Green Christmas: Richard Dawkins, Meet John of Damascus

Green Christmas: Richard Dawkins, Meet John of Damascus December 9, 2013

I doubt there was snow on the ground that first Christmas, so I don’t think Christ’s advent in the cavernous mangers of our hearts this Christmas is dependent on snowfall either. Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, Christmas will likely be very green, as it often is. Whether it is green where you live or not, my Christian faith entails that greenery and all things natural are dependent on that first Christmas.

Recently, I told my theology class students that the incarnation is the ultimate affirmation and demonstration of the creation’s goodness. Matter matters to God, for God became material: the Word became flesh (John 1:14). Christian theologian John of Damascus claimed: “I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God.”

Christians do not worship matter, but the one who became material. As a result, we honor and cherish it. The creation in all its materiality is not evil. Indeed it is good, as God declares in Genesis 1. Still, that was prior to the fallen state. And yet, in view of the incarnation, we know that the creation, even in its current state, is not inherently evil. The fall does not destroy the creation. The incarnation and the recapitulation or transformation of the creation through God’s Son and Spirit—Irenaeus’ two hands—guard against Christians losing faith and hope and falling prey to Schopenhauer-like pessimism. As I wrote in Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths, “Apart from the incarnation of the interpersonal God in the flesh, how would we know that the world is not ultimately a dark abyss and nothingness, given all the chaos in the world? What would guard us against the pessimism of a Schopenhauer or a Marcion?” (p. 309)

What kind of chaos do I have in mind? I have in mind the digger wasp, among other things. What is one to make of Richard Dawkins’ digger wasp illustration? The digger wasp victimizes the caterpillar and lays its egg inside it. As the larva grows, it slowly eats away the life of its host (Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: a Darwinian View of Life {London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995}, pp. 95-96). I believe Dawkins meant to sting and suck out Christians’ hope in the goodness of nature or creation through attention to such creaturely feature horrors. Do such instances in creation reveal the hand of a benevolent God or a malevolent deity? If malevolent, why care for the creation during this Christmas season, or during any season of the year? If benevolent, I must care, and also awaken hope. The incarnation bears witness to God’s benevolence and points forward to the creation’s transformation in the age to come:

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6; ESV)

“The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65:25, ESV)

Perhaps the digger wasp will lie down with the caterpillar, too (rather than suck the life out of it).

The first advent fills me with hope for the creation: Christ did not simply come to save us from destruction and decay; he came to affirm and heal and transform the planet. And so, in view of Christmas, whether it is white or not, whether Bing Crosby would sing it with me or not, I’m dreaming of a green planet for all of us in view of Christmas.

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.

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