“GOD made everything,” proclaimed the five-year-old boy from the back of the car, quoting with assured authority after a day at school. “Well, not everything, actually,” replied his seven-year-old sister, “because Mummy made me.”
An argument flared and finished up in tears of frustration. And thus, two grandchildren of this reviewer began their theological journeys, facing the conundrums of primary and secondary causation. As they grow older, they cannot fail to join the ranks of the perplexed as they become aware of the terrible cruelty that permeates much of God’s creation. How, I wonder, will their faith cope?
Creation: A guide for the perplexed starts predictably with a scholarly account of Genesis, the Hebrew creation saga having its roots in Babylonian mythology, the Enuma Elish and so forth. There are many original thoughts and reflections here, such as the significance of the seventh day having no evening; and why, if Adam is made in the image of God does he need a companion?
Was God also lonely? We are invited to consider the relationship between God’s act of creation and our necessary response through worship, via the concept of the sacred in a sacramental order, reflected in the story of Moses and the building of the tabernacle. The intrinsic unintelligibility of evil in a “good” creation offers further pause for new thinking. There is no such thing as pure evil for it is ultimately parasitic, a lack of the good.
To understand the Christian theology of creation, Simon Oliver digs deep into the philosophical theology of St Thomas Aquinas (with his dept to Aristotle) since so much later theology can trace its origins back to this 13th-century Dominican. He focuses on the Jewish and Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo (simple but surprisingly complex), with its importance for our understanding of providence and how each of us is created and sustained in every moment by the Creator. Creation we come to realise is a gift.
The author then considers how theology may interact with a scientific understanding of creation and what we can learn, in faith, about our relationship to our environment.
The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.
Creation: A guide for the perplexed
Church Times Bookshop £13.50