Does Adventism really understand what Creation is all about?


(system) #1

The way this title articulates the question on Creation evidences an apparently ungenerous doubt toward Adventism. Adventism has been, in contemporary religious history, the community that may have, more intensively and creatively than others, called back the attention, by theological perspective as much as by religious practice (see for instance the Adventist protological, soteriological, eschatological, anthropological or ethical reflection on the Sabbath), toward Creation as a key point in theological construction. But a theological Hubris is today a concrete temptation for institutional Adventism, theological as much as administrative. Its present unilateral call for fidelity to Truth hides the obsession with exhaustiveness and the pretention of having a photographic picture of how Creation really happened. Both are typical contemporary western illusions and mistakes in approaching and in reading reality, religious or secular. In fact, any church, any creed and any theological construction will never be able to say all that can be said about Creation and pretend to say it always right. All these remain human attempts, individual or corporative, more or less genuine, more or less pertinent and partial approximations to try to catch the real meaning of Creation. The Bible narratives of Creation are divinely inspired, at least we Adventists consider them to be such. Nevertheless today’s Adventist interpretation of those narratives can not pretend to have the same status, not for Adventist inside and even less for non-Adventist outside. Adventism is called today -what Adventists did in the past is not enough- to build up, with courage and creativity, a convincing interpretation and formulation of Creation. And that will not be possible if we remain isolated or become relational only to be critical and suspicious about Science - Biology, Geology and even about theistic evolution. It doesn’t mean that we need to subordinate or to give up our priorities and our convictions to theirs but only that we urgently need to get awareness that true questions about the consistency and solidity of the Adventist re-elaboration of the Creation narratives today can not come from within but only from outside Adventism.

How much Creation or/and its secular synonyms – Nature, Cosmos or Ecology – have become a problem for everybody today, believers and not-believers -because the meaning of what nature is, can not be reducible only to the question of the Origins – can be immediately perceived in an embarrassing contemporary cultural paradox. On one hand Creation and Nature have never been so much studied and known by the general population as in our time and even confessed by Christians as the work of God. On the other hand, however, there has never been a historical period in which nature has also been so much in danger as in ours with the contribution of Christians who unfortunately are not always known by their coherent ecologically friendly attitudes and behavior. Let’s list briefly three areas where this paradox is variably and differently present.

First, Creation and Nature, in modern and in contemporary theology, have had a paradoxical destiny. In fact they have disappeared as major topics of reflection. This darkening and obfuscation of the Creation can not be imputed to the nascence of evolutionism. This would be a too liberating and easy alibi – and not only for strict creationists. That Creation has become the Cinderella of modern theology is due, for some, to the priority and centrality given to Christology over Cosmology, particularly in the Protestant tradition. But is Christology the only responsible factor for the obscuration of Cosmology as a major theme of theological reflection? Not really, because behind Christology – and may be by means of a specific type of Christology, typical of modern theology, the one that focuses almost exclusively on the human nature of Christ– stands and emerges the typical, massive and characterizing theological modern concern with anthropology. This "anthropological turn" of modern theology represents the key to understanding the nature and perspective of contemporary theology and its relation to Nature. After this main modern assumption, to understand God we must necessarily start from man. It doesn’t matter how much creeds, theologies or churches oppose each other, at bottom this fundamental dogma of modern Christian theology usually is not challenged and contested. Previously, in other cultural and historical eras, the quest of God, the God who is not visible, started not from man but from the Cosmos. While man is imperfect, limited, unpredictable, and represents a poor basis to get to know the perfect God, the Cosmos instead is reliable, sequential, regular and ordered. This conviction is common to the Old Testament believer or to the medieval one as for instance expressed, in its rational version, in Aquinas’ “five Cosmological proofs” for God’s existence.

