In our reflections on the relationship between natural science and Christian theology, we have been saying that it’s really very important that we would have accurate understandings, both of natural science—what it says, what it doesn’t say, what it claims, what it doesn’t claim—and that we would have accurate understanding about Christian theology—what Christian theology claims and what it doesn’t claim, what it thinks. Here, of course, there are not only many differences among scientists about how to understand natural phenomena, all that the scientists study—there’s plenty of debates even in the area of evolution and if there is evolution at all and how it works and if it does work, what is its mechanism; sometimes even in relation to Darwin, the point is made that Darwin is certainly not the father of an evolutionary theory.
There are plenty of evolutionary theories before Darwin. His own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, wrote extensively about evolutionary process. Then there was the Lamarckian teaching, about the theory that various species develop and survive because they can adapt to the environment, they can keep themselves alive, they can become healthy, and therefore their offspring are more; basically, it was an explanation of evolution by an understanding of accommodation to the surrounding environment. Then Darwin came up with his and really the bombshell of the book, The Origin of Species, was not so much about the theory of evolution but his theory about how it worked.
Basically, I think it would be accurate to say that he believed that the central mechanism that made it work, although it wasn’t the only one—there were other ones as well—but the main one was gradual mutations and changes in creatures, in beings, that allowed them to survive and become more greatly developed, and it was pretty much accidental, incidental, there didn’t seem to be much design or purpose. I think Darwin himself, at least at first, would say you could speak of lower forms of life and higher forms of life, but we really shouldn’t do that: it’s just differences of how things work themselves out, how various organisms and beings survive and how they change.
Basically, he would say slow changes over millions of years without any particular purpose, without any teleology, it’s just how it happens, and then of course you could philosophize about that, and of course certain people did—Spencer and others—and it led to what is called social Darwinism. And Darwin himself thought that the human race was progressing. I’m sure, as a good Victorian, he thought that the height of human development was in Great Britain and modern white, Western European society was the cutting edge. Many people thought that. The Germans thought that; others thought that. They wanted to help engineer and move evolution in the proper direction, the same way that you might cross-pollinate orchids or something in a lab. But it’s all very complicated and very contentious and certainly I don’t know anything about it, anything more than very superficial pop-type knowledge.
In any case, however, bracketing the disagreements that may exist among scientists, I think what I do know a little bit about—more, any way, just a very little bit more—would be about Christian theology and about how one understands God, and then how one understands God’s relationship to what is not God, unless everything really is considered to be God, or there is no God at all and pantheism and atheism amount to the same thing: there is no transcendent God who is personal, who loves, who acts, who speaks, who should be thanked, adored, and praised. That would be a view, but there are many views about God. Certainly Jews and Christians and Muslims disagree about how to understand God. There’s plenty of disagreement among Christians about how to understand God, not only in the issue of what is God like, but the whole issue of, well, an easy one would be the three divine Persons: Are there three divine Persons or aren’t there? Is there a Holy Trinity, one in essence and undivided or is there not? In other words, should we be unitarian, should we be trinitarian? Does God have a real relationship with the world or doesn’t he? Can he? How do we explain what God is? Is God Supreme Being? Is he Top Spirit? How do we understand it? It’s incredibly great differences.
Here I would just say, as I’ve said again in my stream-of-consciousness musings—another fellow emailed me, by the way, and used the term “musing” without having heard that the other person had used it, so I can call these my musings; I have have a muse to inspire me—but my musings here, I think this reflection today would be more than a musing. It’s not amusing—it’s not very funny—but I think here I can speak with a certain confidence in my own mind on this particular issue, namely, how does Orthodox Christian theology envision and imagine, in other words, what kind of image do we make of God? How do we grasp God? What kind of concepts can we have about God? What can we say about God? And very particularly, what can we say about this God, this is how God is in reality, then what would we say about God’s relation to everything that is considered to be not-God and would be considered to be a creation of God, namely, everything that exists in addition to God?
Here I think that we could definitely say that it would be a Christian dogma, Orthodox Christian dogma, that there is God, and God exists, and God exists from all eternity, and God is the only—we can use the term “being” because we don’t have a better word—the only reality that we know of that is ever-existing, eternally the same and inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible to human mind and imagination, that we can’t imagine how God is, we can’t conceive of how God is, we can’t perceive of how God is, we don’t know anything about what the nature of God is really like—except, and this is a huge exception, what God reveals of himself when he decides to create. When God decides to make a world, then he manifests himself. He shows things about himself, he says things about himself, he acts. In technical Greek Orthodox theology this would be there are the divine operations, the divine energies, the divine actions that are claimed to actually exist, and the first claim would be that God creates. He brings into being that which before did not exist, and he does it by his own act of will.
