Continuing with my response to Thomas Swan’s hubpages.com post, “40 Questions to Ask a Christian”, I’m now on Question #17. My responses have been a bit lengthier than I had initially thought they would be, but these are important questions and it’s tough to strike the right balance between brevity and a coherent, more or less full response. I could go on longer, believe me. You can find Swan’s original post here. So here we go at #17; continuing the line of questions revolving around the characteristics of God.
17. “If God is all knowing, then why did he make humans in the knowledge that he’d eventually have to send Jesus to his death?”
Here’s another sound, very reasonable question. But again, I think it is geared more towards Western Christianity than Eastern Orthodoxy. Why might that be, you ask?
First, I should clarify something about the question. The question asks, “Why did God create human beings, knowing full well that he would send Jesus to die?” The thing to remember here is that the overwhelming majority of people who call themselves Christians believe that Jesus is God. So it isn’t quite accurate to say that God sent Jesus, because Jesus is God. We can say, however, that God the Father sent God the Son into the world, but that gets into Trinitarian theology – it’d send us off on a tangent that we don’t need to wander off to for this question.
Western Christianity by and large emphasizes the role of Christ’s death in the salvation of humanity and I think this is where non-believers tend to have a moral and logical issue with what they see as the whole of Christian thought. Western Christians also tend to take a legalistic or juridical view of salvation – they see God as Judge. All this brings us to the doctrine of atonement: that God requires death as a punishment for sin and also requires the shedding of blood to forgive sin. So only God the Son – Jesus Christ – would be able to pay the price for human sin in order to satisfy God’s divine justice. One might say, “God decided to kill himself to save humanity from… himself.” Here we run into not only the logical incoherence of God creating humans only to kill himself, but also the morally dubious (and neopagan) doctrine of blood atonement.
Orthodox see things very differently. We start with the knowledge that God is Love and He decided to create the universe as an act of love. He knew full well that humans would eventually need saving and, in the fullness of time, He would take on created matter and step into the world so that He might save and heal His most beloved creatures. But how did God do this? Was it simply by Christ’s death? Orthodox will readily say that Christ’s death played a part in our salvation, but it goes much deeper than that. The Apostles understood that something had shifted at the cosmic level when God took on human flesh and the fallen human nature at the Incarnation and they understood that by fully taking on human nature and corruptible matter, God the Son (or the Logos or Word as He is sometimes called) healed us. God became human so that humanity, and indeed all of creation, would be healed. Human nature has been restored so that we can now live up to our full potential – interceding for all of creation and looking forward to the day when heaven and earth finally meet.. the entire universe will be transfigured.
So we see an emphasis on healing – that’s what Jesus did all throughout His ministry. And the story of human redemption doesn’t reach its high point on the Cross – it reaches its peak in the Resurrection when our Lord conquered death. For the Orthodox, we see the entire Gospel story as part of our salvation. Ultimately, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, every aspect of life has been sanctified and we are now free to live life to the fullest – as it was meant to be lived – free from sin and the fear of death because we are no longer captive to our addictions and passions and we know that death “has lost its sting”, as it is not the end. Death is the natural consequence of being separated from God, Who is the Source of life. Because of Incarnation and Resurrection, we are promised to live forever with God in a new heaven and earth… and when I say “we” I mean everyone. For some, the Presence of God will be Paradise. For others, it will be like suffocating fire.
18. “Why did a supposedly omnipotent god take six days to create the universe, and why did he require rest on the seventh day?”
Another fair question. Again, this question is geared more towards Western Christians – evangelical Protestants of the fundamentalist bent, in particular. I can’t get into the reasons why they cling to a literal interpretation of Genesis as they do, but I will say that one doesn’t have to agree with them in order to be a Christian… though I’m sure many of them would challenge me on that!
For Orthodox, we are free to read Genesis literally if we want, but we can also take a look at the real meaning behind this beautiful poem at the beginning of the Bible. I tend to agree with Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, who has some wonderful and incredibly insightful broadcasts on youtube on this and other subjects, that we tend to miss out on the actual revelation in the text when we read the book of Genesis literally. Of course, God could have created the universe in six literal days (and rested on the seventh, whatever that means for God to literally “rest”) if He wanted to. He’s God, so by definition He could have created the universe in one, two, ten, or fifty literal days. But He didn’t. The best scientific knowledge available to us shows that the universe is about 13.5 billion years old (give or take) and the earth is also billions of years old. Not as old as the universe itself, but certainly older than several thousand years, as most creationists would say.
The point is that the Creation Narrative, Genesis as a whole, and indeed the majority of the Old Testament is more about us as human beings than it is about God… and it’s certainly not a science textbook! In the Old Testament, we learn about the nature and state of man, his relationship with God and his fellow man, and his need for redemption and healing. We don’t learn much about God until the New Testament, when God Himself physically enters the world to show us the depth of His cosuffering love for us and demonstrate, by His example and words, how we are supposed to live in relation to God and our neighbor.
19. “Is omnipotence necessary to create our universe when a larger, denser universe would have required more power?”
While there are some great questions in the list, I think this one could have been thought out a bit better. There are some theologians who call themselves “Christian” who would argue that God isn’t omnipotent and they bring in all sorts of points to make their case. These are, by and large, the “Process theologians”. I disagree with them, as I am an “unreconstructed supernaturalist”, as one of my professors at SMU once described himself. I suppose the best way to answer this question would be to say that God, if He is God, is omnipotent and could have created any kind of universe that He wanted. But this is the universe we have. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything regarding God’s omnipotence. One can go on with this until it gets into absurdities. The reality is that this is what God chose to create. The density of our universe has no relationship to God’s power – it’s more or less irrelevant.
That’s it for now, folks. Check back in again soon – we’re about halfway though!