Saturday, 21 March 2009

God with us, in our Death

John Haught writes one of the finest works in the emerging genre of evolutionary theology. In it he describes how Christianity is really only fully fulfilled in the light of evolution; and evolution only makes sense fully within the Christian myth. His central point in this is the kenosis, Christ's emptying of himself by becoming man, suffering as a human, and dying on the cross, all for love. Haught extends this out to the central Christian principle of panentheism to answer the troubling question of theodicy. God is not everything, but rather everywhere, and in everything. He then contemplates, how does this then answer the problem of suffering? Evolution did not invent theodicy, but it certainly accentuates it, as there are constant billions of creatures who suffer and die, even if one excludes those lacking in brains and therefore the capacity of suffering. And these countless creatures are doing this long before "sin" entered the world through humanity, and death through sin.

It is answered in part, that God cares for all his creatures- and even those items that he did not breath life into. He cares not only for the moving animals, but the growing trees, and the sitting-and-doing-nothing rocks, waiting to erode. He may care for some creatures more than others, but each and everyone is his creation, and he loves them dearly. And he is present with all of them, at each moment of their lives, no matter how long or short the lives are. And for those capable of suffering, long before the cross, Christ took up their suffering upon himself, suffering with them in every moment, mourning with them, feeling the splagxnizomai compassion of identification and empathy.

The journal Ac­ta Pa­lae­on­to­log­ica Po­lon­ica denotes an extraordinary find in Inner Mongolia in China. An entire herd of young Sin­or­nith­o­mi­mus dongi has been found entrapped in mud. It's rare to find a herd of fossils of one species; rarer still to find some with their last meal in their stomachs, and such details as eye bones preserved, and how they died.

From World Science's summary:

These an­i­mals died a slow death in a mud trap, their
flail­ing only serv­ing to at­tract a near­by
scav­en­ger or preda­tor.

The skele­tons showed si­m­i­lar ex­quis­ite pre­serva­t­ion and were mostly fac­ing the same di­rec­tion, the re­search­ers said, sug­gest­ing that they died to­geth­er and rath­er quick­ly.

Two skele­tons fell one right over the oth­er. Al­though most of their skele­tons lay on a flat hor­i­zon­tal plane, their hind legs were stuck deeply in the mud be­low. Only their hip bones were mis­sing, the likely hand­i­work of a scav­en­ger work­ing over the meat­i­est part of the body bod­ies shortly af­ter the an­i­mals died.

Plung­ing marks in mud sur­round­ing the skele­tons recorded their failed at­tempts to es­cape.

What do we do with such details, of suffering and death? It happened so long ago, 90 million years ago. Like a tragedy on the other side of the world, or watching one unfold in a fictional drama on TV, there is nothing we can do about it. But we can remember,

That God was with them.
He was with them in their suffering, and their
He knew them, and remembered them.
He was with them in their
coming in,
and their going out.

And he wept with them too.

And we can pray the prayer we always pray, knowing that God's will will be and is and has been done, but we pray to align ourselves with the Spirit of God, that we might follow him in this kenosis:
Lord, be with them, even the least of these your creatures.
As you have been, as you will be, as you shall be, in the enternal now.
And teach me your compassion.

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