Showing items filed under “The Rt. Rev. George Sumner”

Creation

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Our understanding of ourselves as creatures is inseparable from our being a part of the created order around us.  Now our responses to that surrounding world are many: awe at its’ beauty, a desire to dominate it, the sense that we could speak on its behalf, a wistfulness at its wholeness, and shock at its brutality. We, like it, are contingent, fragile, passing. We, embodied, are blessed with fruitfulness in bearing children.  So we are a part of it, yet these reactions themselves set us apart.  Each description mentioned impinges somehow on the question of faith.

We humans have been tempted to worship the creation, to mistake it, and so us, with the Creator, in idolatry, as we mentioned above.  Though we should identify with and, ideally, steward creation, Christians have had a major role in ‘desacralizing’ the natural order.  When we note the corruption of creation, we ought, in this age of ecological awareness, to see our own guilt.  We also realize that the realms of creation and redemption imply one another. Creation cannot save, but it can whisper to us of the Creator. 

If we consider the first chapter of Genesis, we can see the rich pluriformity of creation,  the diversity and distinctiveness of its forms.  This bespeaks the generosity and endless creativity of the Creator.  There is a side of creation which reveals in sheer ‘difference,’ though the believer can perceive them all inarticulately praising the one Creator. (e.g. Psalm 148)    

Is a belief in creation something then we share with those who follow Eastern or indigenous faiths and with secular people?  In part, for they and we appreciate its beauty and should have a concern for its protection.  This ‘overlap’ in commitments is valuable: ‘who is not against us is for us.’  However, in light of the question of faith, the things that we as monotheists believe also come to stand out.

Romans 8:22-24

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to son-ship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?

Augustine’s Confessions

And what is this? I asked the earth; and it answered, "I am not He;" and whatsoever are therein made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the creeping things that lived, and they replied, "We are not thy God, seek higher than we." I asked the breezy air, and the universal air with its inhabitants answered, Anaximenes was deceived, I am not God." I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars: "Neither," say they, "are we the God whom thou seekest." And I answered unto all these things which stand about the door of my flesh, "Ye have told me concerning my God, that ye are not He; tell me something about Him." And with a loud voice they exclaimed, "He made us.”

Robert Browning, ‘In Memoriam’

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

The Problem of God

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We humans have the power to make tools, to speak, to plan for the future.  In our own ways we are the most skilled of animals.  We can ask questions about ourselves, about life and its purpose.  We can speak of our own death.  We can tell stories, including a conclusion of all things, and we can create things for the sake of their beauty alone.   We can ask about, and then pursue, the truth even when it, as with the tragic Oedipus, does not conduce to our favor. We can imagine the divine.  In so doing we experience wonder, dread, and hope.  We can think of that which exceeds our understanding.  And we can offer these generalizations even as we give space for the wide variations in these activities and ideas culturally.   The human is the sort of creature who can pose the question of God. 

This capacity to seek and ask what exceeds us will seem to some a built-in frustration.  “All this I have tested by wisdom. I said ‘I will be wise,’ but it was far from me.” (Ecclesiastes 7:23) Better to live life on its own terms and let questioning go!  Many today advocate just such an elimination of all that is not functional or material, as if that would remove our discontent.  The price is concluding that life is ‘vanity,’ wind, ‘sound and fury signifying nothing’ (MacBeth).    But it is harder than it might seem to ignore the ‘itch,’ the restlessness.  It is part of our make-up:   the human as question-asker asks why this is so too. 

Now if it is God we are speaking of, then we are speaking of that which we cannot understand, the One greater than we are.  If the answer could be reduced to human terms alone, then it would no longer be God we are speaking of.  We are now feeling our way in a darkened room.  What kind of creature has implanted the urge to do that?  The Christian faith claims that this capacity, with its accompanying incapacity, is an indispensable clue to the truth about ourselves and the world.

It is important to realize what Christianity isn’t saying. It is claiming that people can live with or without God.   But is not claiming that you can wrestle with the question of God or not, and it doesn’t really matter, whatever works for you, as if there were no consequence.  We believe that to live only in the day-to- day truncates what you as a human are.      

You might say that everyone is ‘religious’ insofar as they have some answer or other, around which we organize our lives (A theologian named Paul Tillich said something like this).  But Christianity is not saying that all the answers to the ‘big question’ are fine, so long as you have one.  There are people who say this (they might be called ‘pluralists’), but the Christian faith claims something more definite.  Answers that replace something created for the Creator, which sub-in something smaller and knowable, are called ‘idolatry’ in the Bible. They are rejected because at the end of the day we are thereby really worshipping ourselves. 

What to Read: CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy: Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse... withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased... In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else... The quality common to the three experiences... is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure.

Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History, II.13: The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.

Phiilippians 3:18  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach,and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

 

 

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