Advent, Evolution, & Absolution


It’s Advent. A time where we especially orient ourselves towards rejoicing and celebrating the fact that God did not remain far off and merely create a “legal” or “dogmatic” satisfaction for the plight of his creation and creatures. Rather, he broke into it and came into his creation and among his creatures. In this year’s Advent series, we’re exploring how, in this Coming, Jesus took on our creaturely form, care-taking functioncomprehensive fallenness, and communal formation.

First, God took physical, human, creaturely form. In the study I did–and subsequent lecture I gave–on Beauty a couple of years ago, I defined “Beauty” as the attribute of something that expressed complexity simply. Is not this God-in-human-flesh (theologically referred to as the Incarnation) the most beautiful of all miracles to take place? The Infinitely Complex God inhabits the simplest of human forms: a child.

It reminds me of some lyrics of a song by some good old friends of mine:

And why is the architect now,
becoming part of the structure, and how
could this be any solution when they’re
resisting any attempt at repair?
— “The Common Curse” by My Epic

Why is this how it happened? Why did God have to Advent to us in a physical, creaturely form? To redeem both the past and future of his creation.

In the Incarnation, Christ did not merely dress himself in simple humanity, but he dressed himself in the entire past history of his own creation. In his body held the Evolutionary history of the cosmos leading to him.

As Jesuit Priest (and trained paleontologist) PierreTeilhard de Chardin said: “Christ is realized in Evolution” (here’s another great quote by him)

God has intended to join himself with the highest of his creation–that meeting place of God’s Image and God’s Work: Humanity. And in his masterwork of humankind, we find both the Image of God (though defamed) and the highest point of Evolution (I acknowledge the scientific arrogance of that statement and freely admit that I say it on purely religious grounds and not scientific–for more on this, here’s a great essay).

Jesus comes–in a manger–as the highest point of the highest stage of Evolution, and so shows himself as the goal of creation and the goal of history itself. And then he dies.

But when he dies, he dies not merely as a man, but within his physical body he holds the history and story of the physical creation. And so, the cross then becomes not just the death of a man, but the death of the entire created order in need of resurrection. The violent, death-driven history of the world through which Evolution occurred is paid for in the cross of Christ: God’s full wrath is poured out upon it; he redeems the entire past history of his created order.

But through this physical death of the physically Advented God, not only does he redeem the world’s physical past, but he redeems and secures it’s physical future and eternity.

When Christ is raised from the dead, he ushers in (what the biblical writers called) a New Creation. It is Creation at its fully realized goal: Nature as it was meant to function, Life as it was meant to be lived. It is what we commonly call “Heaven”. And it is physical.

Our ideas of a disembodied existence in an abstract ethereal realm are modern constructions and are nowhere near the reality painted for us in the Bible. The World to Come has been initiated now and at all moments is flooding into the present world*. Heaven will be this very physical Earth, rid of all that is wrong and broken and unjust about it*. We will live there in “glorified” bodies, rid of sin, disease, and fallenness**. We will work*, build*, eat*, play, and engage in political systems*. We will taste the beauty of our material existence without the weight of all those things that haunt us and hurt us now.

One of the promises of Advent is that God has come near to us in our creaturely form, joining himself this intimately so that he might take all that is wrong with both humanity and his creation, take it within himself, pour God’s wrath upon it, and let it die, so he might raise it again to new life.

Being joined to our Christ this holiday season means that we are joined to a God that has tasted the depths of his world and his people, and has made them all new.

O come, let us adore him.

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22 thoughts on “Advent, Evolution, & Absolution

  1. Very nice, Paul. Your comment about the death-driven nature of history reminds me that we should have another conversation about theodicy. Some of my half-baked ideas are starting to blossom a bit and are further stirred by your post. Basically, I think that de Chardin might be more helpful than Barth. Death but not evil is necessary; we distinguish. It would be good to have a conversation partner. And Andrew, we need to meet up again.

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  2. You blew my mind, Paul. God’s plan in renewing ALL of creation has always seemed both epic in scope and intimate in love and really reaches me. But I had never pondered the idea that God was renewing even ecological history through the Passion, nor had I thought of Jesus as the pinnacle of evolutionary progress. Thank you for this.

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  3. Paul, would you mind expounding on what you mean by Jesus as “the highest point of Evolution”? Are you saying that in a 100% causal way – Jesus is the highest point of Evolution because he is JESUS, or is there something in evolution that points to that conclusion?

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  5. Andrew, I will do that in its own post either friday or monday. Probably monday. Thanks for making me think more about it.

    Austin, yes please let’s do that soon. And Andrew definitely needs to be a part of that. He may be the missing puzzle piece to this conversation, haha. Let’s do this.

    Daniel, welcome to the blog! Thanks for your kind comment. Let’s talk more the next time we see each other at church.

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  17. Paul — for some this post might be too “heady,” but it brought me to tears this morning my friend. What a beautiful (in your definition) articulation of why Advent matters to me.

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