Perfect God, Imperfect Creation


#1

Hello, all. As I’m still fairly new to theistic evolution, I’ve got plenty of questions. Coming from a YEC background, I used to view the initial creation as being the result of a perfect God creating a perfect creation and that it was MAN’s responsibility for the creation becoming imperfect. Now as a TE, I admit man brought the curse of sin on himself and humanity, though I believe there was plenty of animal and plant death before the Fall.

The question I’m wrestling with as a TE, though, is: how could a perfect immortal God create an imperfect, dying creation? I know logically it makes sense that everything has to die, especially when plants are being “given” for animals to eat, as the Genesis account says (for one example). But as a former YEC, this idea is hard to understand and accept that a perfect, immortal God could create an imperfect, dying creation.


(George Brooks) #2

@Learner

Name something that is imperfect… how about a mud dam? Temporary, crude and only partly effective in keeping water upstream. Are you saying you don’t think God could make a mud dam?

What are the other criterias for imperfection? Mortality? Something that is going to DIE … something NOT divine … is obviously imperfect. Are you saying you don’t think God could make mortal things?

In fact, Eden was FULL of mortal things … otherwise, there wouldn’t have been a need for the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve were expelled so that they would NOT become as Gods… being immortal.

What is PERFECTION? Isn’t it the status of the divine? God can certainly make divine things … so the question we might ask (even for YECs ) is what did God want when he created so much that was NOT divine.

George


#3

@gbrooks9, I’m wrestling with the idea that a perfect God can create something that’s not perfect. (If I have a perfect widget-making machine, will it produce an imperfect widget? But the problem with this situation is that we’re talking about a person with a will, the perfect Creator, not some man-made machine.) I’m wrestling with the idea that an incorruptible God can create something corruptible. I’m not saying I personally don’t think a perfect God could create something imperfect, it’s just that something about this seems strange to me. Most Christian apologists will say God can do anything that is not logically impossible (make a square circle), but is there anything logically impossible about a perfect being creating something that’s imperfect?

I see your points. If perfection involves immortality, then obviously created man is not divine and so is therefore not immortal…and I don’t see any problem with that notion. So if we say that perfection and immortality are only relegated to that which is divine, then it is pretty clear that created life (which is not divine since the divine cannot be created) is therefore imperfect and mortal. So there’s nothing logically impossible about a perfect being creating things that are all imperfect since “perfection” is only an attribute of the Creator.

But then the question comes to mind: in heaven when glorified saints are immortal, if we assume immortality can only be ascribed to what is divine, then how can glorified saints (who are not divine) be immortal?


(Christy Hemphill) #4

I think one of the problems in thinking about this question is that it is very hard to get away from our own constructed categories and definitions and assumptions about what God had to do in order to be God. “Perfection” is a human idea. I’m not arguing that God isn’t perfect, but I don’t think God’s perfection entails all the things we have arbitrarily assigned to it. Jesus was perfect, but he still probably got food poisoning if he ate bad fish and he may have hit his thumb with a hammer a few times when he was learning to be a carpenter. I think God’s perfection is a comment on the righteousness and justice of his character.

One question I have asked myself is what was the point of creation? If God doesn’t need anything in his self-sufficiency, then why does it all exist? Maybe God creates because it just flows out of his identity as Creator. Kind of like there is no “why” to God’s love, love just flows out of who God is.

In the Bible, it seems to me that if there is a reason for creation, it is to bring glory to God. So then the question becomes, does an initially imperfect creation bring God more glory than an initially perfect one? Maybe so, if one of the ways God displays his glory is by bringing about order, and redemption, and completeness to what is at first chaotic, broken, and incomplete. It seems to me that there is a clear theme in Scripture that God delights in revealing his glory specifically through what is “imperfect.” (I Corinthians 1:27-28 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.) It seems to me that full perfection of creation is something that is always presented in Scripture as something that is coming. (1 Corinthians 13:10, for example.)

There seems to be a fundamental difference in the conceptualization of creation history between YEC leaning people and TE leaning people. In the YEC conception, creation history is like an incomplete circle. At the beginning/top of the circle, everything was perfect, but humanity’s sin caused the world to descend into imperfection until the bottom of the circle, where Christ’s death and resurrection start undoing some of the damage of the fall, and the hope is that we will one day see things brought full circle back to perfection with the new heaven and new earth.

But the TE conception is more of a linear trajectory up toward a goal of perfection. Creation is seen as something that has always been progressing from its initial state of chaos to the order and function God envisioned for it. Humanity’s moral rebellion is part of the story and required God to do something, but I think (I don’t know that it is everyone’s view) that it was always God’s plan to unite himself with his creation through the incarnation as part of the trajectory toward creation’s perfection. The fact that humanity needed a savior gave additional meaning and mission to the incarnation, but I think God becoming part of his creation is part of his plan to usher in the perfect New Creation, which has been the plan and goal all along. So instead of creation coming full circle back to an original point of perfection, creation is moving forward to an end point of perfection which has been God’s goal and plan all along.

