For a long time I’ve been struggling to reconcile my acceptance of the theory of evolution and my Christian faith. I proclaimed to hold both together, but there was a missing link, if you would, in the argument.
The problem I found was that if you believed that humans had a soul and were made in God’s image, how then could we share a common ancestor with apes? Surely humans are above the rest of the created order. But then when did God raise us beyond the created order? Was the cut-off just after Neanderthal man or was it earlier?
The problem for me was that humans had souls whilst animals did not. Animals and plants and sand are all part of what I would call Nature, while humans were a product of Grace. Grace vs Nature in this never-ending battle.
This perspective is very Greek and based on the idea of dualism, that the body and the spirit should be divided. This idea got further advanced by Plato who helped develop Christoplatonism which was an influence in church thought and held that nature is evil whilst grace is good. Yet for the Hebrews there was no divide between grace and nature. They saw everything as a product of grace with nature. There was no ‘and’ between grace and nature as though they were different things, they worked together. As Aquinas said "grace does not destroy nature but perfects it".
There is an interesting Hebrew word ‘nephesh’ which we often translate as soul. This ‘nephesh’ is what makes you ‘you’ and without ‘nephesh’ you would cease to be. In Hebrew thought there was no soul that would float away when you died. When you died that was it, and for the Hebrews during most of the Old Testament there wasn’t a belief in the afterlife. Listen to Dr Paula Gooder talking on this here. When God tells the Hebrews to not eat meat with its blood in it, the word ‘blood’ is actually ‘nephesh’. Animals too have this ‘nephesh’ and it was sacred and it was where the life was.
So my thinking started to change. Perhaps humans don’t have the monopoly on ‘life’ or ‘souls’ or 'nephesh' or whatever. Perhaps all of Creation is an act of grace and reflects a loving God. Perhaps God created the world with the knowledge that Creation would always need Him, and without God there would be no creation.
“In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth” (Gen 1). The heavens and earth were created as a place in which His divinity could dwell. It (all of whatever ‘it’ could be) was created by and for Him. As the psalmist wrote, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19). Perhaps the creation is more divine than we think, and perhaps we are more carnal than we think.
This view-point is a rather new one for me, but I think it is one that we should wrestle with. As a final thought, is it not interesting that Jesus says that “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19). As though all of Creation is aware of God and His beauty, and yet somehow many humans seemed to have missed it.
Below is an interview with Conor Cunningham talking about the division of Grace and Nature.