August 23, 2019

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey, Chapter 4 – When “Very Good” Isn’t Good Enough

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey

Chapter 4 – When “Very Good” Isn’t Good Enough

We will continue our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey.  Today is Chapter 4 – When “Very Good” Isn’t Good Enough.  Jon makes the very cogent point that in Genesis 1:1-2:3, when God creates man not only in his image, but to “rule” and “subdue” the world, the world was not completely orderly or subdued already.  Some elements of “chaos” or “disorder” still remained.  Genesis 1:2, in the familiar King James Version, says “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  The “without form, and void” phrase being the Hebrew tohu wabohu, which John Walton, in his Genesis books, points out the governing sense is that of lack of utility.  In Scripture, tohu is used to indicate desert places where only marginal creatures live, or situations where civilization has been destroyed in judgement and cities are deserted, as if returning the earliest stage of creation.

In Genesis 1, tohu wabohu takes the form of darkness and the deep.  The land is useless and empty because it is dark and covered with water.  The significant point Jon makes, is that God deals with this lack of order not by destroying it, but by pushing it aside to create day and night, which make regular appearances, and dividing the waters to form the land and sea with the sea having its proper boundaries.  And yet, despite their integral role in the Genesis creation, throughout the rest of Scripture both these elements—the night and the sea—retain their aura of danger and disorder.  One of the 10 plagues of Egypt is darkness, night terrors are mentioned in Psalm 91, evil people make a covenant with the night in Jeremiah 31, and the NT contrasts the night of the present with the coming day in the light of Christ.  The waters upend their boundaries and de-create the world in Noah’s flood, the sea is a barrier to Israel fleeing Egypt until God parts it, Jonah flees God by going to sea, which claims his life, and he expresses wonder the God is present even in the depth of the sea.  Jesus calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and Jonah is echoed again in Paul’s shipwreck at sea.  In the final age to come, in Revelation 21:1, there is a new heaven and new earth and “there was no longer any sea”.  This danger and disorder in creation is never said to be “evil”, at least not in the form of human and angelic wickedness, but will be removed in the new creation for something better than the first ever was.

Many interpreters since Patristic times have noted the “cosmic temple” imagery of the creation account.  The main divisions in the “cosmic temple” correspond to the main divisions in the Hebrew temple and the land of Israel.  Jon illustrates this in a table:

Genesis

Cosmic Temple

Hebrew Temple

Land of Israel

Heavens

Holy of Holies

Jerusalem Temple

Firmament

Curtain of the Temple

Wall of the Temple

Sky (and mountains)

Sanctuary of Priest

Jerusalem

Land

Court of Worshippers

Land of Israel

Sea

Outside World

Lands of the Gentiles

 Jon notes in particular the account sets up, as part of creation itself, a radical separation between God and his dwelling, the heavens and humanity and its domain, the earth.  Of course, God sets up a garden, a temple precinct or sacred garden sanctuary on earth where there is no “curtain” separating them from “face to face” fellowship with God—until they sin.  Jon’s point is to show that what is described in Genesis 2 is a new step beyond the “goodness” of creation in Genesis 1.  God himself breaks through the separation and comes down to meet with Adam and Eve on earth, only to have that communion broken by sin.  Had the sin not occurred, the spiritual bridgehead between heaven and earth would have remained open from then on, and that face-to-face knowledge of God would have spread through the whole earth.  Every story thereafter is the failure of humans, through Israel until Christ, to bridge that gap.  Christ bridges that gap, the curtain is torn, and in the new age the city of God’s gates are always open.  Jon says:

The implication of these two strands of teaching drawn from Genesis 1 and 2 is that there are identifiable differences between the first and second creations that are not attributable to the fall, but to the difference between the two creations themselves… The first creation, though it included humanity without sin, also involved a holy separation between earth and heaven… Furthermore, for God’s own purposes, the created order contained elements that were in some sense disorderly or dangerous to humanity (represented by the darkness and the deep), only to be removed finally, like the barrier between heaven and earth, in the new creation… Therefore, although the creation was rightly called “very good” by its Maker, meaning good for the purposes for which he created it, it was not paradise on earth—for that was reserved for the actual paradise on earth of chapter 2… So it is not that, through humanity’s sin, nature became corrupt and needs to be restored to Eden, but that because of humanity’s sin, the primeval world failed to be completed and needs the work of Christ to take it forward. 

