That creation might sing with its own voice …

Der Klang von Martin Schleske

Martin Schleske lives just outside of Munich. From the age of 7, he studied the violin, then violinmaking, and then physics, completing his thesis on the topic ‘Eigenmodes of vibration in the creation of a violin’. Today he is one of the most highly respected violinmakers in the world. In his book Der Klang, first published in 2010, Schleske describes the ways that the violinmaker must yield to the composition of the wood before they can begin to reshape it into a violin’s body. To find that right wood – the best ‘singer trunks’ – Schleske would often spend months on end seeking the truest tree by tapping on them with a tuning fork. The violinmaker chooses seasoned timber – trees formed by rough weather, winds, and meagre ground, and where the knots and cracks add to rather than subtract from the character of the wood. Such trees, as Jim Gordon noted, bear witness to the resilience and to the kind of elasticity required to create the curved sides that the best violins call for. They witness to the possibility of lives lived ‘without pressure warping [their] integrity’; of lives that ‘bear stress without splitting’; of lives that ‘survive intact and strong’ through the seasons of life. So Schleske:

A good violin builder respects the texture of the wood and under their fingers feels the character, the solidity and density. This shows the builder both the possibilities and the limits of the wood. Each of this wood’s quirks and characteristics has an influence on the sound it will bring forth.

Photo by Johanna Vogt on Unsplash.

It is nature’s cruelty that shapes the best-sounding wood. As Schleske puts it: ‘every hardship the tree experiences, make the roots go deeper and the structural fibres stronger’. The best-sounding wood is discovered not made, and after being cut down is then stored for many years in the artist’s workshop where the heat and humidity levels are carefully monitored, until such time as it is ready to be shaped into the body of a violin. Here is where the true work of the craftsperson comes to the fore, for the best violin makers are those who resist the temptation to force their own perceptions, or forms, or laws onto the wood through being fixated on some ‘ideal’ or ‘right’ shape. Instead, they see something else; they follow the wisdom given in the timber’s own history as it is carried in the wood’s fibres, honouring what is crooked, exercising care to not cut in the wrong places or a direction that would dishonour the grain, and knowing both the possibilities and the limits of the material in their hands. The goal, after all, is to so form the instrument that it sings with its own voice. What makes it an act of loving creation is that it is not the wood that capitulates to the artist, but the artist who consents to the wood. It is the difference between forcing an agenda and living with a promise, between subjection and interlocution, between working upon and working with.

Creation, God, and the Coronavirus

Photo by Max Bender via Unsplash.

Mark Brett and I wrote a little thing: ‘Creation, God, and the Coronavirus’. Theology 123, no. 5 (2020), 346–52.

The Abstract reads:

This short reflection argues that, in the face of natural crises that occur in the world, responsible Christian speech requires a much fuller and more thickly textured understanding of creation than is often presented. Reading the Bible leads us to avoid speculating on the origins or purposes of such crises. Rather, it bears witness to the divine promise of hope in the healing justice of God, and calls human persons and human communities to participate in that justice through responsible action.

Our yearning, and what threatens it

‘Humans yearn for places of respite, opportunities to be free from the ugly madness of the corporate world. We need to know there are still some precious sites left intact, ecosystems whose richness, scale and enduring health afford us hope for the future, even if we never get the chance to visit them ourselves. For our own sanity and honour we want to believe there are some habitats we won’t destroy, places so special they’ll never be offered up to the maw of industrialisation. Not now. Not ever. I believe Ningaloo is one of those places’.

– Tim Winton, ‘Saving Ningaloo again’.

on a kind of ecological grace and the ethical life

‘The real choice we all face is not what to buy, whether to fly or whether to have children but whether we are willing to commit to living ethically in a broken world, a world in which human beings are dependent for collective survival on a kind of ecological grace. There is no utopia, no Planet B, no salvation, no escape. We’re all stuck here together. And living in that world, the only world there is, means giving up any claims to innocence or moral purity, since to live at all means to cause suffering.