Here it would be very clearly the Eastern Orthodox teaching that God is not self-caused. God is not caused by another. God is definitely un-caused. That would be in conformity even with the Hellenistic ideas, the Platonic or Aristotelian: God is the un-caused. But it would be more accurate simply to say that God is. God just simply is. But immediately our Church Fathers, interpreting the holy Scripture and following the Scripture, would say the only reason we even can know that is because we exist, that we exist in a certain way that we can think, we can act, we can try to make sense of reality, and we can do that because, the claim would be, God made us, and the claim would be that God made everything in the whole universe. He made everything on the planet earth, and that he created everything in heaven and on earth. That’s the first line of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” So all that exists in addition to God is a creature.
Here St. Gregory of Nyssa could put it very neatly when he says God is uncreated and everything else is created. As uncreated, God has a kind of a reality that we can’t even comprehend or imagine, but because God creates and acts, and his actions reach even unto us, in and through the divine energies and the divine activities, we can even come to know many things. One of the things that we could know is that God is, in God’s own self, unknowable. He’s ineffable, he’s inconceivable, he’s incomprehensible. You can’t comprehend him, you can’t conceive him, you can’t imagine him, you can’t see him. We even say “him” conventionally, because God is not even a he, she, or an it. God is different from everything that can possibly exist.
This claim would be this is the teaching of the Bible: that God is holy. He’s not like anything else. He is completely and totally incomprehensible, beyond everything that we can possibly think, imagine, see, hear, or whatever. But, again, the whole biblical teaching would be, followed by all the Christian Church Fathers, is that God acts. God speaks. God does his thing. There is the devar Yahweh, there is the word of God, which is his speech, his act, his word, his thing, and that there is the breath of God, that God is a living God, acting God, loving God. It’s in the image of this God that we are made, and we understand ourselves as imaging God. We don’t understand God as imaging us.
For example, even in the Bible St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I bow my knee before the one God and Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth gets its name.” So if there is fatherhood in creation, if there are such realities as fathers, they image God. So we don’t think of God as a father or as a human father; it’s not a patriarchal idea. But patriarchalness, in other words, that there are patriarchs, there are fathers—fathers of peoples, fathers of families, fathers of nations, fathers in churches. These image God who is completely different from what they are, but in created form God can and does in fact manifest himself in creaturely fathers, and even in mothers and even in children and in all that exists.
So the claim would be that God is completely different, uncreated, and we are created. Then St. Gregory would say that God actualizes God’s own self in God’s own way that we can’t even imagine, without any reference to space and time whatsoever, but that human beings and creatures have to be located—because they’re not boundless—and they have to be somehow temporal, because they cannot actualize their reality instantaneously or simultaneously. They have to grow, they have to develop, they have to process. If we wanted to be funny, we could say there has to be an evolution. There has to be an evolutionary process of unfolding and growing and developing and increasing and understanding.
Here this would even be the Orthodox Christian view about humanity according to the Bible in the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve, so to speak, were not omnisciently knowing everything about everything and were having the pure beatific vision and had absolute communion with God beyond which they could not develop. That is certainly not the teaching of the Greek Church Fathers. The Greek Church Fathers like Irenaeus, Maximus, and others, Cappadocians, would say that the humanity in the beginning and from the beginning had a potential for unending communion with God, for unending growth in God and development, but were born very primitively—or not even say “born,” but were raised from the dust, fashioned by the hands of God through the processes of nature that the scientists can study—for an unending life and everlasting life that for human beings should not have ended in death. It only ends in death because of rebellion against God. But there should be a growth forever.
Here this is a radical reversal of Platonism, by, for example, the Cappadocian Fathers—Basil and the two Gregorys—and certainly Maximus the Confessor, following them, did it explicitly. They said that in Hellenism you had the one Being, Supreme Being, the Good, the One, the True, the Beautiful, and then for whatever reason—and this is similar to Hinduism—this kind of falls apart. So from the static stability of the perfection of God a movement begins which is not a good thing, and then you end up with genesis. So it goes from stasis to kenosis to Genesis, and then there is the beginning of the created world, which is a kind of fallen divinity, fallen into matter, fallen into non-being, and then it cyclically returns to itself, and you have a kind of re-absorption into the One. Or you have where the souls of people again become one with the ideal world of God which is transcendent and divine but is connected to this world.
I realize that’s rather complicated, but the point is the Christian view would be just the opposite: There is God who is completely different. Then God says, “Let there be light,” and you have genesis. And then when you have genesis, which is a beginning, then you have a dynamis, and kenosis, a movement, and there’s a movement within reality that we can see even somehow indicated in holy Scripture. “Let the earth bring forth the manners of living things. Let the waters bring forth.” You have these days: It was day one, day two, day three. This shows a kind of succession in the unfolding of creation, which somehow keeps on going. Then at the kind of conclusion of it is a special, divine act of God, where these creatures reached the point where they are self-conscious and free and self-determining and royal and governing the rest of creation. They’re called human beings who are said to be kat’ eikona Theou, in the image of God, according to the likeness of God, who are noetic and logikos and noetikos and pnevmatikos, spiritual and intellectual and moral and self-governing. This is the biblical view.