Interestingly, Jon open this chapter with the quoted passage from C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet , a book about a man’s journey to a planet where the inhabitants never experienced a “fall”, that we have discussed before:

How can I make you understand, when you do not understand the poets? The hnakra is our enemy, but he is also our beloved. We feel in our hearts his joy as he looks down from the mountain of water in the north where he was born; we leap with him when he jumps the falls; and when winter comes, and the lake smokes higher than our heads, it is with his eyes that we see it and know that his roaming time is come. We hang images of him in our houses, and the sign of all the hrossa is a hnakra. In him the spirit of the valley lives; and our young play at being hneraki as soon as they can splash in the shallows… And I say also this. I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes.

Lewis’ point was that the wild and untamable creation was God’s good creation.  That wildness and untamable-ness were an integral and inseparable part of that creation.  As Lewis wrote in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

 “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Of course, these are all very romantic and idealized views of reality– that wildness and untamable-ness doesn’t seem so glorious and sublime when it bites you in the ass personally.  I find lions magnificent, but I don’t want to be mauled by one.  An estimated 225,000 people died in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, a third of them children.  If one of them was yours, the intellectual argument that the dynamic tectonics of this planet are a necessary condition for the renewal of earth’s crust and the consequent abundant life, and so part of God’s good creation, is undoubtedly cold comfort.  Jon will take a stab at answering the theodicy question in Chapter 11—On Pain and Suffering.  But as to answering the question, why does it have to be that way now, why do we have to wait for the new creation for the end of all suffering, why couldn’t have God just started with the new creation in the first place?  Jon doesn’t know, I don’t know, nobody knows. 

Comments

  1. Thanks for these reviews.

    My current tongue-in-cheek theory is that God has already tried a universe without suffering, and it didn’t work out the way he wanted. Now he’s trying one with suffering.

    • Christiane says

      “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.”

      (Paul Claudel)

      • Robert F says

        The hope for the eschaton seems to involve more than this. The end of certain aspects of suffering seems to be implicit in the promise of a New Creation. If everything is to remain as it is now with regard to suffering, if certain aspects of it are not to be removed, why even distinguish between this creation and a new one? And if they can be removed then, without undermining the wildness and beauty of the creation, why haven’t they already been removed? No one has even an idea of the answer to this question.

  2. Robert F says

    Yes indeed, why later but not now is one of the main issues of theodicy, and nobody seems to know the answer to the question, or even have a clue. Garvey is in the same boat as everybody else.

    One of the things that factors into Lewis’ probing of these issue is that he believed in the existence of devils, he believed they preexisted the human race, and he believed their sphere of existence and influence overlapped, though was not coextensive with, our own sphere in the material world. Does Garvey talk at all about his view on this subject in his book?

    • Mike the Geologist says

      He does, indeed, Robert. In the very next chapter. Spoiler alert: he takes a similar view to Lewis.

      • Robert F says

        I’ve been rereading Lewis, and his views on this subject are pretty nuanced. He does not insist on a fallen creation, only the fall of humanity; his position seems to be that creation is unfinished and waiting to be finished, but that is contingent on God being finished with fixing humanity, which is both unfinished and fallen. He of course sees Jesus Christ as the finisher and fixer of humanity, and the leading edge as well as final goal of a new humanity and new (and finished) creation.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          I flip-flop, based on my day, as to whether Lewis is “nuanced” or “moving the goal posts”. 🙂 I feel I can make a case either way.

          C.S. Lewis, whom I love, has at the foundation of his arguments something which sails at least very near the Essentialist Delusion; which renders vulnerable a lot of his arguments.

          • That essentialism is probably at the root of much of his fan following in evangelicalism, which is also essentialist in much of it’s thinking.

            • Adam Tauno Williams says

              Sure, in its crudest form it is the “god shaped hole” idea; yearning as evidence that something exists which will satisfy. There are so very many problems with GSH.

              At the same time one cannot completely decouple Desire from Thought, if something wasn’t desirable we wouldn’t be thinking about it. 🙂

              • “if something wasn’t desirable we wouldn’t be thinking about it. ?”

