Making Ourselves

From “Belief in God in an Age of Science”
by John Polkinghorne, b.1930

It has been an important emphasis in much recent theological thought about creation to acknowledge that by bringing the world into existence God has self-limited divine power by allowing the other truly to be itself. The gift of love must be the gift of freedom, the gift of a degree of letting-be, and this can be expected to be true of all creatures to the extent that is appropriate to their proper character. It is in the nature of dense snow fields that they will sometimes slip with the destructive force of an avalanche. It is the nature of lions that they will seek their prey. It is the nature of cells that they will mutate, sometimes producing new forms of life, sometimes grievous disabilities, sometimes cancers. It is the nature of humankind that sometimes people will act with selfless generosity but sometimes with murderous selfishness. That these things are so is not gratuitous or due to divine oversight or indifference. They are the necessary cost of a creation given by its creator the freedom to be itself. Not all that happens is in accordance with God’s will because God has stood back, making metaphysical room for creaturely action. The apparently ambivalent tale of evolutionary advance and extinction, which Richard Dawkins sees as the sign of a meaningless world of genetic competition, is understood by the Christian as being the inescapably mixed consequence of a world allowed by its creator to explore and realise, in its own way, its own inherent fruitfulness; to “make itself,” to use a phrase as old as the Anglican clergyman Charles Kingsley’s response to Darwin’s Origin of Species. The cruciform pattern of life through death is the way the world is, not only in the familiar tale of biological life on Earth but also cosmically. We are here today because some five billion years ago a star died in the throes of a supernova explosion, scattering into the environment those chemical elements necessary for life, which it had made in the nuclear furnaces of its interior.

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