While there are two more sessions in the Painting the Stars series, my class/discussion group just covers the first five. Today’s reflection is on the fifth session: Evolutionary Christianity. This perspective is grounded in the life and acts of Jesus, holding that evolution is a general condition of all spheres. It is important to note that evolutionary Christianity is not the same as intelligent design. Intelligent design claims there are some organisms and forms of life that are too complex to attribute to evolution or genetic mutation. Evolutionary Christianity brings the theory of evolution and the teachings of Christianity together, seeing God as a “presence of divine love, inextricably, yet non-coercively, involved in the evolutionary process, as a divine milieu” (Bruce Sanguin).
I love the descriptor “non-coercive” to talk about God as divine love. Something I have always struggled with, and thus rejected because it seemed so strange, is the notion that God loves us yet can compel us (and other forms of life) to do what God so wishes. If God loved the world, so much so that God continues to create through us, why would God coerce us into anything?
Bruce Sanguin describes the non-coercive love like this: “Just as loving parents establish the conditions in which their children may thrive, but cannot engineer their children’s future, so God creates the conditions for a universe to thrive without controlling outcomes.”
God is a loving parent who has cultivated our environment so we can thrive and succeed but even Godcannot force or coerce us to go in a particular way. When I understand God’s love in this way, evolution and religion are not just compatible but unlock the mysteries of each other. As life evolves under the conditions of its environment, the divine love of God suggests and guides but never coerces. How does God’s non-coercive love change how we interpret the divine? Can God be a non-coercive judge or king or supreme being? Can God be omniscient or omnipotent and non-coercive?
Over the past five weeks, it has become even clearer that evolution, science, and religion are compatible and have much to offer each other. Science can deepen our understanding of religion just like religion can deepen our understanding of science. I as a Christian can find meaning and guidance in scripture while continuing to affirm evolution. There is not need for me to pick one over the other, and I think those who do are losing out. As Vincent Van Gogh reminds us, “When I have a terrible need of – shall I say the word – religion. Then I go out and paint the stars.”