Getting to the biblical view of reality
The final lesson comes as the greatest shock of all. The more we understand the physical universe, the less physical it becomes.
Insight: The Universe is Spiritual not Material
The only thing that seems to really count is mind or soul. Solid matter gives way to waves and indeterminate particles. At the subatomic level all physical processes melt into mystery. And, at the huge level of the intergalactic universe, humanity is dwarfed into complete insignificance. Yet the processes above and below are equally mysterious. We come therefore to the greatest learning of all natural theology.
Mind and feelings, intuition and creativity replace certainty and manipulation. What matters is the soul of the another human being, not his or her body.
The problem of consciousness and memory occupied Butler for a long time, but he did not understand that the first principle of a scientific temperament was not to speculate but to observe as widely as possible.
He lived through the era of the amateur naturalists and geologists who laid down a database upon which scientific speculation could build. He was not a collector, not an observer of nature like Darwin or Wallace. He understood human insignificance in the grandeur of the universe, intuited that science had much more yet to reveal, but could not get much beyond that. If we bear in mind those three shocks to the traditional Christianity we have arrived at what we may call the implicit Biblical view of reality.
In the Bible the world is not beautiful because of a pretty sunset or a nice day at the beach. No, the world is sublime because its powerful processes are beyond human capacity. These processes are not God but they are the creation of God. Life, being gift, opens up concepts of radical stewardship. We are responsible for our children, our families. They are living souls on loan, exactly as all life itself on this planet. We are responsible for others beyond our family. We are our brother’s keeper. We are responsible for what we do to the eco-system. The neutrality of God is disturbing until we realise what our responsibility really entails. We become Christ’s hands, Christ’s feet, which is just a shorthand way of saying we become the ethic of Christ at work in all aspects of the creation. Is this hard? No. Is it a burden? No. Is it impossible? Definitely not.
In Christ all things are possible. The poor can be rich. The hungry can be fed. The homeless can find habitats for humanity, habitats of grace. Samuel Butler had his doubts over the efficacy of infant baptism and the physical resurrection. In the whole of the Old Testament, from start to finish, there is no Hebrew word for doubt. But there are a great variety of words for wonder. Make no mistake, doubt as a concept to be applied to the existence of God, as a matter of philosophical debate, is not to be found in the Old Testament.
Amazement is, however, found, on page after page. Radical amazement with life is one of the abiding Biblical themes. The Bible tells us to look at the world face to face and by acknowledging mystery which we cannot explain we are enabled to live in trust. Face to face, eye to eye, no doubt, but filled with radical wonder, radical amazement, astonishment bubbling up into overwhelming delight and joy of recognition. It was what Butler could not have, and could not experience: his pessimism and doubt saw to that.
God is the creator of what we call the book of nature, and we are part of that book and the chapters are still being written and we are co-authors with him.
We may write but a sentence or phrase in the book of nature but our stewardship of it is thereby altering the world for God’s good. Yes, I think natural theology is all this and even more.