Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Essence of Sin & the Freedom to Become

The freedom-to-become assumed in creatio ex nihilo takes on a new significance with the awakening of consciousness and the actualization of the moral realm. True freedom is the ultimate act and gift of divine kenosis (self-emptying). God "makes room" for "wills" completely other than his own; wills that in principle are able to act both in concert with, and in defiance of, the divine will. In the former, we see the ultimate end and goal of our theosis: to become partakers and co-creators in the divine life (the supreme example being found in Jesus Christ). In the latter, we begin to see the essence of sin as rooted in that which is contrary to the divine will, that is to say, in that which God does not will.

Here Karl Barth's discussion of "nihil" or "nothingness" is instructive. Barth roots his discussion of the will of God in the doctrine of election. What God wills he elects to be. Consequently, what God does not will is "passed over" -- nothingness. Yet, for Barth, nothingness is not to be equated simply with what is "not." As Barth protested, "Nothingness is not nothing!" Rather nothingness has its own ontic reality in the perfection of God as that which stands in opposition to what God has willed or elected to be. Yet the reality of nothingness is not essence, but rather non-essence; not possibility, but rather impossibility.

Except for the doctrine of kenosis, sin would have no possibility. In fact, the existence of sin confirms the doctrine of kenosis. In willing what God does not will we give essence to that which stands in opposition to God, i.e., to that which has no essence and possibility in the perfection of God. This is a paradox, the possibility of which is grounded in a permissive act of the divine will to make room for another principle of will that potentially stands against him (as stated above). Yet in Christian thought, God is sovereign even over this. Nothing can ultimately stand in opposition to God, even hell itself. In the final analysis, reality exists as a paradox of co-existing possibilities and impossibilities; a paradox that only Atonement can resolve.

Imago Dei, Divine Risk & the Freedom to Become

Any attempt to present a coherent theistic-evolutionary understanding of creation must begin with the idea of divine kenosis, or "self-emptying," as the central assumption behind the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. Kenosis not only includes the idea that the Creator has "made room" for the existence of something else -- something other -- it must also include the gift of freedom, i.e., the "freedom-to-become," which is the central assumption behind what Christian theology refers to as creatio continua.

From a physicalist standpoint, this freedom-to-become involves random processes, albeit governed by the innate physical laws instilled by the Creator at the initial point of creation. The initial conditions and innate laws indeed seem to suggest, even from a scientific point of view, that the direction or course of the created order is generally determined -- e.g., from the moment of the "Big Bang" to the formation of the elements, the birth of stars, the coalescence of galaxies and planetary systems, the emergence of life itself and eventually of consciousness.  However, there is no compelling reason, either scientifically or theologically, to suggest that any particular outcome is specifically determined. Theologically speaking, the freedom-to-become is a true freedom; hence, a divine risk, which is the essence of love.

It is here that the honest exegete must acknowledge the anthropocentric perspective of the sacred scriptures and the pre-scientific theologies that have been based upon them. A coherent theistic-evolutionary account can hardly afford to reify the Edenic myth of the earth as a place in the universe specially prepared to await the arrival of our species. Even the doctrine of the imago Dei calls for reappraisal. From the standpoint of physicalism, the earth is such, and we are such, only by natural happenstance. In principle, nothing precludes the emergence of life in other places in the cosmos, even of sentient life with consciousness, intelligence, and an awareness of the imago Dei.

Indeed, that the Creator prompts and directs his creation as a whole towards this general end and goal must be seen as lying at the heart of the Christian message. The goal of theosis is thus no less than the participation of the entire cosmos in the divine life. It stands to reason then that our species' role as a unique instantiation of the imago Dei can no longer be viewed in isolation from the rest of the cosmos of which we are a part. To remain coherent, a theistic-evolutionary account must view the gift of the divine-image not as one imprinted upon a particular species, be it human or another, but rather as a gift instilled upon the cosmos as a whole, in the beginning, as imago Dei in potentia.