Why does a loving God create evolution

εύangel | Missionary Pastoral Magazine


Systematic-theological aspects

Man and his relationship to creation - a question that has always preoccupied theology. Dirk Ansorge not only takes us into the debates in the history of theology, but also presents the current challenges. Because the questions about sustainability can only be answered (theologically) from an understanding of creation.

When Christians ponder their faith, they are unlikely to be thinking primarily about creation. Jesus of Nazareth did not call for the preservation of creation, but preached the kingdom of God. Its signs, of course, are a renewed world: the blind see and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor are allowed to draw hope again (cf. Lk 7:22; Mt 11: 4).

Against the power of evil, Christians testify to a God who wants human life to succeed despite suffering and death, despite sin and guilt, and that in the end people participate in God's own life. Because at the center of Christian faith is the conviction that God revealed himself in Jesus of Nazareth as love that was unconditionally decided for people (cf. Pröpper 1991, 194–198). This is why the Church, as the community of followers of Jesus, understands her mission in the world: “Man in the full truth of his existence, his personal and at the same time community-related and social being [...] - this man is the first path that the Church takes in fulfilling her Order must proceed "(Redemptor hominis 14). And from the perspective of Christian faith, this person is not just a coincidental product of evolution (for example Pope Benedict XVI: "We are not the coincidental and senseless product of evolution. Each of us is the fruit of a thought of God. Everyone is willed, everyone is loved, everyone is needed ”[Benedict XVI. 2005]). Rather, man is the free counterpart of a God who has from eternity determined himself to call man into being as his counterpart in order to meet him in freedom.

The Protestant theologian Karl Barth (1886–1968) has this in his Church dogmatics To put it succinctly: "If creation was the outer reason of the covenant, it was its inner reason" (Barth 1945, 262). God's covenant with man is the ultimate motive for the creation of the world; for it is the material presupposition of the covenant. (This also applies if, according to John Duns Scotus, the incarnation of the eternal word is the last motif of creation; for in the incarnate the Father meets the perfect creature. In his offering on the cross, Jesus has a new and unsurpassable covenant [1 Cor 11:25; Lk 22 , 20; cf. Jer 31,31], in which from now on all people can participate [cf. Dettloff 1985].) The nondivine - the world - is the necessary prerequisite for the fact that there is something outside of God with which the triune one God can relate. Without the creation of the world there would have been no man and without man there would have been no covenant of God with that which is not God.

In this perspective, man appears as the goal of creation; for God can only offer a covenant relationship to a free counterpart. Karl Barth therefore once more pointedly formulated Karl Rahner: "If God wants to be non-God, man comes into being" (Rahner 1976, 223). So it is not dead matter, the silent cosmos in its immeasurable dimensions, that is the goal of divine creativity. Rather, God's will aims from the beginning on a being endowed with understanding who is able to turn to him in freedom: man. And that is why, with Rahner, one can define man as “what arises when God's self-statement, his word, is affectionately spoken out into the emptiness of godless nothing” (ibid. 222).

That God does not need creation in order to fulfill himself as himself, brings the theological formula of the "Creatio ex amore" to the concept: God is already in himself a perfect and threefold loving relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. Difference is already realized in God's own life without harming the divine unity. Quite the opposite: the triune God realizes himself as a fullness of being and a life rich in relationships (in relation to Islam, Karl Rahner therefore rightly claims the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as “radical monotheism”; cf. Rahner 1978). At the same time, the divine difference between the three people is the reason for the creative establishment of a difference that allows the non-divine to be understood as radically different from God.

Accordingly, creation is based on the eternal and relational difference between Father, Son and Spirit. Because the inner-trinitarian life, which takes place in blessed and indecent perfection as a loving relationship between the three divine persons, pushes beyond itself out of inner dynamics: “In God in himself there is the real difference between the one and the same God, insofar as he is in one and necessarily the originless, self-mediating (father) who is in truth what has been said for himself (son) and who is received and accepted in love for himself (spirit), and thereby is the one who can freely communicate 'to the outside' ”(Rahner 1967, 384). The triune God wants the other of himself in free and loving resolve (cf. Moltmann 1985, 88 f .; Ansorge / Kehl 2018, 43–44.193 f.). This other, the world, is completely dependent on God in its being. Because only the triune God is that power that can constitute the difference between being and nothing in favor of being. Without God, however, “everything would be nothing” (cf. Höhn 2011, 123–128).