So St. Gregory would say what differentiates human beings from God is that God is uncreated and we’re created, and God is God in divine perfection that we can’t imagine, and we creatures are growing in that perfection, eis tous aionas ton aionon, unto ages of ages; and that we are supposed to be growing and developing and becoming more and more God-like. In the language of Dionysios it would be: We resemble, we participate, and we imitate God more and more, deeper and deeper, better and better, forever and ever and ever, and that there should be a movement that is totally stable, coming from the origin and genesis and never ending and going on forever in total perfection. That would be the vision as we would envision it.
But it is the Christian teaching as well that this was not completed. Why? Because human creatures with free will have turned away from God, have abused the graces, have refused to trust God, love God, believe God, follow their own wisdom, symbolized in the snake in Genesis story, and basically destroyed themselves and committed suicide and put the whole of creation into groaning and travail until the revelation of the children of God, the sons of God, as St. Paul writes in the eighth chapter of the letter to the Romans.
You have this cosmic disaster, and even before the cosmic disaster, according to Christianity, you have a celestial disaster. You have a crack in the noetic, purely spiritual realm, what we normally call in everyday, pop language, the angels. You have fallen angels. You have a rebellion of created spirits who were made to be God’s ministering servants for glory and praise of God, who prefers to do that and transmute themselves into demons. Then they pollute the whole creation, and by God’s providential will they human being creatures have to fight against these demons and have to overcome them and have to show power over them. So these elemental powers of darkness and spirits and corruption are kind of polluting and corrupting the whole universe, certainly the planet earth. And this is not what God intended. This is not what God intended, and it was intended that human beings would inherit the earth, that God gave all of the powers to creatures to have power over, by communion with God.
So the Christian vision is: there is a Creator God, and this God is not simply an element or a part of creation. He’s a distinct reality. But God is a reality that has real relationship with his creation. He acts in it, he speaks in it, he intervenes in it, he governs it, but he does not manipulatively control it as if we were robots and the whole world was some kind of a machine. What God has to deal with is corruption, rebellion, and therefore evil: misuse and abuse of powers, misuse and abuse of the elements, the earth, the air, the water, the fire. It’s interesting that the early philosophers saw four elements as making up the natural world: fire, water, ether/air, and earth. And all of these are polluted by and man loses control over them when the human being rebels against God.
The claim is that the human being does so from the beginning, and the claim would be that God knew very well that that was going to happen and had to deal with this [entire] terrible saga, the saga of the chaos of creation and animals eating each other and all of the catastrophes and the extinctions and all this kind of stuff to get to the point where there would be the human being, and then the human being who was to control all of that, instead of controlling it, returns to dust, becomes a beast himself, becomes a demon himself, and is overcome by the very world that he was supposed to overcome himself, that he was supposed to govern himself. So it’s a tremendous saga of the relationship of God and creation from the Christian perspective, from the biblical perspective.
Then the claim would be that God Almighty never ceases to act within it, but he acts how he can act, and he acts for salvific purposes. But he’s not simply running the whole show transcendently so that we would say, “Well, if it’s raining today, God decided: I think I’ll make it rain on this Saturday in May” or something. “Oh, I think I’ll make it stop raining. Oh, I think I’ll make the sun shine. Oh, I think I’ll make an earthquake in Haiti. Oh, I think today I will cause Joe to die. Today…” I mean, that would be a super-duper, simplistic, way over-simplified view of the interrelationship of God and creation and divine providence.
Here I would definitely ask you, if you’re interested in this topic, to listen to a couple of other podcasts on Speaking the Truth in Love, particularly the one on “Predestination, Providence, and Petitionary Prayer,” which I did, and the one about “Does God Play Favorites?” because we have to try to understand the interaction between God and creation according as it’s given to us in Christ, and Christ, of course, opens our mind to understand this whole process as it unfolds in the history of humankind in all the theological teachings and historical events that are recorded in the holy Scriptures, in the various books of the Bible.
Here—and the Bible is not teaching natural science; definitely not doing that. It’s trying to give us some understanding about who God is, how God is, what God is like, how God acts, what we’re supposed to be as human beings, how we relate to God and to the rest of creation, and how the center of it all is the incarnation of the devar Yahweh, the Word of God, the Son of God, the image of God, the light of God, the truth of God, the wisdom of God, the power of God in the human person, Jesus of Nazareth, who’s born of a virgin, because he really is a divine Son of the divine God who is his Father eternally, who becomes the Son of man and becomes the Son of Mary and lives on earth to give this ultimate revelation in his own Person about what everything is all about.
Having said that, let’s say a few other things. There are… I would actually say that this issue of how God relates to the world is still probably one of the worst-treated and most ill-treated of all theological topics. How does a wholly transcendent God bring into existence that which before did not exist? And how does he relate to it? How does he interact with it? We’ve got to say here, first of all, there are plenty of people who think there is no such personal, transcendent God, and that’s not even a problem: all that exists is the cosmos as we know it. In fact, that was even a Platonic idea in many ways, and that’s certainly an idea of many modern scientists, or at least some modern scientists who would be willing to use the term “God”—Einstein, for example, or Dawkins, for example—but they would see “God” as simply an element within the natural world: There is no God who loves us, there is no God who made us, there is no God who saves us, there is no God that we can adore and praise and thank, there is no God who speaks to us and to whom we can speak, there is no God that we can resemble and imitate and participate in, there are no divine energies in this world that come into the world from, so to speak, outside that we can commune with God through these actions, through these energies. That just simply doesn’t exist. All that exists is the natural order.
