“God is a part of reality, always, everywhere.”

John Cobb is a world-renown theologian of the “process theology” persuasion. I don’t know from process theology, except that inasmuch as it’s trendy and new, I am suspicious. Still, Cobb is that rare world-renown theologian who is also United Methodist (yay, team!), and he wrote the best book I’ve read on Wesleyan theology, Grace and Responsibility, which I recommend to anyone interested in what it means to be a Wesleyan Christian.

In this short YouTube video, Cobb takes aim at the fundamental problem, from my perspective, of both evolution and its well-intentioned critics of the Intelligent Design camp: they both share, to some extent, what Cobb calls a “materialistic, reductionistic metaphysics,” i.e., a universe (or multiverse or whatever) operating on its own, independent of a Creator. Immersed in this metaphysics (or way of understanding reality), evolutionary biologist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion can therefore complain that even if there were a God, he would be very lazy, since Darwinian processes can account for so much of our world.

So Darwinists and ID’ers share naturalistic explanations for most things in the universe with the exception of those few really complex (“irreducibly complex”) things that ID’ers argue could only be the product of design: the human eyeball, for example. In these few cases, ID’ers say, God intervened with a miracle; otherwise, God let nature (and evolution) run its course. This seems like thin ice to me, another version of the “God of the gaps.” Doesn’t it seem likely that science will continue to close these gaps? Doesn’t it seem likely that one day (if not now) science will give a plausible naturalistic explanation for even very complex things like eyeballs? If you’ve built your belief in God on the principle of intelligent design, what happens to that belief? If science can explain it, does that mean that God didn’t also design it or create it?

This matters to me personally because I realized only after starting seminary how beholden I was to this kind of post-Enlightenment thinking. I was a practical Deist. I believed God created a well-ordered, self-contained universe, set it in motion, and then mostly let it run on its own. Yes, I believed, God occasionally intervened with a miracle, an answered prayer, and of course the sending of God’s Son—I was a Christian, after all. But these interventions were exceptions. The rule was that we lived and breathed independently of God.

I now see how far this understanding of God’s relationship with the world is from the Bible. When Paul goes to Athens in Acts 17, he proclaims a God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Paul also speaks of this very close connection between God and ourselves in his letters. What does it mean in 1 Corinthians 8:6 that we—all of Creation, not simply Christians—exist through Christ? What does it mean in Ephesians 4:6 that God our Father is “through all and in all”?

What I now believe it means, and what Cobb himself explores in his Wesley book, is that God is constitutive of our being. This clearly seems to be Wesley’s view. In other words, we owe every moment of our ongoing existence to God’s sustaining presence. God is so closely connected to us that if God removed God’s self from us, i.e., removed the Holy Spirit, we would cease to exist. At every moment of time God suspends all of Creation into existence.

What this means for me is that miracles are no longer exceptional events. The very fact that I’m living and breathing, forming thoughts, moving my fingers across the keyboard in order to type this, is a miracle and a gift—regardless of whatever mechanistic processes account for how I came to possess these faculties. It’s not either God or evolution; it’s both/and.

I affirm Cobb’s words in this video that while it seems—to the ID’ers’ point—that there are some things in the world that cannot simply be explained by matter and motion, no life can be explained by matter and motion. What we need, Cobb says, is to correct our understanding of the nature of reality, “to see that God is a part of reality, always, everywhere.”

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