Editor's note: Below is one of the “highlight clips” from the plenary talks at our Spring 2017 Christ and Creation conference in Houston, TX. This week’s clip is from Senior Editor Jim Stump's talk, titled "Does the Center Hold? Evolution and Christian Orthodoxy." It's important to note that in this portion of Jim's talk, he is exploring common critiques of evolutionary creationism. The slide shown at the beginning of this video is meant to reflect one of these hypothetical critiques.
If evolution is true, then things have been dying since the beginning; so creation could not have been very good; that means God is responsible for evil.
For many people, this is the hardest one, but it isn’t a new problem. For all of recorded history humans have pondered the problem of evil, and I’m not convinced that evolution makes it any worse.
There’s a picture of creation many people have according to which everything was originally perfect and unchanging. But that’s a cartoon. It bears little resemblance to the scriptural narrative. God’s creation was good, even very good, but after that pronouncement in Genesis 1, the first thing he tells the people he created is to fill the earth and subdue it. That means God didn’t create things originally the way he intended for them to be. He could have snapped his fingers and made a world that was already filled and subdued, but he didn’t. Instead he created us and instructed us to do that. That seems to suggest at least that God delights in the process of things coming to be what he wants them to be. And it states unambiguously that he wants us involved in that process.
Now we see through a glass darkly. That’s the lesson at the end of Job when God finally speaks and says, “Who are you to instruct me?? Were you there when I did this stuff?” But in the vein of suggestion for how we might understand, I’ll offer that God is not looking to save us in order to whisk us off to some far away heaven that is unconnected to this created order. If that’s what he wanted, he could have just made that from the start. Instead, he has saved us so we might function as we were intended to: as his image bearers and rulers in his kingdom now and in the new heavens and the new earth that are to come. And thus he has embarked on a project of shaping us to be who he wants us to be.
This applies to us as individuals, as each of us has a story of our spiritual journey to tell. But I think God has shaped us as a species as well, call it the spiritual journey of Homo sapiens. And maybe the evolutionary struggle is the only way to develop moral beings like us. Maybe it can’t be done for us. Maybe God can no more snap his fingers to create morally mature creatures than he could create free persons who are incapable of sin. These are contradictions in terms. We become morally mature only by being involved in our own moral formation, by making decisions with moral implications; and this requires challenging environments where decisions have serious consequences.
So perhaps our capacity for moral responsibility was forged from processes that included pain. This is not senseless pain and gratuitous violence; but consistent with the cruciform nature of creation, it is ultimately redemptive, as God transforms all of creation – even the hard parts – and is working all things together for good.
The Christian hope is not in some fabled, perfect past; but in the transformed future, the new heavens and the new earth, the kingdom of God.