This complete dependence of the world on God raises the question of how the world can be thought of as that which is radically different from God. If this difference did not exist, then one would arrive at a monistic pantheism: Everything finite would be God, and God would be everything. This consequence can only be avoided by assuming something unconditional in the world which, although radically dependent on God in its being, is autonomous in its execution (cf. Pröpper 2011, 488-578). Following Immanuel Kant, Christian theologians identify human freedom as this unconditional in the created. For only human freedom takes place as a spontaneity of finite volition that cannot be derived from any natural causality. This in no way excludes the fact that freedom, especially as “autonomy”, can cite reasons of reason for its respective decision (cf. Immanuel Kant, Foundation for the metaphysics of morals [1785], III. Section [Academic Ed. IV 446-458]; cf. also Wendel 2005).

Against this background, the breathtaking conclusion emerges: The almighty and triune-loving God created the universe, which bursts all human imagination, with the sole aim that at the end of a long evolutionary history beings endowed with reason and freedom appear in him, who embrace their creator to be able to turn lovingly. The Franciscan theologian Johannes Duns Scotus (d. 1308) put this succinctly: "Deus vult condiligentes" - God wants beings who are able to love with him (Johannes Duns Scotus, In Sent. III [Opus Oxoniense, p. III, dist. 32, qu. 1, n. 6; see Rep. Paris., p. III, dist. 7, qu. 4, n. 4]).

What a provocation: Should God actually have created the immeasurable universe with the sole aim of creating beings in a lost galaxy on a tiny planet who - gifted with reason and freedom - are able to recognize their creator as who who he revealed himself to them in the history of the people of Israel and in the person of Jesus of Nazareth: as the good author of all things, who wants nothing other than the blessed well-being of his creatures? In view of the current ecological developments, will we not have to reject every theologically justified anthropocentrism as a failure?

If creation is actually the material prerequisite for the covenant that God has wanted to make with people from eternity, then not just any kind of natural evil seems to stand in the way (cf. Weber 2013). Rather, people are currently apparently doing everything they can to destroy the material foundations of this covenant. Large-scale clearing, overfishing of the seas, exploitation of natural resources, poisoning of the atmosphere - all of this leads to a dramatic extinction of species and a shortage of natural resources worldwide. Ecological catastrophes such as local storms or storm surges, global climate change and spreading droughts provoke violent conflicts between cattle breeders and arable farmers about usable water. Growing social tensions and global migration are inevitable consequences of people's improper treatment of nature.

Cosmic anthropocentrism

These changes in the living conditions of man and nature, which can be felt in all parts of the world without exception, have also prompted theology to deepen reflection on creation in recent years. For the first time, Pope Francis spoke in 2005 with his encyclical Laudato si ’ placed creation at the center of a magisterial writing. The postsynodal writing Querida Amazonia (2020) has numerous in Laudato si ’ The deliberations made are confirmed and concretized with a view to the dramatic situation in Amazonia. In both letters, the Pope emphasizes the close connection between ecology and social issues. He repeatedly speaks of a "human ecology" that man must regain in order to live and act according to his creation-related destiny (LS 148; 155).

For Francis, too, man is the goal of creation willed by the triune and loving God. But man does not gain his central position detached from creation as a whole. Man is part of it and at the same time called by God to serve the whole with the aid of his reason and freedom. "You cannot demand a respectful commitment to the world from people if you do not at the same time recognize and exercise their special abilities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility" (LS 118). That is why scientific knowledge and human abilities are to be used as a service to people and nature.

In contrast to the representation of Mesopotamian creation myths, man was not created to spare subordinate gods the arduous field work; rather, he should live according to God's will and praise his Creator. According to a psalm, man is created “little less” than God himself (Ps 8: 6). And Irenaeus of Lyon put it succinctly: “God's honor is the living man; but the life of man is the vision of God "(Haer. IV, 20, 7).

