Wednesday, February 03, 2010

It's Not All About Us

One of the bloggers I read is Drew Tatusko. Yesterday he had a post on the subject of original sin, raising the question of how Christian theology frames the doctrine of original sin when we no longer believe as the ancients did that sin was in some way biologically passed from generation to generation.

I am not much interested in arguing about original sin. What caught my attention was this part of Drew's post:
Time to get rid of total depravity and listen to the restoration movement and the teaching of John Cassian which offer a more elegantly simple and rational explanation for why we are so mean to each other sometimes and why animals have to survive by eating other animals and having lots of sex. Simply put, only God is perfect and so, the world and all that is in it was never perfect.
I am not familiar with the teaching of John Cassian. But I am interested in thinking about the question why if God is perfect the world is not perfect? Why if God is perfect, did this imperfect world happen? Why did God let it happen? I asked this question in comments on Drew's blog:
What I am missing here - and I am probably just dense - is how we get from a perfect God to an imperfect world? Not just fallen humanity, but earthquakes in Haiti. Did God just light the spark to start it all and then sit back and watch for humanity to get here billions of years later? Letting us evolve with the freedom to not be who we were created to be is somewhat troubling but workable. We at least have some choice in the matter. But what for God is the joy, point, purpose of being perfect and allowing or creating a universe to go on for billions of years that is so unpredictable and that involves so much suffering for all God's creatures.

Or is the perfect God just a metaphorical opposite of all the world is not?
There was no response to this question; the comments focused on the question of original sin, which was after all what Drew had posted about. The issue of original sin is important in Christian history and theology. Sometimes when I read these discussions, though, I think back to having toddlers in the house and those moments when they act and think as if they are the center of the universe even though they have only been on the planet for two years.

The earth is 4.5 billion years old. The first reptiles appeared 300 million years ago; mammals 75 million years ago; apes 35 million years ago and apelike humans 10 million years ago; homo sapiens a mere 200,000 years ago. Sometime in what seems like our distant past modern humans became aware of our mortality, our propensity to do harm to ourselves and others, and the idea that there might be a God up there who made us. And we began to wonder why God made us this way and whether we did something wrong somewhere along the way to screw things up.

But long before we were here - and I mean long in the sense that if you are thinking of the passing of a 24 hour day and at one minute before midnight we showed up thinking of ourselves as if the world revolves around us - there were plants and animals and there has been one very long history of life and death and suffering in our world. That predates us and our johny-come-lately worries by millions of years. Why? If God is perfect and God created it all, why?

By focusing on the question of original sin and what part we might play in our own suffering, I think we too easily let God off the hook. God gave us a choice and we made a mess of things, and so in some cosmic scheme of justice it makes sense that we are getting what we deserve. Or so the thinking goes. Even this idea is problematic but at least we can understand the kind of thinking that suggests that our suffering is somehow the result of our own bad choices. It is not God's fault; it is ours. God doesn't want to punish us, but has to be fair. It is for our own good, but God really loves us. That is why he sent us Jesus. And so it goes on and on and it is all about us.

What about the suffering of animals? What about that lamb that experiences a moment of fear and then intense pain when the lion bites into its neck? Did the lamb do something to deserve this fate? Why must it suffer? Where is God in this suffering?

To me this is a much more profound line of questioning to pose to and about God than why we humans are so nasty to each other. Why would a perfect God create a world where for millions of years on end all God's creatures endure pain and suffering? What is the joy in that? Is it really all for the glory of God?

In any case, it's not all about us.

1 comment:

always_learning said...

perhaps this god is like a good parent who allows their children to learn and grow on their own. We mess up and after milleneiums and more we learn abit about how to treat others but just as it has taken billions of years to get this far, it will take us much longer to be good. It didn't help that much of the clergy, kings, and powerful people kept everyone else under submissive beliefs in the old testament. We have gone astray. We wrote about a violent and bloody god that resembled the leaders of areas at the time in order to justify that one group of people can slaughter another and we continue to do so thousands of years later and in the name of the Lord? Didn't Jesus say that all that was a bunch of hokum that should now be relearned?

Of course none of the suffering on earth makes sense to me if there were a benevolent all powerful god out there. It doesn't make sense to me that every living thing on earth only survives by consuming other living things on earth. The more I think about it the more I have trouble believing in God as master, lord of all. Perhaps jesus was just a great philospher that intertwined his ideas with pragmatics. During the time his ideas were so radical that he had to give people a reason to change their behavior and that included the idea of salvation. It makes sense, the world can be a difficult place to live in with nature and man, why not continue to live it better in hopes of some ultimate reward?