So, I don’t see the situation as God envisioning and creating an imperfect, defective creation because that was paradoxically the best he could do. It’s more that God has taken creation, something that from its existence has been chaotic and incomplete, and is continually shaping it into something beautiful that is moving toward the perfection that God has intended for it all along.

Why would we assume this? In Scripture, immortality is presented as something God can provide by his power, because he is the author of life and in him everything lives and moves and has its being. Even in the New Creation, immortality is not presented as something that is inherent to the essence of anyone’s being, but a gift or reward for those who have persevered in faith. Immortality for mortals is something granted and sustained by God. We don’t become gods, we become immortal humans who are still under God’s rule and reign.


#5

After the devastation of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, The Rev. John Polkinghorne wrote the following for his Parish magazine:

Great natural disasters, like that which we have seen in the Indian Ocean, trouble all of us and perplex religious believers as they wrestle with the question of God’s role in these matters. It would be foolish to suppose that there is some simple formula that could, in a few sentences, remove all our difficulties, but there are two thoughts that may be of some help as we think and pray and give in response to what has happened:
One reason why the tsunami occurred is that we do not live in a magic world, but in a creation that has been given the gift of reliable and regular laws of nature by its Creator. The great fertility of life in all its forms depends on that gift. But it also has its inescapable shadow side. A world of evolving fruitfulness canno help also being a world with malformations and ragged edges as part of it. The fact that there are tectonic plates has enabled mineral resources to well up from within the Earth, replenishing over many millions of years the chemical richness of its surface. The raw material for endless generations of life became available in this way. Yet if there are tectonic plates, they will also occasionally slip, producing earthquakes and the huge ocean swells that accompany them. You cannot have one without the other. We all tend to think that if we had been in charge of creation we would have kept all the nice things and discarded all the bad ones. The more we learn scientifically how the world works, the more clearly we see that this is just not possible, for fruitfulness and destructiveness, order and chaos, are inextricably intertwined.
The second thought is a specifically Christian insight into God’s relationship to suffering. Our God is not just as compassionate spectator of events, looking down in pity from the safety of heaven, but we believe that, in the cross of Christ, God himself - living a human life in Jesus - has truly been a fellow-sharer of the anguish of the world. Where is God in the suffering of creation? The Christian answer is that God is a participant alongside us in the strangeness and bitterness of events. I believe that this insight meets the problem of suffering at the most profound level possible.
I hope that these thoughts may be of some use as we prayerfully wrestle with our perplexities about the devastation left by the tsunami.

Hope this helps.


#6

Christy, thank you for the thoughtful reply! I think you’re right that it’s very hard to get away from our own constructed categories, definitions and assumptions about God. I think we need to be careful and clear and aware of our assumptions in terms of what the Bible clearly spells out is how we should think of God’s “perfection,” for example, versus what we may assume this term “perfection” means, especially when discussing one single theological topic and then applying God’s attribute to that discussion how we think it would best apply.

The narrower application of my question relates to the subsidiary question “did God create mortal beings” which can be discussed from the Biblical text, but I trust it’s clear I’m moreso talking about a broader question and wrestling with the emotions and meshing all the truth I know into a coherent and Biblical whole. Such a fundamental question as the perfection/imperfection of creation causes the need to rethink a LOT.

I think my question is partly related, too, to other questions about God’s will. “Why would a perfect God create imperfect beings?” is somewhat of a similar type of question to “why would an all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil?” These are questions, at root, related to the secret will of God to some degree. And so, thinking out loud, if our good God allows evil in this world, then maybe it’s really not a difficulty to see how a perfect God could create imperfect beings. I mean, hypothetically, the more I think about it, I don’t think it’s logically impossible for a perfect personal divine being to be able to create both perfect and imperfect beings (and when I say “imperfect,” I just mean beings that decay and die…or with humans, who can choose to rebel against God).

I think you’re right to first ask the question about the reason for creation, which is the preliminary question before mine. And then, I think you bring up an intriguing question: “does an initially imperfect creation bring God more glory than an initially perfect one?” First of all, as I mentioned in this response, I think it can be perfectly logical for a perfect personal God to create either perfect or imperfect beings. Biblically-speaking then, maybe God’s rationale in so creating imperfect beings is to, as you said, “bring about order, and redemption, and completeness to what is at first chaotic, broken and incomplete.” I just feel like this all makes a lot more sense in my mind instead of viewing everything in life and the world and sickness and death as being the result of the first sin,…to instead see all these things as the imperfect nature of this world and life as being created this way and to see the first sin as just being responsible for man’s spiritual death. (Having such a drastic change in perspective on these issues of the Bible takes a lot of time in rethinking several texts!)

