Growing up with an interest in science, particularly biology and ecology, means I view the world somewhat differently than some other people. I didn’t realize this until I started having theological conversations with people. To over simplify, most biologists see the world as a web of connections and relationships. From biochemical processes to ecosystems, nothing exists in isolation. A lot of Christians (not all to be sure) view the world hierarchically. God on “top”, then humans, then animals, and so on. Many people who don’t have a basic science background think human beings can exist substantially disconnected from the world we live in. They appear to think that the earth can absorb whatever we do to it with minimal consequences to us.
Clark Pinnock makes an interesting point about the relationship between our understanding of the world and our theology in the quote which follows,
The way we think about the world will shape the way we think about the creator. In early theology, the world was pictured as a hierarchy with all creatures occupying a rung on the ladder of reality. God was being in contrast to becoming; he dwelled in the ultimate ivory tower. But the picture that we work with today is very different. With the rise of the biological sciences, we now think of the world as a living organism and a community of relationships in process of development. The designer of a machine stands back from their work, but the designer of a community works inside the project and even experiences its growing pains. Influence and persuasion become important factors. Thinking of the world as an organism encourages us to think of God in an openness fashion, as an interactive and suffering God. God’s closeness to the world and his involvement in it are celebrated. This celebration is rooted in God’s freedom as the creator to bestow freedom on others and not in necessity. For some time we have needed a different philosophical point of departure in order to express what the gospel has had to say.
Don’t worry I’m not trying to make God equivalent to the world. I’m not suggesting there is little or no distinction between God and the world. ( And I think that’s a fair characterization of Pinnock’s position also.) But the only way we can think about God is as beings who are part of the world. God makes God’s self known to us in and through this world. We simply don’t have any other frame of reference. I don’t have any other experience, any other language to use.
Understanding the world as a community of relationships gives us a way to understand the Trinity. We have a concept and some language to use to describe our experience of the Triune God. Before the community of relationships that is our earth and our universe existed, God who is a community of relationships was. God is in relationship with God’s self, with us human beings and with the universe – A complex web of relationships.
The Bible is full of examples of God’s relationship with us. Read Genesis 2 where God is personally involved in the world. Then keep reading, because God’s involvement in the world doesn’t stop. For Christians Jesus is the ultimate example of relationship. God comes and lives among us as one of us.
God’s intimate involvement and activity in the world serves as our model for how to act in the world. We live and participate in the world with compassion and love in long term relationship. The Hebrew word for this is hesed, often translated as loving kindness or steadfast love.
So dear reader, what do you think? How does your view of the world shape your view of who God is? How does your view of who God is shape your view of the world?