Now, you could speak about a kind of naturalistic god, sort of a world-spirit or Spinozan god, Einsteinian god, Dawkinsian god. And you might even also dare say in some sense a Buddhistic god. Buddhism is non-theistic, but the Buddhists, I do think, claim that the only reality that exists is the reality that we are in and that we experience, and that within human beings there is the so-called Buddha nature, where we can deal with the realities, but there’s no personal God who loves us, to whom we can pray. That just simply doesn’t exist.
However, there are those who on the contrary would say, “No, there is a transcendent God, and he does absolutely everything.” In fact, according to some Christian theology, for example, medieval Scholasticism in the Latin Church—Thomas Aquinas, Anselm of Canterbury—who would say, “Yes, there is a God, but this God is so perfect and so beyond that this God cannot really have a real relationship with the world. If he did, he would be changing, because he would be interacting with something that would be changing, and therefore he would be changing himself.
Here would be ironically kind of a teaching that God is so perfectly God that he can never be outside himself, he can never act outside himself, and, it has to be said very, very clearly, that this particular way of thinking—Augustinian, Thomistic, Anselmian, and comes right into modern Protestantism—is what the religious philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who died in 1947, called classical theism. He rejected classical theism because—and I know this very well; I wrote my doctoral dissertation about this—that Whitehead has books called Process and Reality, Religion in the Making, Adventures of Ideas, Science and the Modern World, Essays in Science and Philosophy, and what Whitehead wanted to do and his followers, like Schubert Ogden and John Cobb and Norman Pittenger and Daniel Day Williams and others, many others, they wanted to kind of resolve this issue. They said classical theism is not correct, because all that classical theism, Christian theism, did was to take one side of the Platonic dichotomies and call it “God.”
So God was Supreme Being and what was not-God was becoming. God was unchanging; everything else was changing. God was immutable; everything else was mutable. God was static; everything else was moving or dynamic. God was uncaused; everything else was caused by God. So when you take the kind of Platonistic categories, the philosophical categories that come out of Western philosophy, one and the many, well, God is one and not many; God is being and not becoming, God is unchanging and not changing; God is immutable and not mutable; God is stable and not dynamic or moving. God is simple, and everything else is complex and is made up of parts, so God has no parts. God is simple, sheer being, whose very existence, as Thomas Aquinas will say, is one and the same thing, and therefore he is the Supreme Being, totally spiritual, and that this God does not have any divine actions or energies that can penetrate the created order that he himself made. And nothing in creation except in an analogical way can give us any communion with God at all. It might give us ideas about God, so we can have an idea of the beautiful or an idea of the good, or even an idea of being, but these things do not apply to God in any way whatsoever.
Anselm will say, for example, that when we speak about God being good and true and beautiful, those are only human constructs. In God, these realities don’t even exist and they certainly cannot exist in a distinct manner, because then God would no longer be simple; he would be complex, and God has to be simple; he can’t be made up of parts. He can’t be changing; there can’t be any dynamism within him. Or Anselm would also say: If we speak about God rejoicing in us or God being angry with us or the wrath of God or if we speak about forgiveness of God or we speak about the love of God or the wisdom of God—he would say this is only a conventional way of speaking; these things don’t really exist, because in his metaphysical view, which is very Hellenistic, they can’t exist in God, because God can’t have these kind of separate parts. Even the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in this view—St. Augustine said we only speak about Father, Son, and Spirit conventionally; we might just as easily say one Person as three Persons, but since we speak in the way that we speak in the analogies of our experience, we can speak of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
St. Thomas Aquinas would say that a person is simply a relationship, and in God there are subsistent relationships. So there’s fatherhood, sonship, and spirithood as three kind of aspects or hypostatic essential relationships within the Godhead, but ultimately God is one, and God is even one Person. So, for example, if a person would say, “There is one God who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit,” it would mean there is one-who God and there are three modes or modalities or expressions of this one God that we can speak of as Father, Son, and Spirit, but this is a kind of a conventional way of speaking. Even some modern theologians like Karl Bartz said, “Well, when we say God became man, well, we could speak about the Logos who is divine, but it could be the Father. I mean, basically these are almost like interchangeable realities that don’t have any meaning in themselves within God.”
Now, all of this is absolutely unacceptable to Eastern Orthodox patristic theology, and the claim is that this is simply not the Bible. This is simply not how God is revealing himself in this world, in his actions that are really divine, that really touch us. So what would the Church Fathers say, interpreting the Bible? They would say: Yes, there is God that you can say is good and true and beautiful and so on, but these are expressions of God that we experience, and they’re really divine. There really is divine truth, divine wisdom, divine glory, divine beauty. They are distinct, and these distinctions really do exist in God. Nevertheless, they exist in a manner in which they are perfectly and totally one. So in God, unity and multiplicity are not opposites.
