In Whom We Live and Move and Have our Being

Written By: Robert D. Brinsmead & Wendell Krossa
Wendell Krossa: 
 In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being is edited by Philip Clayton and Arthur Peacocke.  It deals with the doctrine of Pane theism which is defined as the belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe so that every part of it exists in him, but (as against pantheism) that his Being is more than and is not exhausted by the universe.  The authors claim it is a form of theism.  A variety of thinkers contribute chapters, including Paul Davies.  They are wrestling with the relationship of God to the universe.  As one adds, “the being of God embraces and penetrates the universe…but is in no way exhausted by the universe, for God remains utterly transcendent in his essence”.

For what it’s worth, the following may help to understand better the wonder of existence and the wonder of being consciously human.  This involves the meaning of human existence as God incarnate; not just God incarnated but God as love incarnated (the ethical responsibility that flows from one’s view of the divine and the revolution Jesus started).

Davies sees the love of God in the unique laws and universe that God created.

Robert Brinsmead: “In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being“, does contain a striking, well reasoned chapter by Paul Davies, the scientist who wrote The Mind of God.  In it he

argues very persuasively against the old theological model of an interventionist God.  That is a God in the sky who by-passes the laws of nature and the laws of physics to work a miracle from time to time.  Davies God comes close to defining my idea of a good government – don’t intervene!  Eisenhower was a good President because he spent a lot of time playing golf instead of fiddling and meddling with what the people and the economy was doing.  Well, does God play golf and leave us be to work it out?  Not in Davies’ view of things, which seems to come close to taking the model of pane theism (don’t confuse that with Pantheism).”

Wendell Krossa:

Many Canadians have been stunned by the violent killing of a young man on a bus by a psychotic person.  The young man, a well-liked individual, was on his way home to visit his dad and was sleeping when the other man attacked him with a large hunting knife and stabbed him some 40-50 times and then beheaded and gutted him in front of others. It was sickening to even hear about on the news.  Then in the newspapers, writers began to ask why. One article focused on the problem of a good God allowing such evil (this often comes to the fore after some tragedy).  Richard Hitchens recently wrote a Post article arguing that imperfection in life affirmed his atheism.

It is interesting that the contributors to In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being, as part of their endeavor to understand a present God in an apparently random world, noted the nature of divine love as self-limiting.  It respects the freedom and autonomy of individuals.  It grants freedom to life.  Freedom is central to understanding divine love.  Most of us have such a low valuation of freedom that we just don’t get the nature of a love that values freedom so highly.  Freedom is so essential to being truly human.  Hence, the divine valuation of freedom goes some way to explaining the random/chance element in life. I t also permits genuine creativity and choice to exist.  But it can be costly.

In the end, as with Job, sometimes there is just mystery and nothing to understand.

If theology makes this radical shift from viewing divinity in terms of nature and now sees the primacy of the human, then perhaps anthropology/sociology/psychology will become central in informing a new theology, God known primarily in the human.  This requires a huge shift in human perception.  It is a great shift in the entire history of mythology/religion.  The early view of divinity behind nature or life led to viewing divinity as angry (violence of nature, disease).  This root perception then led to appeasement mythology and salvation mythology. To understand divinity in terms of human emergence and development, leads to entirely new perceptions of the divine (as the great Life under-girding and inspiring the human enterprise).

So does all this then enable a more general shift in public consciousness that will appreciate more the wonder and value of being human?  Is a post-religious theology necessary here or has such become too peripheral to general human perception?  Will some other means be required to influence public consciousness of the wonder of the human?

On one hand the book contains some of the questionable traditional theological reasoning that many of us long ago felt we needed to abandon.  How much of this can we really know.  Is this the old wild goose chase again (trying to know the unknowable).  On the other hand, is it people just like ourselves trying to find better ways of understanding things all of us are curious about.

I appreciated Paul Davies’ chapter and his effort to respond to traditional theism and its interventionism beliefs (miracles).  He is actually quite a firm theist and does some interesting material on interventionism and naturalism.  As he argues, he believes pane theism is the theology that most closely matches his understanding of the relationship between God and the physical universe.  I continue to see in him what I feel is an excessive concern to defend a naturalist approach, keeping God separate from so-called natural processes.  But if, as he admits in places, God sustains all, including natural law (which I see as simply the regularity of a present God), then why excessively worry about keeping such things separate in your theology?  Of course, we do such things for the sensibilities of our atheist friends and to maintain the separation between science and religion.  I do see the value in such things, but aside from such a quibble, Davies does a good job of dealing with this interventionist issue.  He does some interesting work on explaining how order and chance work together to produce creativity in the universe, which is to explain the complexities of the universe and life.

Some quotes- “there are no miracles except for the miracle of existence itself…the laws (natural laws God created) encourage the universe to behave creatively…God may be more immediately involved in the process of evolutionary change when the laws of nature themselves are an expression of non-interventionist divine agency…the laws of nature can themselves be regarded as expressions of God as long as nature’s novelty and creativity are identified with, not separated from, divine agency”.  It is a useful work in that, as science has challenged so much of previous thinking on such issues, people need to find new ways to move forward. They need to find new ways of conceiving of theology and its relationship to the scientific worldview.

I find the very idea of material existence to be a central miracle here; how do we explain the order of reality and what holds everything together in existence for every moment?  We don’t even know what atoms are yet; we know they involve some mysterious binding of things together in material forms.  And what about things like gravity?  Why would basic matter order itself together and in the form it took?  Nothingness does not do such things.  Why is there a reality with the laws that it has and the direction it has moved toward?  As Sheehan suggests, God has incarnated this in all to explore our “natural” potential. The natural element is primary.