That was a fascinating analogy you mentioned about the difference in how YEC-leaning and TE-leaning people view creation/redemption history (the circle versus the linear trajectory)! Wow, that was helpful. (You’re giving me a lot to think on!)

In terms of the question about mortality and divinity, I totally agree that immortality is not only a property of the divine. I think I was maybe misunderstanding George’s response, so I was trying to clarify that in terms of a question by showing that immortality is not only for God, although it is his to give. Humans in Christ do receive eternal life, although they do not become divine.

Thanks again for the thoughtful reply! This has been helpful.


(George Brooks) #7

How does Enoch abide with God immortally ? … except that he is Divinized by God?

The Catholic Church believes it has the power to bind in heaven what it can bind on earth. So they MAKE Saints. I find your questions to be most puzzling.

If God can stack a bale of hay … most imperfect in its nature … God can do just about anything he wants with the imperfect and the natural.

George


#8

George, the reason for my confusion was your original statement as follows: “Adam and Eve were expelled so that they would NOT become as Gods… being immortal.” My “question” you quoted was not a serious question but to show that immortality is not only for God.

If you read Christy’s response and my reply to her response, I trust you’ll see some of the background to the question of if a perfect God can create the imperfect…and my change in thinking. Thanks for your help in sorting these issues out.


(George Brooks) #9

@Lerner,

Immortality is USUALLY the CORE flag to indicate the divine. And ever since Ancient Days … humanity, or prophets or priests, have taught ways that mankind can participate in Immortality.

The origins of Phoenician deity Melqart is legend/myth of him throwing himself into a fire in order to severe his bonds with the material world … and translating himself into the divine realm. This is what the Romans called ‘Devotio’. The Phoenician theology was again reinforced by the intentional sacrifice of Hamilcar in a battle against the Greeks on Sicily. While the sacrifice did not lead to victory, it did lead to an annual holiday celebration for the new Carthaginian deity of Hamilcar. This ‘devotio’ thus becomes the literal archetype of what the sacrifice of Jesus did (though most Christians would insist that the divinity of Jesus was based on a completely different set of heavenly rules).

What Judaism and Christianity call Angels most of the ancient world just called minor or ‘little’ gods.

Most of the ancient religions have stories to explain why HUMANS are mortal … or STILL mortal. Gilgamesh is a classic example of such a story.

But the idea that Man WAS CREATED IMMORTAL seems to be a complete Creationist invention. Genesis is pretty clear that Man did not become MORTAL… was forced to LIVE with his mortality. After all … if Humans were BORN immortal … that would dramatically cut down on humanity’s need to atone before God.

Genesis: 3:22
"And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever…"

Point 1: Before Adam broke the rules, he was ALLOWED to touch the fruit of the Tree of Life.
Point 2: AFTER Adam broke the rules, he was DENIED contact with the Tree of Life.
Point 3: Adam lived a much longer life than any other man since, yes? I think there would be a lot of people who would be pretty happy with Adam’s version of mortality!!!

and FINALLY:

Point 4: Should we also believe that the knowledge of Good and Evil was ALSO intended ONLY for God? The writer of Genesis seems to think the knowledge of morality is a more definitive aspect of the Divine than immortality.

George

PS - Yep, I agree with your later comment that Adam would have been allowed to eat of the Tree of Life … (maybe he already had a bite or two?)… and then all heck broke loose!


#10

Agreed. Since these are issues I’m presently rethinking from when I used to be a YEC, now I’m wondering where the creationists get the idea that man was created immortal. That idea is just not there. I wonder if it’s more from an assumption that God’s creation would be perfect, and then force-fitting that assumption onto the Bible text.

Regarding your Point 1, actually, Adam was allowed to EAT of the tree of life (not just touch), just not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gen 2:16-17 “And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.””

Point 3 - haha, true. :smile:

Good points. Thank you.


#12

@gbrooks9

Creationists typically say how physical death is meant to show us things should not be this way (it’s all due to man’s sin) and to look forward to heaven. In reality, I think the TE would instead say physical death is part of this life and so we look forward to being free from physical death in heaven.

What do you think about the verse that says “the sting of death is sin”? (I Corinthians 15:56) It seems pretty clear that the Corinthians context is talking about physical death.