According to the biblical understanding, creatures are assigned to humans (cf. Gen 2: 18-20). The earth is entrusted to man so that he can use its gifts responsibly (cf. Hardmeier / Ott 2015). The goal of everything created becomes clear not least in the book of Isaiah, where a reconciled nature - the wolf lies next to the lamb and the infant plays at the viper's cave - appears as a symbol for the messianic age (Isa 11).

It would therefore be a gross misunderstanding to interpret Gen 1.28 (“Subjugate the earth”) in the sense that with it man would be authorized to unrestricted exploitation of our planet (cf. Klages 1956; White 1967; Amery 1972; Drewermann 1982). Undoubtedly it was completely beyond the imagination of the ancient oriental people to be able to manipulate nature to the extent that this is possible in the technical-industrial age. Rather, until well into modern times, people found themselves at the mercy of the whims of the weather, the hardships of old age, the complaints of hunger and illness or the dangers of birth and death in many ways.

Questioning a good creation

Experiences like this already provoked the question of responsibility for the evils in the world in antiquity. Some saw the miserable state of the world and man as the result of a cosmic accident; As a result, the human soul is now imprisoned in the prison of matter and the body. From this it is only capable of knowledge (gnosis) to free them from their divine origins. The soul, in turn, cannot gain this knowledge from within itself; rather, it is imparted to her through a divine savior and revelator (cf. on Gnosis Jonas 1999; Rudolph 2005; Markschies 2009; Aland 2014).

Such generally dualistic-pessimistic interpretations of the world, which emerged in late antiquity around the same time as Christianity, were resolutely opposed by Christian theologians. They were reminiscent of the biblical tradition, according to which God stated after the work of creation that everything was "very good" (Gen 1:31). Therefore, according to her conviction, after Christ, when he became man, she did not assume a pseudo body immaculate by matter; rather, the divine word has "ingrained", i.e. H. incarnated (Jn 1:14). Even if “his own did not receive him”, as it says in the prologue of John, the divine Logos nevertheless “came into his own” (Jn 1:11). If everything is created in the word (cf. Col 1:16; Rom 11:36), then the earthly world is nothing foreign to the word; it is not evil that should be escaped through asceticism, flight from the world or a higher knowledge.

In the second century of ecclesiastical history, it was above all Irenaeus of Lyons who insisted on the goodness of creation against Gnostic movements, even within Christianity. It is true that volatile tendencies in theology and piety of Christianity cannot be denied; these are fed by Neoplatonic thinking as well as by the ideal of an "angel-like life" (bios angelikos)as it was represented by monks in particular. But when, in the 12th century of church history, groups once again tending towards a dualistic-pessimistic worldview rejected the sacraments of the church with the argument that they were celebrated with earthly elements - water, bread, wine - popes and councils decidedly affirmed the goodness of creation (So ​​especially at the fourth Lateran Council of 1215 [DzH 800–802]; cf., inter alia, Auffarth 2016).

Yet the provocation of evil and suffering remains in the world: If the world did not emerge from a cosmic accident, but from a free decision of God - why is there suffering, malice and evil in it? And why doesn't God prevent evils? Even in pre-Christian antiquity, the compatibility of the divine properties of omnipotence, goodness and omniscience was put to the test: If God knows about the evils in the world and if he is omnipotent, why does he not remove the evils? - so the probing questions of a pagan philosopher, whose thoughtful skepticism the Christian theologian passed on to Laktanz (Laktanz, De ira Dei, 13; see also Sextus Empiricus, Outline of the Pyrrhonic Skepticism III 10).

Christian theologians have tried to reconcile the undeniable existence of evils in the world with God's creative goodness. If they could not attribute it to human malice, they have pointed out, for example, that the good in the world would not be recognizable as such if it did not also exist at the same time. Or that suffering from evil is the justifiable consequence of a divine pedagogy which aims to inculcate owed obedience to God's commandments. Finally, within the framework of Neoplatonic ontology, the North African bishop Augustine (354-430) tried to explain the evil in the world as a "lack of good" (cf. Augustine, De natura boni 4).

