place!  But, looking at the genuine evidence of all the fossils, of dinosaur teeth and claws, of age old volcanoes, it’s clear that hostility, violence, pain and death have been around for millions of years, way before humans ever graced this planet.

There is one answer/theory that so far seems vaguely plausible and that many theologians hold to.  This is the idea that before humans ever were created, other created, spiritual beings (?angels?) used their free will to rebel against God, his plans and intentions.  Michael Lloyd suggests that the spiritual realm is so connected to the physical that the spiritual rebellion caused a hugely destructive disruption in the physical world too and distorted the intended development of nature even before humans were around.  After all, there is no explanation or apology given for the presence of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.  Where did he come from if everything was so perfect?  Something had obviously already gone wrong.  Interestingly, when God explains the curse that humans have brought to the world in their rebellion, he says that Eve’s childbearing will be MORE painful than it would have been, suggesting it would have come with some pain anyway.  Is it possible that creation had already become messed up, chaotic, or at least lifeless and that what God did in Genesis was to bring order out of this chaos in one small part of the earth, the Garden of Eden?  This little pocket was a microcosm of how God wanted the whole earth to become.  This is why God tells humans to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’.  Well, you can’t subdue something that isn’t soewhat unruly and in need of subduing, can you?!  Maybe humans were intended to learn how to tend and care for the earth in the garden and spread this life and care to the whole earth, so undoing the preceding evil.  When they disobeyed and ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, maybe they effectively were saying ‘no’ to this task and consequently the rest of the world was never subdued?  Maybe.  This idea becomes most intriguing (I think) when you realise that Jesus was the one who came to fulfil the vocation that Adam, Eve and all of us failed to carry out.  Watching him, you can see what that vocation was supposed to look like, you see a truly human being.  And Jesus spent every day warring against the things that ravage creation, including sickness, death and even, yes even, storms.  I remember when I first heard a favourite pastor (Greg Boyd) say that the word Jeus shouted to calm the stor was the same word he used to command demons.  He said ‘be muzzled’ as if the storm and nature had some kind of personal life to it, or at least behind it.  He obviously considered this particular storm ‘evil’.  Now, this is just a suggestion and again, there are days when it sees totally plausible and days when I think it’s stretching things more than just a bit.  I wonder to myself how we ever would have fixed the problem of animal predation or storms by following God’s way, but then I hear strange stories of St Francis of Assissi and the deep connection he shared with animals, how they trusted him and stayed near him.  And I think just maybe we all could have had this effect.  Tbh, I don’t even know what I make of angels!  These are just some ideas and thoughts about this topic, and even if they don’t all fit together, I think there are some glimmers of light and some wisdo buried amongst the many words.  I’m sure my mind will continue to chug away on this for any years to come.

If you’re at all interested in this subject then some resources I have used include:

‘The Selfless Gene’ by Charles Foster (2009) HHodder & Stoughton

‘Cafe Theology’ chapter 2 by Michael Lloyd (2009) Alpha International

‘Satan and the Problem’ of Evil and ‘God at War’ by Gregory Boyd

various sermons preached by Gregory Boyd, found at http://www.whchurch.org/content/page_26.htm  On the right are the seron archives and particularly relevant ones are 01/02/2005  ‘Being the Kingdo in a Groaning Creation’,  15/07/2007 ‘A War-Torn Creation’, 22/07/07 ‘Lessons on the Battlefield’.  There was also one recently (2010) called ‘Let it Go.

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