About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Book Review: Denis Edwards, How God Acts (9)

Chapter 9

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 (first part), Chapter 3 (second part), Chapter 4 (first part), Chapter 4 (second part), Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8

As much as I enjoy reading How God Acts, I am finding that one of the central theses – that in the incarnation, God takes the created order into God – is being repeated almost to the point of tedium. Please don’t misunderstand: I think it’s an important thesis, and Edwards has opened my eyes to the suggestion that the incarnation even draws natural laws and processes into the very being of the triune God. But there are only so many times that it can be stated, however eloquently, however varied the context, in one book.

Regrettably, the first half of chapter nine once more expounds this thesis, though this time in the context of eschatology. Thus the future, while remaining hidden to us, is nonetheless the fulfilment of salvation in Christ, or the fulfilment of God’s self-bestowal. Jesus’s resurrection is the promise and the beginning of the final transformation of all things – humanity and the rest of the created order alike. Edwards does make a further observation, namely that the gloomy end(s) for the universe currently predicted by physicists and cosmologists need not contradict the idea that God will herald a new creation. Christ’s resurrection indicates the manner of its appearance: the new creation is not the result of evolution or natural progression, but arises from God’s action within the old. This is surely a helpful insight.

The remainder of the chapter is occupied with the place of animals within the new creation. Revelation 5:13 shows every creature praising the Lamb who was slain. This leads Edwards to make five points:

1. Individual animals are known and loved by God. Edwards cites Matthew 10:29 and Wisdom 11:24-26 as support.

2. The Creator Spirit is interiorly present to each creature, enabling it to exist and to act. This builds on some of Edwards’s earlier statements about primary and secondary causality, and once more he draws from Scripture to consolidate his position (Job 34:14-15; Psalm 104:29-30).

3. Animals participate in some way in redemption in Christ. The aforementioned Revelation 5:13 implies this, as do Romans 8, Colossians 1:20 and Ephesians 1:10. All things and all things are reconciled to God in and through Christ.

These first three points are sound if unspectacular, as is the fifth and final point (5. There is reason to hope that animals participate in resurrection life in Christ, even if what is ‘appropriate fulfillment for a human being [is not] appropriate to a crab, a mosquito, or a bacterium’, p. 165). But Edward’s fourth point merits more attention: 4. Each animal abides forever in the living memory of God.

Taking Luke 12:6 as his starting point, Edwards argues that each individual creature is ‘held eternally in the divine memory.’ (p. 162) Here, memory is not merely recollection, but an active anticipation of the future. Memory here is similar to the Church’s remembrance of Christ’s death in the Eucharist. By remembering the mystery of faith through the bread and wine, the Church recalls that Christ has died, recognizes that Christ is risen, and looks forward to the time when Christ will come again. Participation in the Eucharist is a single action that engages three different ages at once: the old creation, the new creation, and the final consummation of the new creation, when all things at last will be deified. Thus ‘memory’ here is something infused with the very life of the triune God, as the faithful feed on Christ in their hearts and are caught upwards to God in the Spirit and through Jesus Christ. By eating bread and drinking wine, the Church participates in the eschatological future even while its members remain in the here and now.

Edwards’s point here is that something similar surely happens in the life of every single creature. The creature is inscribed ‘eternally in the living memory and experience of divine Trinitarian life.’ (p. 162). When the household pet dies, in a very real sense, it lives on in God. But inspired by Alexander Schmemann, Edwards pushes the claim further:

The divine memory is what enables creatures to be and to interact. The divine memory is powerfully and wonderfully creative. To be held in the divine memory is to be continually created “ex nihilo,” to be enabled to exist, to find food and water, and to reproduce. The divine memory creates. It makes things live. It enables a diverse world of creatures to evolve on our planet. In response to God’s creative remembrance, humans are the creatures who particularly are called to remember God. (p. 163).

Does Edwards mean to say that because God’s memory is so vivid, anything that God remembers retains its existence and ability to act in some form? This probably has merit if we’re speaking eschatologically, but there is more than a hint here that on an implied account of divine simplicity, God creates and sustains all things not only by remembering all that has been created, but by remembering all that is to be created from nothing. But if God creates by remembering all that is to be created from nothing, is it truly creation from nothing?

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