Here, probably the best writer would be the Dionysian corpus on this particular issue, where he would say: God, being the holy God, is beyond being and non-being. In some aspect, he is being, in some aspect he is becoming and acting; in some aspect he is stable, in some aspect he is dynamic. There is real differentiation in the Godhead. In some sense, everything in God is perfectly one, and in another sense it’s perfectly distinct in the very, what St. Gregory Palamas, after Dionysios, would call the “countless multiplicity of divine splendors, glories, luminations, actions, operations, powers, energies” that reach even to us that we can actually know and experience.
Here Gregory Palamas is a very important name, because Gregory Palamas fought and insisted—and this became dogma in [the] Eastern Orthodox Church in the 13th, 14th centuries—that the God in God’s Godness, in and of himself, is beyond everything. Nevertheless, what that one God is is God the Father who, from all eternity, begets his Son-Logos-Image, and breathes forth his Holy Spirit so there are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with the Son being the Son of God, the Spirit being the Spirit of God, and as the Cappadocian and St. Athanasius said way back in the fourth century, the one, true, and living God is God the Father, but he has a Word and a Spirit who are divine with exactly the same divinity that he shares; they are not creatures, and therefore the Godhead, divinity, is a Trinity of three divine Persons: the monarchia of the Father, with the Son and the Holy Spirit, in a unity, one in essence and undivided. That was enshrined in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
But then the claim also was that one of the Holy Trinity—the Logos, the Son of God—becomes the Son of Mary and exists on earth. Some Hellenistic theologians, like Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, said: This can’t happen; this is not true, because God is so perfect that he can’t become man. If he becomes man, he’s changing, and God can’t change. So Nestorius said the only thing God could do is have his Word and his divinity—he being God—he can unite himself and join himself to the man, Jesus, but he can’t become man. He can’t express his energies in human form. In a sense, he’s a prisoner of his own perfection. And in that sense, if you follow Hellenistic, Platonistic, Aristotelian philosophy to the end, as a matter of fact, God is a prisoner of his own perfection, because his perfection is one side of the Platonic dichotomies, as I already said: He’s locked up in his perfect one, simple, unchanging, static divinity.
Some of these authors would even say: when he loves the world he even loves himself in the world; he doesn’t love the world itself, because he can’t have any direct relationship with the world at all. All we can have are ideas about God, which in some sense ultimately are just plain not true, or highly defective; they’re kind of analogies that hold only to a certain measure, but not completely.
Well, this wouldn’t be the Bible. The Bible claims God speaks and the prophets hear him. Moses speaks with God; Isaiah hears God. God acts in the world. The heavens declare his glory. The kabod Yahweh is filled, and it’s really divine. You could contemplate a tree and know the glory of God himself in that tree. Now, the tree is not God. The sun is not God; the moon is not God. That’s what Genesis wants to say. But that they declare the glory of God, and that they even express ideas in the mind of God who is the Logos from before all eternity. So there’s a sense in which all creatures and every single creature, from the highest seraph to the lowest grain of sand and everything in between, so to speak, are showing forth in creaturely form what God is.
Fr. Bulgakov, a Russian theologian who was very dissatisfied with how Christian theology formulated the issue of the relationship of God and the world, and he brought forth his own theory of the divine chokmah, the premudros, the sophia of God, the divine wisdom as a way of trying to understand it—I think rather unsuccessfully, but nevertheless very interestingly and worth studying, but probably, ultimately, not acceptable—but he tried. He tried his best. But in any case, it’s probably better simply to follow the Church Fathers and Palamas in what they actually do, what they actually say.
But they affirm the mystery negatively, as Fr. Bulgakov pointed out. They said that divinity and creation, the uncreated and the created, or speaking, taking the cue from the divinity and the humanity, the one Person of Jesus Christ, are united in a perfect union, and then they use four negative adverbs: achoristos, adiairetos, atreptos, and asynchytos, in Greek, which means without separation and without division, but without fusion and without changing. So God is always God, creatures are always creatures, but there is a real union that is effected by the grace of God through his divine energies, where humanity really can become co-worker with God and can really be deified. Human beings can really know God through his divine actions and energies.
Ultimately these actions and energies of God, they all proceed from the Father, through the Son, and are accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit. And that means that all the divine energies and actions and operations of God, from creation to redemption to salvation to deification to transfiguration to glorification are all enacted by agency of the Logos who is incarnate as Jesus Christ—in other words, by the agency of Christ himself, as the Creed says, following St. Paul, “through whom all things were made”—and by the accomplishing action of the power of the divine breath, the divine wind, the divine Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the all-holy, good, and life-creating spirit.
