We can rationally accept the abundant evidence for common descent of life on earth, including humans. An entire lifetime can be spent working with, fine tuning and adding to the evidence for the essentially chemical relationship of all living things, from viruses to humans. To be sure, ‘chemical’ means relatively big to really big molecules; but it also means the small molecules and the elements. When we include these, we see how living things are truly one with the ‘dust of the earth’. It is humbling to realize that all of the atoms making up our molecules right now were, not long ago, part of some other entity, living or non-living. This is especially true of carbon, the basis of our bodily being. In God’s economy, the atoms represented in the beautifully symmetric periodic table are all that is necessary for the material universe, non-living and living, to exist. This reality is breathtaking and most of the evidence for it has been developed in the last 200 years.
Genesis 1:2-3 begins with these words, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” It is interesting to read so early in God’s revelation of himself to us clear references to both physical energy (light) and the power of God. The material world is held together (sub-atomically, atomically, molecularly, and on up the levels of organization) by the energy common to the physical universe. God reveals in this passage that his is the authority that makes possible light and physical energy in all its forms. The Spirit of God is part of a separate reality that is, nevertheless, very close to and very effective upon our better understood physical/material reality. This is even more amazing if we consider love to be God’s essence. With this view, the cosmos is a fundamental, overwhelming expression of God’s love.
The powerful love of God made possible the laws of physics and chemistry. What came into being from this is immense, complex, ever changing, and diverse. It may be, given the limitations imposed by natural laws, that an entire universe was required in order to arrive at one material being (species) upon whom God could confer free will and have hope for real fellowship. This free will is necessary if a sentient being is to be able to accept God’s authority freely. Thus, we were created ‘in the image of God’ – free will, body, mind, spirit and all.
Made in the ‘image of God’ means many things, and this includes a God-given authority to make our own decisions (God can say no, we can too). But we still have to confront the question of power. Though made in his image we clearly do not have power like the power of God. Given the authority to make up our own minds, and the reality of evil, which existed before creation, our human power now comes into play. The power we have is wholly insufficient for the challenge of dealing with evil – it wasn’t sufficient in the ‘garden’ and it is not sufficient for any one of us at any time in history.
A main reason this is so is our mis-understanding and mis-applicaiton of power. We see power as more potent than love, we clearly worship it and have faith in it – this is also the view that Satan subscribes to. If fact, we get the idea from him. Power is used to combat power (or violence is used to combat violence) and the result is always destruction – the greater the violence, the greater the destruction. This sinful concept of power does not come from God – what flows from God, all the time, is love. We could say God uses love to redeem and sanctify power, and His love is powerful enough to utterly defeat raw, coercive power.
Power and love are like water and oil, darkness and light. “When God began to create heaven and earth – the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water – God said ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Tanakh, JPS 1985). Power looks to violence, love looks to healing and restoration. We can see this by juxtaposing some ideas that speak of power and love respectively.
Power destroys – love creates; power enslaves – love gives freedom; power brings darkness – love brings light; power engenders fear -love engenders hope; power coerces – love persuades; power controls – love cooperates; power closes – love opens; power hoards – love shares; power spreads falsehood – love reveals truth; power brings sadness – love brings joy; power is ultimately ineffective – love is ultimately effective; power is Satan’s way – love is God’s way; power is well understood – love is poorly understood; power is in a hurry – love is patient; power is prideful – love is humble; power is heavy – love is light; power is discordant – love is harmonious; power screeches – love whispers; power kills – love resurrects.
Jesus, as a man, relied entirely on God’s love (through the Holy Spirit) for the necessary power to complete His work on earth. Once humanity reached the stage where we could be given authority over our decisions, we became easy prey for evil and made, and continue to make, decisions that seriously separate us from God. We don’t have the love to resist. Only God has this kind of love.
The loving power that we lack is the Holy Spirit (God’s spiritual agent in our material reality, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus). He appears all over the Bible, beginning in Genesis 1:2-3. He is the link between the two realities of material and spiritual. He is the mighty part of the Triune God, a might achieved through Love. God gives us authority to make our own decisions, but to fully appropriate the Holy Spirit, we must recognize God’s overall authority. We must repent from our evil idea of selfish power and accept the power of love. Without this power of God, we cannot resist evil which is real and active in this world.
In our weak state we always sin and need forgiveness; and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit – the same loving power that raised Jesus from the dead. Our repentance is therefore absolutely necessary – we must turn from our own way to God’s way, accepting Christ’s sacrifice. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit we are redeemed, made righteous in Christ. The Spirit takes up residence within our spirit so that we become part of God’s new temple. Evil is still present in this new Kingdom of already-but-not-yet, but now, if we willingly appropriate it, the powerful love of God dwells in us to do “work every good work.”
You can also read part two in this two-part series entitled Creation Under Limiting Conditions.
Dr. BK (Bev) Mitchell, Biologist, writer, hopeful theology popularizer, aspiring critical realist. NB Canada, Oaxaca, MX. Bev is Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, where he taught in the 70s through the 90s before retiring in 2001. Now he reads a lot, studies languages and enjoys the beautiful city of Oaxaca, MX and his home province of New Brunswick. Recent studies in theology have inspired him to combine his love of biology with his love for the Lord by writing about them together. He particularly likes the idea that there are really two kinds of Life sciences – secular and spiritual, biology and theology.
For additional reading, reference Bev’s article posted on the Jesus Creed blog on August 11, 2012.