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Eden, doctrine, boxes and God-talk

No matter what your position on global warming, this Washington Post piece—The End of Eden—is fascinating.

Just on its first-glance merits alone, the article is wonderfully and wittily written, not to mention engrossing. Michael Powell sits us down for tea and conversation with the 88-year-old English scientist James Lovelock, the originator of Earth-as-Gaia theory (no, not the New Age something-to-be-worshipped-Earth but the theory of Earth as an interconnected organism—which is actually quite biblical if you take into account Psalm 104) and author of The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity, in which Lovelock lays out what he believes the next 10 to 20 years hold for the planet and its inhabitants. With Powell, we explore Lovelock’s research, which indicates “Gaia will hike her thermostat by at least 10 degrees. Earth, he predicts, will be hotter than at any time since the Eocene Age 55 million years ago, when crocodiles swam in the Arctic Ocean.” (For more, go here.)

But it’s the second-glance merits of the article that really grab me. This is the kind of article I enjoy reading, not so much for its subject matter (which is thought-provoking) but because of its use of biblical language and allusions, which inevitably raise—intentionally or not—God-talk. It’s not grossly oozing with biblical idioms, but instead has just enough to stay consistent with its title. It carries references to the beginning (Eden), stuff from the middle (Moses) and the end (a nod to Revelations and an armageddon of sorts). Well done, in my book.

My favorite quote from the colorfully-sketched English gent comes as he recalls his denouncement at a conference in Berlin by biologists (who argued “that organisms cannot possibly act in concert, as that would imply foresight”) shortly after publicizing his Gaia theory—now apparently commonly accepted in science: “The intolerance gave him a pain. Lovelock said that the world's biomass can act without being ‘conscious.’ ‘The neo-Darwinists are just like the very religious,’ Lovelock says. ‘They spend all their time defending silly doctrine.’”


Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading Donald Miller (or Scot McKnight, Dan Stone, C.S. Lewis, etc.), but behind the humor of Lovelock’s words I was immediately struck by the idea that we humans seem to desire to be defined by something outside of ourselves. Miller articulates this well in Searching for God knows what, observing that if it’s not God (by whom we are meant to be defined) it will be a philosophy, religion, system of thought, culture or what other people think of us—and all those things will inevitably contain some silly ideas or doctrines. In The Rest of the Gospel, Stone talks about this especially in terms of how we let religion or religious roles define our identity instead of our newness and new way of living in Jesus. McKnight got me on this one when, as he discussed the emerging movement, he talked about how theologies can become more important than the biblical text itself.

So, if it’s not God himself defining us—in particular, a full-blown, in-dance-step relationship with him—then we are inclined to put something in its place, which can develop into a religion, be it neo-Darwinism or neo-Fundamentalism, that we spend a lot of time defending. I get that for those of us who follow Jesus a doctrine or theology or religion seems much safer than the idea of being in an actual relationship with God. Like Lewis says (in Narnia), God’s not safe and (later in A Grief Observed) he’s constantly knocking down our however-well-intentioned but self-built images we erect of him and how he works. Or as Miller says, God is not a genie to be controlled, with whom formulas do not work. God is a Person of the mind-boggling sort, a God who won’t be put in a box. (But that box sure can be attractive sometimes.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that doctrine and theology are evil and we must toss them to the wind. To the contrary, I think both are important. They help us define what we believe and why we believe it. But they are tools, not ends in themselves. When they become the ends, we will fight tooth and nail to defend them—even the parts that are wrong or “silly” and keep us from seeing God as he would be seen. So, don’t you think we must be open to examining what we believe and why we believe it, especially in the light of Scripture itself? I tend to agree with David, another English bloke, who wrote recently that we should welcome discussion and questions about our doctrine and theology:

“The path to a strong faith is by questioning. Questioning everything. There is a need for God to guide our thinking, but much of the Church is more concerned with controlling what people believe and fearful of heretics power to destroy. If a truth is worth holding, then there is no need to be fearful of it disappearing, it will endure.

If our faith is based on ideas which are not thought about and just accepted, then it will fail in the time of trial.
I think it’s easy and tempting to spend our time defending our thoughts and systems we’ve developed about God and Scripture and live our lives by them rather than embracing a life with God (who revealed that Scripture to begin with) in the Kingdom. The former is under our control and the latter is risky. But the former isn’t healthy—and it isn’t real or life-giving. And doesn’t it open the door to becoming like the Pharisees, who seemed to spend a great deal of time “defending silly doctrine” but couldn’t see Jesus when he was standing right in front of them?

Anyway, that’s why I love articles like these—raising God-thoughts and God-talk. Which (at least for this blogger) is always good chow for contemplation. And blog posts.

(Images: earth by NASA; James Lovelock photo from his website; boxed butterflies by pikkus at flickr; Eden waterfall by illumi123 at flickr)


Anonymous said…
This is very self-serving, I suppose, as I wrote that article. But one of the pleasures of the internet age is to see who is linking to what, and then to discover something new and fascinating.

Such as this blog.


Michael Powell
Carmen Andres said…
mr. powell, no telling if you'll stop by again, but thanks for your visit and your words. and i did enjoy your article, and look forward to reading more. many blessings.
Melissa said…
Carmen - I'm so with you. I'm in many similar reflections as well. It is such a challenge to break free from a mode of approaching faith and a worldview of success being in destination rather than the journey. Thank you for your wonderful thoughts and challenges.

Carmen Andres said…
heh, i'm beginning to agree with others who liken this to detoxing. thanks for stopping by, melissa. blessings.