So you have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit acting in the world from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, the Spirit in us through the Son, taking us into communion with Father, and there really is a union without separation or division, but without fusion and mingling. God doesn’t become a creature; creatures don’t become God. God doesn’t stop being God; creatures don’t stop being creatures. God is always God, and he can’t stop being God, and creatures are always creatures and can’t stop being creatures.
Nevertheless, the union exists without a separation and a division. We abide in God; God abides in us. We in him, he in us—what the process theologians would call panentheism: God is in everything, and everything is in God. However, these process theologians, following Whitehead, they said: Well, philosophically what we can say is there has to be a primordial nature of God that’s unchanging and beyond change and so on. Then they called what a consequent nature of God, where God is actually a process of the created order and is really changing. So they said God is beyond and God is within. So then they claim that the ultimate reality is not God alone: it’s God and the world. That’s the ultimate reality. And the world contributes as much to God as God contributes to the world. God needs the world as much as the world needs God. You cannot think or know anything about God without the world being in existence—which is true—but at the same time, you can’t make God a distinct reality disconnected from the world.
Now, the Eastern Orthodox Christian answer to this—and I wrote my doctoral dissertation about this… I’ll tell you how it happened. On my doctoral exam, I had to write a critique of the process theology of Whitehead and these people that I mentioned—Schubert Ogden, Cobb, Pittenger, Williams, and Hartshorne—and I said: Well, they’re on to something, but they formulated it badly. They are right in criticizing what they called classical theism, which simply makes God one side of the Platonic dichotomies—being as opposed to becoming, stability as opposed to change, one as opposed to many, simplicity as opposed to complexity—but those are all created human categories. They don’t apply to God at all. God is holy; God is beyond. God is known, as Gregory the Theologian says, alieftikos and not Aristitolikos: in the manner of the fishermen (he meant the apostles), and not in the manner of Aristotle.
The Eastern Fathers, following the Bible, reject the Hellenistic view of God. But nevertheless, they do say, and they use Hellenistic categories to say it, yes, there is a transcendent essence of God that we cannot comprehend, but these divine actions and energies and operations exist within the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, from all eternity when there is no creation at all. And then when God does decide to create, through his Son, called his Logos, his image, who is incarnated as Jesus to save the world, because Athanasius says the Savior of the world has to be the Creator of the world, the one by whom, through whom, for whom, in whom, and toward whom all things were made, the Alpha and the Omega. I just quoted St. Paul; I just quoted St. John. That’s the teaching of the Scripture.
But God is all that there is, and he does not need the world that he creates in order to fulfill himself as God. In other words, the world is contingent. The world could easily not exist. There was when the world did not exist, but there never was when the Son of God and the Holy Spirit did not exist—that’s Arianism, Eunomianism, Manichaeism, Macedonianism. That’s what Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian and Gregory of Nyssa fought against. That’s why the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that was finally accepted was accepted, because it says the Son and the Spirit are aktisma: they are not creatures. They proceed from the very being of God and belong to the very being of God, and the Godhead is a tri-hypostatic divinity.
That’s what the Godhead is. There’s the one God and Father, his Son who is incarnate as Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. These three are totally divine, ever-existing, and in a communion with each other. Then in their interactions with each other—their wisdom, their power, their glory, their beauty—God shares all of that by calling into existence by an act of will a totally altruistic act of love, bringing into existence that which need not exist and at one point did not exist. You can’t even say “at one point in time,” because time is a creature, too. There is no time until the world begins. The beginning of creation is the beginning of time.
The Hellenists and even the process theologians would say—and certainly the Einsteinian Dawkins-type God, Spinozan-type God, would say: Well, God is part of all of that from the beginning, and that’s all God is. There is no distinct, personal God who loves us, who wills and calls into being all that exists. But Orthodox Christians would say: Oh, yes, there is! And then Eastern Orthodox Christians would also say that this God is in absolutely real, true, genuine, authentic communion with his creation, through his divine energies and activities, from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, with the countless multiplicity of divine energies that faithful people—believing people, people who desire truth, people who are open to the realities as they actually exist, people who hear the Gospel of Jesus and say, “I’m going to test this to see if it’s true”—they come to a knowledge of the fact and conviction: This really is the truth. We will speak later about what that method of coming to know these truths is, metaphysically and supernaturally. In other words, how do we come to know the God who is not part of the whole creating cosmic process.
Now, there are some people who will say, “Yeah, God is an element of the cosmic process. You can use that term. The grandeur, the power, the force, whatever—but it’s still only part of the cosmic process, and the cosmic process is somehow even divine in and of itself.” And I think you can say that two ways: you can say everything is God or nothing is God. If you want to use God as a cosmic term, you could say everything is divine. If you want to say no, God means an existent, separate from the cosmic order, then you can be an atheist; you can say: There is no God; all there is is the cosmos, and there are forces in the cosmos that some people might want to call gods or God depending on their philosophical acumen. Sometimes on the pop level in Hellenism and in Hinduism you have the multiplicity of gods, but then the more astute people would say, “Well, this is only a manner of speaking. In itself there is only one and indivisible…” But still it’s always connected to the cosmic process and the cosmic process ultimately will be absorbed in divinity or will be cyclical or whatever.