Living ethically means understanding that our actions have consequences, taking responsibility for how those consequences ripple out across the web of life in which each of us is irrevocably enmeshed and working every day to ease what suffering we can. Living ethically means limiting our desires, respecting the deep interdependence of all things in nature and honoring the fact that our existence on this planet is a gift that comes from nowhere and may be taken back at any time’.

– Roy Scranton, Raising My Child in a Doomed World’

‘What kind of resistance is possible against a world without mercy?’

Hannah ArendtThe LARB has published an interesting essay by Wen Stephenson that draws upon wisdom from Hannah Arendt for those living at the dawn of a new ‘era of increasing global instability, ripe for all the varieties of political and social evil’.

The essay includes reflections on subjects such as totalitarianism, human rights, making judgements, collective guilt, conscience, evil, making moral choices, nonviolence, civil disobedience, and crimes against humanity.

And on empathy:

[Em]pathy, though much celebrated, is not always a reliable impulse toward moral action – that it can cut both ways. Because our natural inclination to empathize with the victims of crime and injustice, while generally a good thing, when mixed with our tribal instincts – our biases, conscious or not, in favor of people like ourselves, members of our own communities — can lead to a dehumanization of the stranger, the other, especially if that other is the perpetrator (or perceived to be) of a crime. It’s easy to empathize with a victim, as one should; to empathize with a murderer – to see ourselves in another who violates our deepest values and taboos – is something else, something that may seem beyond our merely human capacity.

You can read the whole piece here.

Touching this earth lightly


Most evenings, I take the dog for a walk near my home. This means that there is period on most days that I am reminded that I currently live in one of the most beautiful parts of the most wonderful cities in the whole world. I am very grateful for this fact. The coastline nearby, which is on Boonwurrung country, is a stunning diversity of marine, plant, bird, and reptile life. Over recent years, local community groups and responsible residents, Parks Victoria, the state government, schools and universities, and others, have worked hard to recover, re-create, care for, and protect a precious part of it.

It is heartbreaking therefore to see people despoiling the beautiful gift that is the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary. An apparently ‘forgotten and unspoilt place’, this small section of coastline is usually teeming with bird and marine life. But on warmer days, the world’s most destructive creature arrives in significant numbers, and our feathered friends are pushed to the edges. I assume the fish nick off too.

This, as they say, is the nature of things.

It’s wonderful to see (mostly) local people enjoying this special place. But I never cease to marvel at the levels of insouciance that must be required in order to think (if thinking is indeed involved at all) that taking a dump in your own backyard might be a good thing. What kind of creature does this to its own habitat, its own world?


I stood there today and wept at what I saw. It was not for the first time. It was unlikely to be for the last time.

Love does stuff like that. I love this place. I want our great grandchildren and our neighbour’s great grandchildren to be able to love it too. I want us to live with the pelicans, swans, snapper, and urchins. Perhaps the feeling is mutual? But this means, as this country’s first people wisely put it, ‘One must touch this earth lightly’.

David Bentley Hart on God, Creation, and Evil

This past week, the University of Notre Dame has been host to an impressive line up of minds for the Creation out of Nothing: Origins and Contemporary Significance conference. Some of those papers can be listened to here, including David Bentley Hart’s wonderful paper of ‘God, Creation, and Evil’, its concern being to highlight the obvious implications of such for a theology of apokatastasis panton.