Is this theological shift from cosmology to anthropology the result of a conscious and deliberate choice or does it hide a kind of sublimation? There is strong evidence to think the second option is more plausible. When modern science began to grow exponentially, quantitatively and qualitatively, it liberated itself from theology and even overpowered it. Theology was no longer able to compete with it. So theology handed over the Cosmos to science and chose as particular space for its own reflection, man in himself. Man in its various dimensions, became the measure to reach God, particularly those dimensions unassailable by science such as the soul and heart, where, after this theological sublimation, God speaks the most and the best. But to be unassailable unfortunately also meant to become irrelevant in the debate on nature and paradoxically also on God himself. Can a God who can be grasped only in the believer’s heart and not also in the cosmos can still be considered true also for the heart?

Second, Adventism has had the enormous merit of bringing back the question of creation and nature at the center of the theological debate in an urgent and critical moment. Particularly by its “theology of the Sabbath”, but not only through this, Adventism pretends to remind today’s Christianity that the question of God, Faith and religion can not and should be not posed only in the restricted area of human interiority or even in the larger historical reality of politics but needs to become necessarily a cosmological question. If right intuitions, like this, were enough to solve problems, that would be perfect. Unfortunately reality doesn’t work this way. Theological intuitions and insights need to be considered just as starting ingredients not as final products. They need to be worked out with patience, perseverance, creativity and also through dialogue, confrontation and debate, attitudes that have always been difficult to cultivate in the Adventist “Volkgeist”. Too distracted with our own numerical growth or with the defense of our meticulous dogmas, Adventism has ended up being an irrelevant voice in the cultural and theological current debate on creation, nature and ecology. But this is not the worst. Today’s tremendous theological intuition on the centrality of the Creation, instead of working as a corrective element of the already strong anthropocentrism of modern culture and contemporary theology, paradoxically finds Adventism using it not to dismantle the anomaly but rather to reinforce it. To the point that Adventism incarnates now a theological oxymoron: today’s Adventist theology of creation is a theology without cosmos. Or to say it the other way round: Adventist theology of creation is, de facto, only anthropology. For instance, vegetarianism has not become for today’s Adventist a cosmological or an ecological issue, as is the case for the vast majority of environmental vegetarians, but only an anthropological or medical one. The same anthropological reduction, so much contested by Green movements all over, is strongly present in our ethical understanding of the Sabbath or in our understanding of holism that precisely is an anthropological holism not a cosmological one.

Third, science itself has had, in modern times, an ambivalent relationship with the cosmos. On one side it has won an unprecedented knowledge of nature but on the other side we can legitimately ask if this is really a better one. Is the quantitatively, exhaustive modern scientific knowledge of nature necessarily better than the fragmented, symbolic and partial knowledge of non-western cosmogonies? But a second question is as important as the first one: has modern science with all its knowledge about nature become really cosmo-centric or, as modern theology and Adventism itself, has it succumbed to the dictatorial and blusterer voice of modern and post-modern anthropocentrism? What kind of cosmos do we have after modern science has explained it to us? The question is not superfluous at all. Because the strategies cannot be assessed by the efforts made but rather by the results obtained. A disenchanted cosmos, such as often is the result of scientific enquiry, is not a convincing result at all.

For these reasons it is pretentious to believe that we Adventist have, by decree and ipso facto, the best understanding of what creation is and means. We must demonstrate that with arguments and by the spiritual, anthropological and ecological positive effects this understanding produces in the world and in us. And some unequivocal signs of this mature understanding of creation are not the exhaustiveness nor the homogeneity but rather the fragmentation and the heterogeneity of our understanding of Creation. These are for instance some precious characteristics of the biblical narratives of Creation themselves. The creation is not a homogeneous story in the Bible. It has various versions, each in a different context. There are theo-centric versions of creation as that of the book of Genesis or that of the last chapters of the book of Job. There are anthropo-centric versions of creation as that of some psalms such as psalm eight. There are also soteriological versions of creation as witnessed by various New Testament hymns and prayers. But there are also cosmo-centric versions of creation as the one we find in psalm ninety eight. Fragmentation and Heterogeneity seem to be the strategy chosen by the bible to speak about Creation. We Adventists should resist the temptation to do otherwise.

Hanz Gutierrez, “Villa Aurora”

Florence-Italy


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5450