That’s not the biblical view. The biblical view is that there’s Genesis—“Let there be,” God creates, God creates with powers that he gives to creation, “Let the earth bring forth, let the waters bring forth.” God wants a multiplicity of beings. God wants human beings to be made in his image and likeness to control and govern it. They blow it, they don’t do it, God has to continue acting. There’s chaos all over the place. God has to come in somehow to heal this chaos, and according to the Christian view he ultimately does it when he is born as a man from the Virgin Mary, the Logos Incarnate, becoming Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the whole world, and the Lord and Master, as St. Paul says in Colossians, “the One in whom all things hold together.”
Teilhard de Chardin, whom we will speak about later, he liked that. He said, “In Christ, in ea omnia constat, in him all things consist, all things hold together. But he is also the one from whom and through whom and by whom everything was made, for whom everything was made. In Johannine terms, he is the Alpha—he is the beginning—and he’s the Omega—he’s the end. As Nicholas Cabasilas would say, he’s also the inn along the way. He’s the One who’s intervening in this whole journey with those who are willing to interact with him in an interpersonal manner.
As one philosopher said, a Theistic philosopher—I can’t remember his name; I heard this on the teaching tape done about the Darwinian revolution—he said ultimately we only have one choice; there’s only one choice that we can make. Either God is simply part of the cosmic processes, that you may use the term God or you may not, but it’s simply, simply part of the cosmic processes—that’s what the modern atheism would hold. That’s what I think Hinduism, Hellenism, and Buddhism would hold. Or there is a transcendent God, a personal God, a God who acts, and that is what Jews and Christians and Muslims would hold. But then there’s huge debate between the Jews and Christians and the Muslims: What does it mean that God is a personal God who loves us, and how does he interact with the world that he has made, and how does he deal with the tragedy of creation and the tragedy of humanity that we are curséd, sinful, and dead, and that the human beings have corrupted the world and returned to the dust out of which they were made?
How does God act? What does he do? And what is God like? Here, of course, the Christian answer with the Trinitarian Godhead is very different from Jews and Muslims—at least on the surface, although I think that Jews, if they are consistent and logical, should hold a doctrine of the Trinity, because they believe that the Torah, the instructions, are divine; the devar Yahweh is divine; the word of God is divine. They believe the ruah Yahweh is divine. So we can say to them, “Well, you believe in the one God and Spirit of God and the Word of God. So do we, except we believe the Spirit and the Word of God are so perfectly divine that they are hypostatic.” In modern American terms, they’re personal; they are persons. Then, of course, we believe that the Word became flesh as Jesus, and in the Scripture you have a definite distinction between God the Word and Son of God, and the Spirit of God, but you also have the very clear teaching that each of them is divine, and the Spirit and the Son are divine because they come forth and belong to the very elemental being of God himself in his holiness, whatever that can be, which human beings can’t even begin to imagine.
So what we want to say now is we want to preserve the distinction between God and the world. We want to say God is God in himself, and the world is only world by being dependent upon God. The world and the universe and the thousand billion galaxies and thousand billion stars are all creatures of God. But God creates them and gives them powers in and of themselves to interact, and that human beings are supposed to govern and control all of this, but they do not. They’ve lost it; we’ve lost it, through rebellion, through lack of glorifying, thanking, and praising God, according to St. Paul in Romans 1. So therefore there is a duality in the sense of the uncreated and the created, which are radically different, but there is no dualism in the sense that we can think and even know about God except by the fact that he has created us and acts with us.
Monism is unacceptable, whether it’s monism that everything is divine, the whole cosmos is just one, or whether it’s monism that God is God in and of himself and all we have is analogies about him and he doesn’t really come into our world and can’t really come into our world and can’t really act in our world. That would not be true; he does. So we affirm as Orthodox Christians both things. The absolute distinction of God from creation and the absolute activity of God within creation, but we also affirm a certain autonomy to creatures, including plants and animals and so on. They have a reality in and of themselves. They have ways of behaving, so to speak, that God gave, but God knew that it would be incredibly chaotic. He knew that there would be all kinds of difficulties because he knew that the human who was created ultimately as the crown of all of this and to care for this would not be able to do it. So he had to send his only-begotten Son to save the world. So the world needs to be saved; the world cannot save itself. And the world doesn’t have sense in and of itself; you can’t make sense of the world in and of itself.
Even people like Dawkins have to admit that there are kind of mysteries of origins and so on that they cannot explain. Here I think natural science, when it’s really doing what it’s supposed to do, doesn’t try to explain those issues. Those are theological or philosophical or metaphysical issues; they’re not issues of natural science. Natural science only studies what’s observable and weighable and in front of one’s eyes. It can’t deal with issues of what is called pro-eitiology and teleology, causation and purpose, beginning and end, origin and destiny. No, those issues of meaning, they’re not within the scientific realm as such. They don’t belong to the scientific method.