The cruel and godless practice of live animal exports

live-export-australian-steer-slaughtered-indonesiaRecently, I posted a video of David Clough’s lecture ‘Rethinking Animality: Towards a New Animal Ethics’. One of the reasons that I drew attention to that lecture was because I consider the work that David (and others too) is engaged in around this issue to be incontrovertibly ‘vital’ [from the late fourteenth century Latin vitalis, meaning ‘of or belonging to life’]. Any society that takes lightly the killing of animals (those creatures whom Dietrich Bonhoeffer refers to as the brothers whom Adam loves), as do those societies with which I am most familiar, has grossly misjudged the sheer giftedness of life itself and is, it seems to me, already well on the way to responding lightly to and of justifying various forms of homicide and deathliness in its midst, blinded by the lie that the life of any creature belongs to something or someone other than God. This is why Karl Barth, for example, argued with due passion that ‘the slaying of animals is really possible only as an appeal to God’s reconciling grace’, and that we ought to have very good reasons for why we might claim the life of another creature for ours. Human beings can only kill an animal, Barth avers, knowing that it does not belong to us but to God alone, and that in killing it – an act which itself is incredibly traumatic, as I can testify – one surrenders it to God in order to receive it back from God as something one needs and desires. ‘The killing of animals in obedience is possible’, Barth contends, ‘only as a deeply reverential act of repentance, gratitude and praise on the part of the forgiven sinner in face of the One who is the Creator and Lord of humanity and beast’. Here Barth’s words compliment the Jewish tradition which champions the need to avoid tzar baalei chayim – causing pain to any living creature – and insists that where animals are killed that they are done so ‘with respect and compassion’, most properly by way of shechita.

With that, I come to the subject of this post; namely, live animal exports. Animals Australia reports that

every year millions of Australian animals are exported live for slaughter. Those who survive the journey often endure brutal treatment and conscious slaughter. Cattle, sheep and goats are sent throughout the Middle East and South East Asia — to countries with no laws to protect them from cruelty. Tens of thousands of animals don’t survive the sea journey and those that do disembark into countries where they are transported, handled and then slaughtered in appalling ways. Most animals slaughtered overseas have their throats cut while they are fully conscious, leading to an incredibly painful and prolonged death. Since 2003, Animals Australia has conducted numerous investigations into the treatment of animals exported from Australia. The evidence from investigations in the Middle East and South East Asia has consistently revealed the willingness of Australia’s live export industry, and consecutive Federal Governments, to export live animals despite appalling cruelty in importing markets.

While Australia remains by far the world’s largest exporter of sheep and cattle, this is not, of course, only an Australian issue. Earlier this year, the New Zealand Herald, for example, reported a ‘Boom in live cattle exports to China’, although thanks to the Customs Exports Prohibition (Livestock for Slaughter) Order these are mostly for breeding purposes, and recent protests at the Port of Dover in the UK are evidence that exporting of live cattle remains a practice in the UK and the EU, with exports going mainly to Italy and France.

This video, produced by Animals Australia, testifies to the cruel and godless practices that attend the live export of animals:

Clearly, this is a political as well as a moral issue (not that the two can ever be separated); and as the Australian Federal election draws near, I wish to publicise my support for the campaign by Animals Australia and Ban Live Export against the sickening and anti-vital practice of live animal exports. I learned recently that one of the Coalition’s priorities, should it win the election, is to ‘apologise’ to Indonesia (a country that receives some 45% of Australia’s live animals) for the Labour Government’s five week trade suspension in 2011, a suspension put in place in direct response to an ABC Four Corner’s program, ‘A Bloody Business’, which exposed the practices that attend live animal exports. In Australia, with the exception of Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, it has been The Greens who have consistently spoken out against this practice and who have sort to (re)introduce the Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill (2012) into the Senate. And in New Zealand, from which there has been no live animal exports for slaughter since 2003, it is again The Green Party who have tried to maintain pressure to restrict the export of live animals. (I don’t mention this in order to propagandise for The Greens, but simply to report a fact.)

Here is the campaign video produced by Animals Australia:

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, and the other Coalition party leaders, seem to have forgotten – or, just couldn’t give a rats about – the outrage that Australians felt after that program aired, the facts therein being also corroborated by the live export industry’s own reports. Certainly, it is difficult to see how any formal apology to the Indonesian government or business groups could do anything other than serve to send a message that animal abuse is condoned. To my mind, this ought to be an important election issue. It is certainly an important theological issue. So if you are a fellow Australian citizen, or have your name on the electoral role, then please consider joining me in supporting this campaign.

On cooking Indian (plus a recipe for Paneer Tikka Masala)

Indian spicesThere is something highly addictive about Indian food. In fact, ‘scientists’ (which is the BBC’s name for the odd creatures who typically spend four-fifths of their life trying to secure funding in order to research things that half a dozen people in the world care enough about to bother reading the findings on; not that important matters have typically been the concern of the majority) like a crew at Nottingham Trent University a few years back claim that ‘just thinking about eating a curry can make people feel high and eating it arouses the senses and makes your heart beat faster’. But I‘m not concerned here with that kind of addiction.