In the long run, however, such designs were not convincing. In view of the profound experience of senseless suffering, all attempts to “defuse evil” failed (cf. Marquard 1984, 21–24). Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz made the last attempt to rationalize the evil in his Essais de Théodicée (1710), in that he wanted the factually existing world to be understood as the best possible result of divine creative activity under the conditions of finitude (cf. von Stosch 2013, 57–59).Leibniz was probably right in saying that under the conditions of finiteness God could actually not create a world in which there is no suffering and no pain. The only alternative for him would have been to forego the creation of a world at all. Accordingly, an infinitely good and infinitely wise God in his omnipotence and omnipotence could not create a better world than the one there.

Under the impression of the suffering caused by the devastating earthquake in Lisbon (1755), Voltaire castigated Leibniz's attempt as cynicism. With a view to the manifold suffering in nature, the philosopher Schopenhauer spoke of the "worst of all possible worlds" (cf. Artur Schopenhauer, The world as will and idea, Part IV, 46 [Works II, Vol. 2, pp. 675-678]; see also this, Parerga and Paralipomena [Smaller Philosophical Writings, Vol. 2, p. 272]). Similarly, after visiting Vienna's natural history and ethnographic museums in the winter of 1957/58, the poet Reinhold Schneider despaired of the benevolent providence of a God loving creation (cf. Schneider 1964, 119–120. 129–130. 149–150 . 170-171.178). And according to an article in the daily newspaper taz on February 28, 2020, the worldwide spread of the corona virus is a painful reminder "what we have long suppressed in our hubris: nature is not nice" (Pötter 2020).

Indeed: In the face of the immeasurable and senseless suffering in the world, how can one hold on to faith in the goodness of God and creation? Apparently something changed in the way people and the world are perceived as early as the early modern period. If people of antiquity and the Middle Ages had devotedly accepted illnesses, natural disasters or wars as expressions of divine anger at the sins of men, people on the threshold of modern times saw themselves unable to honestly reconcile such experiences with their belief in the goodness of God ( see Ammicht-Quinn 1992).

In view of the suffering in the world, Georg Büchner therefore drew the consequence at the beginning of the 19th century to discredit belief in God as irresponsible: “Why do I suffer? That is the rock of atheism "(cf. Büchner, Danton's death [1853], 3rd act, 1st scene). With the passing of God, however, the full responsibility for a salutary outcome of history rested on man from then on. On this line, Odo Marquard interpreted the totalitarianisms of the 20th century as desperate attempts to shape human happiness today and in the future on our own (cf. Marquard 1981, especially 48 f.).

In the meantime, not only the great ideologies of fascism and Maoism, socialism and communism, but also economic liberalism are considered to have failed. The neoliberal promise that the “prosperity of nations” (Adam Smith) can be brought about by an unbridled market economy dynamic is hardly followed any more (cf., inter alia, Deneen 2018; Reckwitz 2019). In view of the limited resources, Pope Francis is not the only one calling for a new modesty in dealing with the gifts of creation: "Nobody asks to return to the time of the cavemen, but it is essential to take a lower gear" (LS 114).

Although a staunch critic of socialism, Pope John Paul II had never unreservedly supported capitalism during his long pontificate (1978-2005). Rather, in his social encyclicals he repeatedly castigated the unbridled capitalism's inherent tendency towards individualism, greed for profit and irresponsibility (for example Centesimus annus 35: “This shows how untenable the claim is that the defeat of so-called 'real socialism' leaves capitalism as the only model of economic organization. It is important to break through the barriers and monopolies that leave so many peoples on the verge of development. It is important for everyone - individuals and nations - to ensure the basic conditions for participation in development ”; see also its encyclicals Laborem exercens and Sollicitudo rei socialis). In this respect, the much-quoted and often criticized sentence of Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium (2013) “This economy kills” (EG 238) is certainly a rhetorical exaggeration; but it is entirely in line with the papal social proclamation in the 20th century.