                The present and future state of our nation and world is NOT desirable. And I can’t stop thinking about it. :-/

                • Robert F says

                  The Supreme Court’s gerrymandering decision today is not going to help you stop thinking about how undesirable the future of our nation is likely to be, I’m afraid.

          • Robert F says

            I’m aware of some of Lewis’ weaknesses, including his heavy-handed use of logic as a battering ram. He also sometimes was over the threshold of racial bigotry, and wrongheaded glamorization of Europe’s past. I read him a long time ago, and the for many years avoided him due to my discomfort with his weaknesses. But I seem to have reached a point where I can take in the good, without being sidetracked by the bad. It’s a good place to be.

            I don’t mind the goal posts being moved, as long as the zone left for scoring is generous, like the “wideness in God’s mercy.” I think Lewis, despite his faults and sometimes narrowness, usually aspired to that generosity, and in important places reached it. And he got wiser and more generous, at least in certain things, as he got older.

  3. Jon notes in particular the account sets up, as part of creation itself, a radical separation between God and his dwelling, the heavens and humanity and its domain, the earth. Of course, God sets up a garden, a temple precinct or sacred garden sanctuary on earth where there is no “curtain” separating them from “face to face” fellowship with God—until they sin. Jon’s point is to show that what is described in Genesis 2 is a new step beyond the “goodness” of creation in Genesis 1. God himself breaks through the separation and comes down to meet with Adam and Eve on earth, only to have that communion broken by sin. Had the sin not occurred, the spiritual bridgehead between heaven and earth would have remained open from then on, and that face-to-face knowledge of God would have spread through the whole earth. Every story thereafter is the failure of humans, through Israel until Christ, to bridge that gap. Christ bridges that gap, the curtain is torn, and in the new age the city of God’s gates are always open. Jon says:

  4. I have had an ongoing debate with my brother about the violence. I have noted that there is a fundamental violence at the core of physical reality. This is not to the exclusion of beauty but in partnership with it. Most of the creative activity entails the dying of one thing or the colliding and destruction of forms to bring about new ones. Even in the vastness of space it’s supernovas and black holes exploding and consuming. I think a larger view is required to even begin to make sense of it. It doesn’t start or end with the phenomenon of human beings and it is not predicated on our part in the story. We are an insertion, likely a very important one, into an ongoing and much larger story. It seems some sort of war was waged, violence inflicted, beauty created and unity sought in a much bigger space than ours before we became part of the eternal, not temporal, story. To explain everything from a purely temporal perspective is to hold too small a frame for the canvas. We simply don’t have all the information but scripture and science certainly give us clues. At any rate, it’s a violent place and it’s a beautiful place.

    • Robert F says

      I think of natural violence in deep space that affects no living creature as an altogether different phenomenon from violence that is experienced directly as harm by sentient beings.

      • Yet it seems fundamental to reality as we know it, even there where we knew nothing about it until relatively recently. Just odd.

  5. Christiane says

    all I know of ‘the end times’ is that the bad guyz don’t win

    as for C.S. Lewis, I actually prefer Tolkien to Lewis for his description of what triumphs over evil, in the end, this:

    ” There was a bitter tang in the air of Mordor that dried the mouth. When Sam thought of water even his hopeful spirit quailed. Beyond the Morgai there was the dreadful plain of Gorgoroth to cross.

    ‘Now you go to sleep first, Mr. Frodo,’ he said. ‘It’s getting dark again.’ …
    Frodo … was asleep almost before the words were spoken. Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo’s hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell. Then at last, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding-place…. The land seemed full of … noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Dúath in the West the night-sky was still dim…. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.”
    The Return of the King, LoTR Book 6, Ch 2, The Land of Shadow

    Now, both Lewis and Tolkien were Christian, Lewis an Anglican convert and Tolkien, a Catholic who had long studied other cultures myths and legends and languages; but both these men saw that in the end, evil and death would be defeated. So I would drink a toast to them, in that place where they hung out in Oxford and spoke of the deep things of God and wove their literary magic.

    • I was there last year, staying at the Randolph Hotel, just up from the Eagle & Child (Bird & Baby) for my 50th birthday.

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