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October 28, 2014

With our new Creation Story of the 13.7 billion year cosmic evolution that includes the 4 billion year evolution of life on Earth that includes each one of us, one thing is constant. Throughout the universe birth followed by death is and has been an integral part of what is happening. The “fixed” stars are anything but fixed. We now know that stars are born, and they die, often violently during which the larger molecules are created. Ancient star explosions are the source of the molecules in our own human bodies. Death is an essential part of the creativity that is inherent in the evolution of the universe which includes the evolution of the life here on earth.

Each human being alive now is the result of a gradual development of ancestor hominids one by one over the past four billion years. They lived and died that we might live at this moment. And their long development is built into our DNA. So, yes, we’re distant cousins of monkeys. But we’re also very distant cousins of zucchini and oak trees and eventually of the initial one-celled pieces of life that somehow developed some four billion years ago. That’s our biological heritage. Awesome indeed!

And what if there had been no death? For one, there probably wouldn’t be enough food or space to sustain all of us. But more basic, all of life has always been interrelated, including being a part of a total food chain in which one is often part of another’s food for sustenance. We humans eat other life all the time: lettuce and peanuts and apples and chicken and beef – often callously instead of thankfully or even reverently. In fact, “most animals hatched or born have always been destined to become food well before they had a chance to mature and reproduce.” [Dowd, p. 94] Death seems to be built into the basic process of evolution, something that Darwin himself recognized. Scientists have even learned that “programmed cell death” is essential in the early development of chicken egg embryos as well as in our elder years for the health of the body and for the prevention of cancer. For all aspects of life, death is a companion of birth.

But over the years, many Christians have taken the Adam & Eve story in the Bible literally, treating death as a punishment for Adam’s disobedience (“ because you were dust, you will go back to dust.” Gen 3:19) As punishment, death has become something to fear and dread. But understanding death as an integral part of evolution includes us as part of God’s creative process. This in no way diminishes the grief we feel when a loved one dies. In fact, it can protect us from becoming angry or despairing. No, there is something profoundly right about death.

For humans there is an added factor. Out of the evolved human capacity of self-awareness has come the awareness that each of us will die, a source of our uniquely human feelings of insecurity. Moreover, with our evolved brain, we humans have been able to comprehend much of the 13.7 billion years of the past. Each one of us is an integral part of that story . There is a oneness of each one of us with the totality of the universe. Think of how profound that statement is. The universe a part of me, and I am a part of the universe. Oneness!

This is not a new realization.

Zhang Zai (1020-1077), a neo Confucian philosopher wrote, “Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother and even such a small creature such as I finds an intimate place in their midst. Therefore that which extends throughout the universe I consider as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions” [Swimme , “Journey of the Universe”, p. 89]

A 14th Century German mystic, Meister Eckhart wrote, “God’s being is my being and is the being of all beings. My ME is God. . . . Between a person and God there is no distinction. They are one. . . . The same eye with which I look at God is the eye with which God looks at me.” [Spong, “Eternal Life”, p. 158]

Cosmic evolution including the evolution of life on earth gives us a new understanding of God and of our relationships to the universe and to each other. God is in all the creation that is all around us, and each one of us is a part of that. No longer is God the distant creator who started things eons ago. God is the source of life flowing through the universe, a presence to be experienced by living up to the fullness of our potential as humans, by controlling our animal instincts that are still a part of us as evolved beings. We know that there is more than just eating and surviving. As Spong describes it, “We must have the courage to grasp and even to be what we most deeply are. God then becomes a verb, not a noun.” [Spong in his weekly web essay, Oct. 17, 2012]

We must “live not frightened by death, but rather called by the reality of death to go into our humanity so deeply and so passionately that even death is transcended.” “Jesus the man, the fully human one, had not been able to loose his spirit until he died. It was only when that Jesus spirit entered the disciples that the world was turned upside down. . . . If the truly human, which was experienced in Jesus, is the content of what we mean by the word ‘divine’ and is met not beyond life but at the heart of life, then the pathway into the divine is to become human, and the pathway into eternity is to accept death as natural and to go so deeply into life that all limits are transcended and both timelessness and God are entered.” [Spong, “Eternal Life”, pp. 185, 184]

Loren Bullock
October 27, 2014

Michael Dowd, “Thank God for Evolution”, Viking 2008
John Shelby Spong, “Eternal Life: A New Vision”, Harper One 2009
Brian Swimme, “Journey of the Universe”, Yale University Press 2011

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