However, human beings have those ideas. They have intimations of immortality. They can even argue that it is not irrational to think that God exists. Some of these proofs for the existence of God are not so much proofs for the existence of God as they are demonstrations that the existence of God is not only not irrational, it’s very rational, and it’s even necessary when you think things through to the end, especially if you think in terms of meaning. If you think in terms of origin, if you think in terms of destiny, you’ve got to get beyond what natural science can deal with.
The question that Orthodox Christian theology wants to raise is: Once you get beyond the questions that natural science can deal with, what is your position? What are your convictions? What are your answers? How do you understand it? Here, again to repeat in conclusion for today, that the teaching of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the prophets, the fishermen, and the whole Christian tradition is that the Bible gives us you might say the true myths. The Bible gives us the proper reality of understanding things. As the great Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel said, the Bible is not our understanding of God; the Bible is God’s understanding of us. God tells us what he thinks about us, and then he also reveals what we ought to think about him, about God, the holy, holy, holy God who is the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible, of which the creation itself is his doing.
Bulgakov, when he tried to solve the problem of how uncreated relates to created, he said a sentence once which is unacceptable. He said the creation, wisdom in its created form—he [spoke] about the uncreated wisdom and the created wisdom—he said is God in created form, that the cosmos is God in created form. Well, that comes close to process theology. However, I think the classical patristic Orthodox theology, following the Bible, would say God doesn’t have a created form—God is God—but that creatures in the forms that they have show forth and manifest that which exists in an incomprehensible manner within the Godhead—that would be the truth, that there are the divine ideas, the divine logoi of all creation that exist in God and are somehow even actualized in the divine manner within the divinity.
As the Roman Catholic great monk, Thomas Merton, a writer, a thinker, a philosopher, a spiritual writer said, “When I go out to feed the rabbits, I contemplate the eternal rabbithood of God.” Now, he wasn’t a Platonist who said, “I go out and contemplate the perfect rabbit in the divine idea of rabbit that exists in the Platonic world of ideas.” What he meant by “the eternal rabbithood of God” was that God himself actualizes within divinity something somehow someway that we can’t even imagine that has its created form in that little rabbit or in that tree or in that lion. Here the holy Fathers would speak about all of these elements in creation being symbolic of God, and by the way, they are. Everything that exists in the created order can somehow symbolize and manifest God, can give us an idea of God.
Analogies are right, but the Christian theology goes beyond analogies. We not only can contemplate an idea of God through trees or through animals or what-all exists that there must be God, he must cause it, he must be beautiful, it must have a purpose—but in experiencing those very realities themselves, within them we actually touch God, because the claim would be God indwells everything, and if he didn’t, as the book of Job says, if God withdrew his breath, everything would disappear.
But there are the presence of God and the Logos of God in all things. The holy early Fathers spoke about the logoi in plural that are spread in through creation and have their created forms. So we could say there is a necessary connection between God and the world for sure, but it’s a world that God created and in some sense that God does not need to actualize everything that could possibly be actualized. God actualizes everything that can possibly be actualized, we would say philosophically, within the Godhead itself.
But then I think we could take the next step and say: Since God has decided to create, God has also decided to actualize in created form as creaturely expressions of what exists in an incomprehensible way within divinity in all the things that exist, and that all proclaim his glory and his wisdom and his power and his beauty and his strength; and that our groaning and in travail, as St. Paul says, until the revelation of the children of God when anything ultimately will be transfigured and deified, and everything will be filled with all the fullness of God and therefore creation will ultimately reach the omega point that it was created to be from the alpha point, the arche and the telos, what it was supposed to be from the beginning and ultimately will only reach and become and more perfectly become forever and ever in the coming kingdom of God when Christ comes in his glory at the end to bring to completion God’s plan which was there from the beginning which according to St. Paul was hidden even from the angels from before the foundation of the world. This is how Christians look at it, I believe.
This vision of God I think is the Christian vision, and it’s that vision of God that we must interact with natural science. Those who are engaged in natural science have to come to terms with that understanding of God, not any other understanding of God, because we would claim all other understandings of God are fallacious; they’re simply not true. Unitarian god is not true, Platonistic god is not true, the non-theistic non-god of Buddhism is not true, the super-duper transcendent god of philosophical Hinduism that shows many forms is not true, Allah in the Quran is not true, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob is certainly true, but only true and fully revealed in the Person of the Messiah of Israel, who is Christ—that’s the Christian teaching.
So we must have a proper understanding of God in order to interact with natural science. Then, of course, we hope we have a proper understanding of science, too. And if we have the proper understanding of God and the proper understanding of science, then we can really speak about how those two might interrelate: What are their realms, what are their spheres, where are they authoritative, how do we live with them, where does faith come in, where does reason come in, where does grace come in? These are all the things that we have to deal with.
But for today it’s enough simply to say if we’re going to speak about science and religion or natural science and Christian theology, Christian religion, then it better be the right science, but God knows it better be the right theology and the right vision of religion and of God as well.