Evolutionary theology as theology of the cross

Though he doesn’t use the same language, John Haught argues, in effect, that Intelligent Design is an example of what Lutherans call the “theology of glory” because it purports to discern God in obvious and outward ways (in this case, by finding “scientific” evidence of design in nature). For a theology of the cross, by contrast, God is hidden and is most present under the signs of weakness and suffering, preeminently in the cross of Christ. Similarly, Haught argues that God can be discerned in the natural processes of evolution not in obvious instances of design, but as the abysmal depth that underlies or grounds the entire process–as the compassionate God who enters into solidarity with the sufferings and travails of creation. This requires a different kind of discernment than that offered by ID’s theology of glory:

[D]epth has two faces. It is not just abyss but also ground, terrifying at first, but ultimately liberating and redemptive. Looking earnestly into the depth of everything involves a kind of death, but it also promises resurrection. The breakdown of our narrow human ideals of design, as the book of Job had already made clear, is an abysmal experience. Yet it is the first step toward a wider and deeper sense of creation’s beauty than we ever could have reached otherwise. Hence, challenges such as Darwin’s to our constricted religious and ethical ideals of design should not come as an insurmountable difficulty, at least to a biblically grounded spiritual vision.

Christianity itself rose up from the ashes of a kind of design death. To his friends, Jesus’ own execution seemed, at least at first, to prove only the powerlessness of God to carry out the divine plan. Nevertheless, the early Christian community eventually came to interpret Jesus’ death by crucifixion as the decisive opening onto the final victory of life over death. The cross reveals to Christians, beneath all disillusionment with what we had taken to be a benign providential plan, the unsurpassable beauty of a self-sacrificing God, who draws near to the creation and embraces the struggles, failures, and achievements of design death, including that introduced by Darwin, as entry into the abyss of the cross that God also bears, the cross through which one can be brought to the deep experience of resurrection. In the context of Christian faith, the drama of evolution merges inseparably with the (abysmal) death and (grounding) resurrection of Jesus and, in him, with the eternal drama that is the Trinitarian life of God. (Making Sense of Evolution, p. 93)

Creation doesn’t provide compelling evidence of a benevolent providence. But certain experiences can give us a glimpse of the inexhaustible depth at the root of the entire creative process. For Haught, when we give up the quest to demonstrate “design” in nature, we are freed to enter into a deeper engagement both with creation and with God.

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