Time and again the Popes have pointed out the responsibility of the people who are now living for future generations. This perspective has biblical roots; because already in the prologue to the Decalogue God impresses on the people of Israel that they should keep their statutes and commandments, “so that you and your children are well after you and you can live long on the ground that the Lord your God gives you for all time "(Deut. 4:40; cf. 6: 3, 18; 12:25, 28).

God's statutes and commandments include a multitude of regulations that affect interpersonal relationships and the use of the gifts of creation. The Sabbath as the festival of creation reminds us that activity and work in the life of the individual and of the people are not the whole and the ultimate. And even if the stipulations for the Jubilee year (Lev 25) are literary fictions (cf. Fried / Freedman 2001), they still reflect the conviction that the land is only lent to the people, but not for them Plunder is left. Rather, those who cultivated the land should share its yield - especially with the poor, widows, orphans and strangers (cf. LS 71).

The Second Vatican Council was still in its pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes (1965) was characterized by an almost naive optimism for progress from today's perspective. Despite the population growth that was already becoming apparent at the time and despite the awareness of possible dangers, it seemed possible, with the aid of science and technology, to overcome poverty and hunger in the long term and to alleviate diseases and to guarantee peace among peoples (cf. GS 64– 90). The Council Fathers considered it quite realistic that in the near future people on earth could lead a life of peace, prosperity and security.

However, the “Limits to Growth” (1972) soon penetrated the public consciousness. Added to this was the growing awareness that unbridled global capitalism all too often portrayed itself as a continuation of the colonialism that had gradually been overcome after the Second World War. It was above all the churches of the global south who were the first to point out the fateful consequences of the exploitation of the land and the overexploitation of nature in their regions; z. B. The Conference of the Dominican Episcopate in 1987 published the Carta pastoral sobre la relación del hombre con la naturaleza and the 1988 Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Philippines published the Pastoral Letter What is happening to our Beautiful Land? (cf. but also Octogesima adveniens of 1977, in which Pope Paul VI. warns urgently in No. 21: "As a result of a ruthless exploitation of nature he [man] runs the risk of destroying it and of becoming a victim of this destruction himself"). The call of the churches of the south often went unheard in the parishes of the north. Only gradually did Christians get involved in the ecological movement. In 1983 the “Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation”, which was initially primarily located in the Protestant area, was constituted. His analyzes, statements and recommendations were increasingly included in official statements by Catholic bishops; the German Bishops' Conference published an early statement in 1988 God's gifts - our job. The Stuttgart Declaration.

Basically, it is only the consequences of an unbridled neo-capitalist and neoliberal economy, which have become unmistakable in the north as a result of climate change, that have made the Western churches aware of the global responsibility for creation, and meanwhile make it an inevitable topic of Christian creation theology. On the threshold of the third millennium, this can no longer articulate itself independently of the worldwide dialogue between churches and religions. It is no coincidence that Pope Francis has included it in his two instructional letters Laudato si ’ and Querida Amazonia sought dialogue with representatives of non-Catholic churches and non-Christian religions.

Ultimately, Francis is concerned with a “holistic” perception of the world and people - and with behavior that is appropriate to this holistic view. All people are called to contribute to this. Members of the various religions have a special responsibility; because they draw from traditions that are based on a respectful treatment of creation. The Pope therefore advocates an “ecological spirituality” (LS 216) and a creation mysticism that is based on the conviction that “everything is interwoven with everything” in the world (LS 42). Man and nature are not unrelated to one another; rather, man is deeply interwoven in the conditions of his bodily existence and in the determinants of his social, cultural and religious identity. Religious people understand their existence embedded in a reality that encompasses them and the world as a whole. Therefore, a sensitive approach to the gifts of creation suggests itself to them, which respects and protects their intrinsic value. The fruit of this approach is not only solidarity with all people in need on our globe, but also acting responsibly towards future generations.

Dr. Dirk Ansorge is professor of dogmatics and the history of dogma at the Philosophical-Theological University of Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt am Main.

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