Evolution, human experience and the reality of God

Excerpt from Jan-Olav Henriksen, Life, Love, and Hope. God and Human Experience. Eerdmans, 2014.

Speaking of God, articulating being humanLife love hope

The world is not God. The world is nothing without God. God is manifest with, in, under, by, and through the world. So, no human experience is unrelated to the reality of God. When Christian theology speaks of God, it is an attempt to articulate what is at the core of being a human: to be able to experience the world in the specific human mode of being in the world, that is, as symbolic species, who is able to relate to the past, the present, and the future by means of very distinct symbols, expressed through life, hope, and love and encountered through the Other. We humans can have experiences with experience. We can be in a world that can be perceived as God’s world. Such a mode of being in the world can make human life flourish in ways unknown to other species, and it may even contribute to how human evolution will continue in the future. Relating to the world in terms of life, love, and hope requires trust that can allow us to receive and relate to the world as a generous gift. Without life, love, hope and trust, there is no experiential dimension where we can identify the God of Jesus Christ as present in our world. In this sense, the world is in God, dependent upon God, and conditioned by God. But God does not need the world in a way that is symmetric to how the world “needs” God for its existence. Christian faith in God is thus a powerful expression of what humans take to be the core in our lives: the experience of how life is opened by the lives of others; by community; by hope, love, faith, and the desire for more and other than what is. (334-5)

… Of course, there are many visions of human life that could make sense, but the unique thing about the Christian vision is that it relates to and affirms that which resonates with our life experience on the deepest levels and in ways that interplay with a notion of God as a God of life and love. (336)

God matters to evolution

… One way of interpreting this correspondence between our experience and the understanding of God is by suggesting that this correlation is coincidental. …Another way to interpret the correspondence between the understanding of God and what matters to us in human experience is to take as a basis all the surprising events in human history that have revealed to us the chances for living differently and from grace.We do so by relating to life in gratitude, by receiving life as hope, by seeing how forgiveness can create and provide new chances of life and community when all seems lost, and even by seeing chances for life and hope in the midst of death and darkness. The history that Christian theology sees as the history of the revelation of God provides us with a hermeneutical experience; it focuses on what matters, and thereby also offers specific opportunities for orientating life in the present and in the future. God is the giver of life, the one who engages deeply in God’s own creation, and the one who opens us up to the future and to others by the presence of the Spirit… (337)

God’s creative activity within nature and history derives from the redemptive work of drawing contingent and free beings into a harmonious whole (Peters, T. 2003).

… The grace of God is expressed in the fact that this revelation is presenting us with an option for how to live and orient our lives – it does not force itself upon us. It is a gift that can be received – or not. If it is received, it will enable and empower people to live out of other means and resources than those that can be identified by science as the basic principles of evolution: human nature will become fulfilled and perfected through the grace that is given in the incarnation in Jesus Christ. As such God is then not only in, with, and under the world but concretely partaking in the world by joining with the result of its evolution. (339)

The direction of the biocultural evolution of humankind may be dependent on the extent to which we live according to this vision. Against this backdrop, belief in God matters for the future of human nature and evolution. Not only has evolution provided the opportunity for incarnation to take place in a specific time and place and in a person in human history, but this specific person has then also revealed a possible future for all creation. One of the present and often recurring temptations humans face is to orient ourselves from the short-term goals we set for ourselves, or to simply interpret our lives on the basis of personal benefits, capitalist gains, social utility, or capacities that give status and recognition. A community based on faith in the resurrection of Christ transcends these goals, and tells us of another possible world. Therefore, faith can change the world. (339)

This entry was posted in Being human, Jan-Olav Henriksen, Love and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s