Can creatures actually partner with God?"
Thrilled to have an essay I wrote published in this new book which was co-edited by my friends Tim Reddish and Thomas Jay Oord (Center of Open & Relational Theology), along with Fran Stedman and Bonnie Rambob.
I really like good stories. I like stories that inspire beauty, resilient hope, redemption, and restorative justice. Our shared stories tell us where we come from and what we value. The stories we tell each other, for good or ill, shape our worldview. They influence the relationships we have with others who are like us—or different from us—and how we relate to the physical world around us. Two examples of prominent stories that provide shape to our worldview are science and religion.
Our best stories are not static and change as new insights become available and better fit the audience’s context. Science shifts with tested ideas and as more information becomes available. Consider the change from the clockwork universe of Newton, to Einstein, to quantum physics.
Changes to religious stories happen too. Changes of circumstances, like the Jewish diaspora, scattering Jews throughout Europe, challenging them to re-imagined Judaism apart from the land and Temple. Stories have changed within Christianity, like the split between the Eastern and Western church, or the Reformation, or Copernicus and Galileo who turned the previous geocentric worldview on its head.
Today there are as many as thirty-thousand different Christian denominations, each with its perspective. Within the folds of the most faithful Christian denominations, many people are wrestling with the implications of big ideas like evolution and quantum science for their faith.
While grateful for the faith of the Church Fathers, like Augustine, Aquinas, and the Reformers, they knew nothing of evolution or quantum physics—or the implications they would have for our thinking about God and the world. This doesn’t mean we scrap these voices from our story. We let go of the dogmatic adherence to the aspects that no longer fit how we now understand things to be and allow the trajectory of their faith, with its insight and beauty, to guide us into new stories. Faithful to this trajectory, we re-contextualize our inherited wisdom for a quantum world.
Many are discovering the mutually beneficial relationship between good science and good spirituality. There is a realization that both deal with the cosmos and experiences within it but from different vantage points. Science offers some mind-blowing revelations concerning the cosmos, while spirituality can help us find our place and meaning as part of it. Healthy faith can bring a different way of knowing that adds soulfulness alongside a naturalistic way of knowing. Such stories anchor us in concrete ways to the physical and spiritual realities of the cosmos.
Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) was fascinated by the natural sciences and recognized the long, slow pattern of evolution within the cosmos. He saw God active within evolution and identified a pattern of attraction, connection, complexity, and consciousness within the “big history” of evolution.
From the Big Bang origin of the Universe, Teilhard reflected on how basic elements would combine with other elements to create more complex material. Teilhard suggested that the fundamental attraction between these elements was a kind of energy—specifically, Love (Eros) energy. This simple, primal attraction formed the basis for increasing complexity to manifest new things in the cosmos.
For Teilhard, God and the cosmos are entangled, and God inspires and empowers the law-like regularities, including the evolutionary process. He coined the word “Christogenesis” to describe the co-creative relationship between God and created life in the march of evolution toward greater love and wholeness. Teilhard was inspired deeply by the idea that all things are held together in Christ (Col 1:17b).
For approximately 14 billion years, the continually expanding cosmos of galaxies, stars, nebula, planets, and black holes showcase an ongoing evolutionary story. It started small and simple, becoming more complex, with potential for novelty at each step.
In the fullness of time, life emerges and, in time, life produces consciousness, and for the first time, the Cosmos becomes conscious of itself. The pinnacle of this conscious life is the human being. Humans continued to evolve and become even more creative and complex. Humans begin fashioning and using tools (the spear to the microchip), and more complex relationships and communities are examples of increasing complexity. The Cosmos, now conscious in human beings, can now influence its own evolution and the whole planet because of the intimate relationship between humanity and its home.
As complexity and consciousness expand, so does the human capacity for more complex expressions and experiences of love. As we experience love in deeper ways, we, in turn, stretch to express this love around us. We discover that love begets love. We begin to awaken that in every moment, we can choose from a host of possibilities to love, ones that are consistent with what we have available to us, the context of the situation, and God’s grace.
For Teilhard, at the core of everything is love. He saw the God-who-is-love shimmering at the very heart of matter itself. From Teilhard’s perspective, the direction of the evolution of the Cosmos is towards ultimate love (Omega). The God-who-is-love calls us, encouraging and empowering us towards more love.
Some of our best (and worst) love stories are about God. God expresses love to humans and within the Cosmos through relational, self-giving love. Thomas Jay Oord explores this with his idea of Essential Kenosis. Oord asserts that God’s essence is love, and all of God’s attributes flow from God’s love. This means God can’t act against God’s nature of love. God has to love because that is who God is.
Again, Oord helps us land this big idea of love. He defines love as intentionally acting, both empathetically and sympathetically in response to others (including God), in ways that promote overall wellbeing. We get to partner with God as we choose to love in every moment of every day. To choose love is to lean into every moment for maximizing love.
God loves by self-giving. God affords others freedom and self-motivation, and direction. God doesn’t control us or the Cosmos. While love doesn’t control, it encourages, empowers, and coaxes us towards the greatest love possible. The God-who-is-love at work in the world presents us with a host of available possibilities to live love and, in choosing to love, we co-create with God.
The Cosmos, pickled with the God-who-is love, helps us recognize our relatedness to one another and creation. The Cosmos’ trajectory, and the faithful intuitions of those who have come before us, point to an unfolding creation held together and animated by love energy. Love is the metaphysical current of the cosmos and, with it, the sacred invitation to join in by becoming love. We, the Cosmos-now-conscious, are invited to participate in the Christification of the Cosmos. Through self-giving love, we partner with God to form Christ’s body in the Cosmos towards wholeness through love in Christ (Eph 1:10).
Our imaginations are awash with love stories of personal sacrifices, heroic acts, and the like. These can indeed be genuine and inspiring, but it is essential that we don’t discount the kind of love that occurs daily. Often seen as the mundane, the many actions we do every day can also be genuinely loving. The day-to-day of serving others in our families with laundry, ironing, cleaning the cat box, or wiping a runny nose are all acts of love. Loving might be bearing with each other while we deal with our “stuff,” and to forgive and be forgiven. It is both the giving and receiving of love. Loving is visiting a sick friend, volunteering in the community, or shovelling our neighbour’s sidewalk. In everyday life, we can partner with God by loving as best as we are able.
When we use our power (influence and resources) to work for a vibrant and just, equitable planet, we partner with God. We partner with God as we act to advocate for the poor, those who suffer injustice, discrimination, and racism. The things we do for the those often considered least, we do for Christ.
When we choose to love, we quite naturally resist the pull of greed, retributive violence, indiscriminate consumption, and exploitation of people and the planet.
In this love story, our choices and actions—big or small—matter.
Through a compelling story, shaped by both science and religion, Teilhard presents us with an invitation to partner with God to help shape our collective future, which began and will culminate in love. The Cosmos current is a relational, self-giving, Other-empowering love. And we are invited to live our lives as a gift for others. Partnering with God in love shapes our new story—connecting us in more tangible ways to ourselves, to one another, our planet, the Cosmos, and God.