(Christy Hemphill) #13

I’m pretty sure some of them teach there was no death period before the Fall. (At least not for higher life forms.) It is a difficult belief to sustain rationally, but they have their Bible verses and exegesis to support it. In this AIG article Simon Turpin interacts specifically with several BioLogos authors on the topic. https://answersingenesis.org/death-before-sin/did-death-of-any-kind-exist-before-the-fall/

Here is an essay in BioLogos Southern Baptist Voices series arguing that the Bible consistently portrays death as negative: http://biologos.org/blogs/archive/southern-baptist-voices-evolution-and-death

And here are the response essays by Jeff Schloss that address the whole “sting of death” idea. http://biologos.org/blogs/archive/series/southern-baptist-voices-evolution-and-death


#14

Oh right, yeah, good point. YEC’s say man was created immortal because they’re saying there was no death before the fall. (Oh boy, I’m starting to confuse myself now.) I think it all may ultimately stem from them thinking that a perfect God can only create perfect creation (and assuming the “very good” of the Genesis accounts means “perfect”), and to misunderstand all the passages about death and sin to be saying physical AND spiritual death are the consequence of sin, rather than just spiritual death being the consequence of sin.

Thanks for the links!


(Christy Hemphill) #15

Sure, no problem.

The long and short of it is that theodicy is a “problem” no matter what your origins view. The YECs have to explain how Satan and his minions got to run around trying to ruin God’s perfect creation. How perfect could it be if the embodiment of evil itself was present in the Garden? The TEs have to account for natural disasters, pain, and suffering that aren’t tied to judgment. As I see it, no one gets their ducks all in a row on the problem of evil. I like Christopher Wright’s take that the biblical question when faced with evil is not “why?” but “how much longer?, maranatha”


(George Brooks) #16

@Learner

I don’t see a conflict with this text.

If Adam hadn’t sinned … we would all still be living forever, in Eden, eating from the Tree of Life.

So I really don’t see any conflict with 1 Corinthians 15:56.

The REVERSE is not true … Adam was not CREATED immortal. If he was … he wouldn’t have needed to eat of the Tree of Life.

George


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #17

@Learner,

What few of us understand is that we Westerners have inherited a dual heritage. We have inherited the Greek philosophical heritage and the Jewish religious/spiritual heritage. The theologians, in particularly Thomas Aquinas tried to combine both points of view, but this was not totally successful.

The part of us that thinks God and the world should be “perfect” is Greek. The part of us that know life, death, and reality is Real is Hebrew. In the sense that science is this worldly it is Hebrew, when we usually think of science as rational and Greek.

Greek equated salvation with immortality and perfection. Hebrews equated salvation with keeping the Law and moral goodness. Going to heaven is the Greek version of Christianity, when Jesus taught becoming a member of the Kingdom of God on earth, which is a Hebrew view.

The Bible teaches that God created a “good” universe, not a perfect one. Something that is perfect does not change and indeed cannot change. It is self-contained and perfect as is.

If we are going to say that something is perfect, then we would have to say that God is perfect. Only God is Who God is. God never changes. That would mean that if God would create humans as perfect beings, God would have to create them exactly like Godself. Even if God could do this, why would God want to clone, so to speak, Godself.

Then too if I were not just in the image of God, were actually God, how would I benefit? I would have nothing to do, nowhere to go, no friends or family, no nothing.

So God is God’s wisdom created humans to be not God, but good. not God, but in the image of God. God gave us things to do and choices to make, just as God made things ands hard choices in making the universe.

However this meant that humans were limited creatures and this means that we do not live forever in this world, even though we do have eternal life when we enter the Kingdom of God, which no one seems to bring up in this discussion.

Christianity does make room for both Time and Eternity, perfection and trial. Let us not become seduced by the Greek ideal to think we can have one without the other. If a good and perfect God could not create an imperfect world, then God would not and could not have done so.

But God in God’s Wisdom and Goodness found a way to do so. We need to thank and praise God for the Wisdom and Goodness for finding a way to create us, instead of complaining that we are not perfect, when there is no way that we can be human and perfect.

Welcome.


(Jo Helen Cox) #18

If the early Hebrews believed in a perfect creation then it would have been evident in their writings, particularly by mourning it’s loss. The editors that compiled the first biblical canon were ruled by the Persions. DARIUS followed Zoroaster’s god. This was a monotheistic religion where the god/creator made all the good things. An evil force (not a god) created all things bad. The editors did not include that version (though I hear it from pulpits). Gen 1 says God created things then called them all good (never perfect). He took responsibility for all we find good and all we find bad. The answer God gave Job for why the pain was, “Because that is how I made it.” (Parapherased) The Bible repeats, “Don’t fear,” particularly about death. That means our animal side needs realize our spiritual side needs to be in charge, which means trusting in our Creator.


(system) #19

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