Rodin’s Hand of God

RodinHandofGod

We no longer live in a world where we think of God as that old gentleman wandering about in the Garden of Eden, looking for the creature He created from mud and His own life giving breath. No, we now know about the evolution of human life, with its genetic mutations, environmental factors and the like. It is these forces and not the mythic hand of God that shape our lives. These factors were thought to be random, purposeless forces until we started doing the math. The geologist gives us a pretty good sense of the age of the earth and it turns out there simply has not been enough time for human life, conscious of its own evolution, to have emerged from the primordial soup through a process driven by random mutation. No, something else is at work here; some other as of yet, mysterious force is at work.

It is tempting of course to assign that role to God. “Ah,” we Christians could say, “You atheist types, you who thought you had made God irrelevant, now the truth is known. God does have a role in the development of human life. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.” We could say it, I suppose, but this god too will become irrelevant soon enough and we will find this “god of the gaps,” (appropriately maligned), only gets smaller as humanity learns more and more about how creation evolves. No, I am content to believe that there are physical forces at work which drive creation forward – forces we do not yet understand.

I do not reflect on the nature of God to satisfy my curiosity about how the world was or is being, created. I do not reflect on the nature of God’s interaction with creation to give myself a (false) sense of security regarding the future, calming my fearful heart with reassuring words that suggest God is good (whatever that means) and so will not let this, or that, horrifying thing happen. Nonsense, clearly, if there is a God out there who controls the direction of creation in such a mechanical way, then this God has in fact “allowed” horrifying things to happen – witness the genocides of the 20th century.

I reflect upon God to gain answers to a different set of questions. I reflect upon God in an effort to develop a context of meaning within which to live our lives. A question arises though, “Do we seek a context of meaning in relationship to creator because we need to, or because such a relationship is real. That is a faith question; one unanswerable by scientific inquiry. To be sure the language we use to describe that context or meaning is born of scientific inquiry for the language itself evolves with our world view. Our theological language like everything else in creation, is subject to the evolutionary forces of creation. The implications of this are staggering for now that we are conscious of our own evolution we find our purpose is to act upon the future of creation just as creation acts upon us. We are called into creative communion with God, called into acts of creative love just as this creative love forms us – talk about a contest of meaning.

It is why I love Rodin’s sculpture The Hand of God. It says something about that creative communion. God’s hand is massive and strong; there is a sense in which it is that hand which has ultimate control. For 13.7 billions years that “hand” has shaped creation and we as part of it. Reformed theologians call this the sovereignty of God and it is seen in the extraordinary beauty that permeates creation. But the creature formed by the hand of God is fluid; it looks as though this human life shifts and moves within the hand of God and as it does, the hand with holds, adjusts and shapes human life as it shapes itself.

It is certainly true that the deconstructed myth of a God walking about in the garden makes no literal sense, (if it ever did). But as we go about our evolutionary business, as we go about the business of evolving and growing in life, we find that the mystery which is God continues to shape us and breathe into us the breath of life.

About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.


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