God's Love is R(evolution)ary
Deeply considering our ancient evolutionary past can illuminate our view of God’s present love for us.
Take a deep breath and imagine the aroma that fills your senses with delight. Is it brownies baking in the oven? How about a strong whiff of fresh ground coffee? I love the crisp scent of a recently mown lawn, especially if I’m not the one who mowed it! There are also odors that our bodies recoil from. Parents fight over poopy diapers for a reason. Nobody loves the smell of soured shoes that have been left out in the rain. Physicians like myself, experience anatomy lab as a right of passage learning to tolerate the smell of formaldehyde that mingles with death over your cadaver for several months.
For many Christians, the thought of evolution, particularly the part about humans sharing a common ancestor with modern apes, is a noxious vapor we’d rather avoid. Anybody taken a strong sniff of their trash lately? What if we could learn to experience the character of God as revealed by natural history working progressively through billions of years of life on Earth as a fragrant aroma that bolstered our faith? My working theory is that many of us “normal folks” who live in some intersection between a scientific and Christian view of reality have come to reconcile the supposed tension without really learning to savor the dual realities as sweet.
For many Christians, the thought of evolution…is a noxious vapor we’d rather avoid…What if we could learn to experience the character of God as revealed by natural history working progressively through billions of years of life on Earth as a fragrant aroma that bolstered our faith?
I had this concept come to life watching Apple’s “Prehistoric Planet” recently as feathered velociraptors gracefully pursued their prey navigating a perilous cliff with almost avian fluidity. I thought to myself, “Wow, God must have really enjoyed this!” Imagine God, who is outside of time, seeing what raptors had become and just loving his creation. Now begin to wrap your mind around that going on for billions of years in the past stretching into what our capacity can only describe as infinity. So often in the evangelical imagination we are quick to disregard life prior to the described experience of Adam and Eve because we view it only as chaotic and destructive. We cannot conceive how God could have called it good. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s caustic phrase, “nature is red in tooth and claw,” offensively wafts through our minds. What if the 165 million years that dinosaurs were on Earth were really an expression of God’s delightful love?
So often in the evangelical imagination we are quick to disregard life prior to the described experience of Adam and Eve because we view it only as chaotic and destructive. We cannot conceive how God could have called it good…What if the 165 million years that dinosaurs were on Earth were really an expression of God’s delightful love?
God’s Character as Revealed Through Scripture
We don’t have robust theological categories for God’s love and goodness in the context of evolutionary history, but here’s an attempt. Consider Exodus 34. Moses, who let’s admit had a unique relationship with God, begs God to show him his glory. Moses didn’t know what he was asking. He couldn’t actually see the reality of God made physical and live. Instead, God chose to let his goodness pass by Moses, and he chose to proclaim himself to Moses afresh.
Here we get one of the few accounts where God actually defines his nature to humanity. What follows becomes one of the most quoted passages of scripture by the Bible itself. When God reveals his essence to Moses, he doesn’t lead with words we typically ascribe to God like power, knowledge, or holiness. He introduced himself as love. He tells Moses, I am a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34: 6) The thing God wanted to emphasize was his love that is infinitely patient and committed.
The story of Scripture also reveals a God who works in slow (to us!), yet loving ways, often with less direct activity than we would like. Reading a children’s Bible, it seems like God acts in a clear and rapid fashion. Our minds are shaped to conceive of God this way. Early impressions are the hardest to reform. Think about what we actually know about God. Abraham and Sarah’s story may fit nicely into a three page illustrated storybook, but that isn’t how they experienced it. Apart from a few moments of direct revelation, they were slowly seeking God and struggling to be faithful to a promise over extended periods of time.
In our age of instant everything, we can feel uncomfortable with a God who works slowly, misinterpreting patience as absence. But 2 Peter 3 says that God is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. We would do well to consider this in relationship to God’s work throughout history and in our lives.
Could it be that in imagining a God who has enjoyed and created billions of years of life on Earth that we can begin to see his profound patience with us now?
Could it be that in imagining a God who has enjoyed and created billions of years of life on Earth that we can begin to see his profound patience with us now? Can we meditate on the vastness of his love, perhaps poured out on Australopithecus afarensis as a carpenter loves his handiwork and imagine how much more God loves us as humans he has breathed life into?
Ancient Past Evidence of God’s Present Love
I am convinced that deeply considering God’s ancient past can illuminate our view of God’s present love for us. Let me give you two big ideas and some concluding thoughts. First, we could all stand to reflect on God’s fatherly love and acknowledge that his patience stretches back further than we can comprehend. While animals were evolving, the sea levels were changing, and mountains were rising and falling, God was anticipating us in love.
Rather than taking a posture of offense at the possibility of the Earth being much older than we may have learned in childhood, what if we gave our minds over to contemplate the deep, patient love of God which is better than the best earthly fathers we can imagine? Instead of bristling at the idea of evolution and creating defenses for God’s creative work that fits into our temporal understanding, what if we gave our hearts to feel the powerful love of God that formed the Grand Canyon millions of years ago and is present and accessible for us today?
Secondly, considering God’s chosen method of progress over time for developing his creatures should give us motivation to trust the loving development he is doing in our lives today. One of my favorite pastors often reminds his congregation that God loves you, not the future version of you, but that love is never intended to leave us where we are. Many of us succumb to the arrival fallacy. We look back on our lives and can measure significant change in our mindset, personality, interests, and beliefs over the last ten years, but we fool ourselves into thinking there won’t be much change over the next ten years.
As we consider the eons of creation, as we marvel at the billions of years of God’s artistry, from galaxies to the genetic code, we are inhaling…A love that has been patient, that has been deliberate, and that, much like an eternal fragrance, never fades but only deepens.
God is in the process of transforming you from one degree of glory to the next into a person who is more like Jesus. He wants you to grow into the type of person who is capable of living a robust life in intimate connection with him and capable of serving others within the little bit of dominion he’s given you. He longs for you to be able to become fruitful and faithful, but he is not an impatient father pounding his desk until you get it right. He delighted in every step that it took for four-legged tertiary mammals to become majestic dolphins. We live in a world that demands final products, but an evolutionary perspective on creation teaches us that God has a different perspective.
As we consider the eons of creation, as we marvel at the billions of years of God’s artistry, from galaxies to the genetic code, we are inhaling the timeless perfume of his love. A love that has been patient, that has been deliberate, and that, much like an eternal fragrance, never fades but only deepens. Remember: to the universe and to our souls, God whispers the same enduring message: “I am here. I have always been here. And my love? It’s r(evolution)ary.”
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