Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Evolution and the Incarnation (A bit of a reflection)

As a Christian in the sciences, I get more grief over evolutionary theory than you can reasonably imagine. Scientific colleagues and associates frequently assume I'm some kind of wacko "fundie*;" Christian friends usually assume I'm a borderline heretic. What am I supposed to do?

Actually, if there's one single theological consequence of modern evolutionary theory, it's the interrelatedness of everything. "Am I not a cockroach and your brother" may be a bit of a stretch, but there is certainly a temporal interconnectedness among all the living things on earth. We all trace our genetic ancestry backsource sourcec, and presumably to the inorganic world. Throw in the Big Bang, and there's really a temporal interconnectedness among everything. Nothing material exists that didn't come out of the Great Singularity at time = 0. We're made of starstuff, as Carl Sagan used to say, and all the starstuff is created out of the same cosmological nothing. Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm not into all the New Age "one with the universe" bilge that circulates these days, but I do think this interconnectedness has implications for the Incarnation.

In Christ's life and death, God becomes a participant in the physical universe. The author becomes a character. The human Jesus and the Divine Word are evermore intertwined. And because of that intrinsic interrelatedness of all material things, if one part of the material universe - the human person of Jesus - is fused with the divine life, then all of it is. The Resurrection symbolizes the fact that it is no longer possible for us to really die. The material world is redeemed from inevitable dissolution and ultimate decay. Thermodynamics still works just fine, but it no longer has the final say. Icons of the Resurrection always show the glorified Christ lifting Adam and Eve from their caskets while the saints and angels look on in awe. Sheol - the grave - is no longer their inevitable fate.

I have no idea what the implications of that divine infusion are for Saint Bernards or centipedes or stones or stars, but for me it means that I have a choice to make. My choice doesn't involve whether or not I receive that bit of eternal divine life, it involves whether or not I accept it.

There's a school of thought called annihilationism that teaches that, at the Judgment, those who reject salvation simply cease to exist. I'm no theologian, but I think there's a logical flaw here. To cease to exist is to really be permanently dead, and that kind of real death is no longer possible for anything which has been attached to the divine life. If you don't want the life of God, I don't think you can really escape it. All you can do is flee from that which you can't get away from, to permanently reject life. And that's not eternal death; it is eternal dying. And that, I suspect, is hell.

What sane man would make a choice like that? Look around. Why would you assume that we’re sane in the first place? The lust for death is everywhere in our culture, just as it has been in cultures all through history. I'm certainly not immune to it; every time I read of a suicide, a murder, a bombing, a drunken car crash, a crack house, or an abortion clinic, I think "There but for the grace of God go I." I don't know who goes to hell; I just know how easily I could.

This Lent, may I remember what I've been given and may I choose wisely.

You have united, O Lord,
Your divinity with our humanity
And our humanity with Your divinity;
Your life with our mortality
And our mortality with Your life.
You have assumed what is ours,
And given what is Yours,
For the life and salvation of our souls
To You be glory forever

* I'm never sure whether I ought to be insulted, flattered, or just amused by being called a fundamentalist. My usual response is to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."