Rather, I’m concerned about the addiction that attends cooking Indian food. There’s something about the range, the texture and the colour of the various spices, about a home (and a human nose) coming alive with exotic aromas from ingredients grown 14,000 kms away, about the wonderfully friendly and cricket-loving people who run those funky little Indian food marts, and, of course, there’s the thrill – as brimming with eschatological hope as anything ever was – that drives one to produce a curry as near perfect as creatures living anywhere north of the Bellingshausen Station are capable of. Like the thrill of anticipation that attends catching a trout on a fly pattern that you had tied yourself, so too is the joy of creating your own curry recipe (as opposed to simply copying one from some tried and true volume by Camellia Panjabi or Pushpesh Pant). There’s something gloriously physical, too, about preparing Indian dishes. You are involved in the process from go to whoa in ways that many other forms of cooking don’t seem to invite nearly as much. Cooking Indian announces to the cook – and to all who have eyes to see and noses to whiff and palates to tingle – that the only creation worth celebrating, the only creation that is, is the creatio continua. Cooking Indian, in other words, is a prophetic act which exposes the joyless lie of deism and celebrates the joyful freedom of the God of spice. To be sure, such an act of (sub-)creation, of participation in the movement of Spirit in creation – like that which attends fly tying – requires some time-consuming research, patience, and sometimes a few doozies along the way, as with many of life’s most valuable gifts. But the rewards are obvious to all who so venture out (and hopefully to those they cook for as well!).

Had I an editor, s/he would have no doubt deleted the previous paragraphs laden as they are with mixed metaphors and superfluous waffle irrelevant to any definition of a point that this post purports to be about, and demanded that I make plain this post’s purpose in ways that demand less ink and much less of the reader’s patience and time and theological lexica. But I don’t have an editor, so they’re staying put. And having now released a few things off my chest, I am delighted to share a wee recipe – one in progress, for are not all recipes symbols of the provisionality and, in some cases, the idolatry of our attempts at meaning making and of our strange groping for the Bread of Heaven? – for Paneer Tikka Masala. I do so with no apologies in advance for the inconsistent use of measurement systems (something that I’m confident that my intelligent readers will be able to cope with), and with a caveat lector around the fact that I reserve the right to edit the recipe as I further tweak it. Cooking as creatio continua.

By the way, I’m always keen to hear from readers who give the recipes posted here at PCaL a go, and/or who have suggestions arising from their own culinary efforts.


Paneer Tikka Masala

Serves 8–10


For the tikka:

  • 1kg of Paneer, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 green capsicum, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 red capsicum, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp peeled, finely grated ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely crushed
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 12 tbsp yogurt
  • 6 tbsp olive oil

For the masala:

  • 8 tbsp ghee or olive oil
  • 3–4 medium-sized onions, very finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp peeled, finely grated ginger
  • 10–12 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 3 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
  • 3 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp coriander, finely ground
  • 2 tsp cumin, finely ground
  • 8 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 4 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
  • 700 ml chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 2 tsp kasoori methi, crushed
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 8 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
  • ½ cup cream


1. In a non-reactive bowl, marinate the paneer and capsicum in the ginger, garlic, cumin, paprika, chilli powder, garam masala and yogurt. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Pour yourself a drink.

2. When you’re ready to cook, it’s time to make the masala. Over medium heat, heat the olive oil in a large lidded pan (I use a large cast iron French oven made by Le Creuset. It has not failed me yet, with any dish). When the oil is hot, put in the onions, and stir until they brown (about 8–10 mins) but don’t burn the little fellas. Then add the ginger and garlic and keep stirring for about a minute. Then add the turmeric, chilli powder, paprika, coriander and cumin. Stir for about 10 seconds, and then add 1 tbsp of yogurt. Stir until it is absorbed (think stock and risotto!), and add the remaining yogurt in the same way – a tbsp at a time.

3. Now add the tomatoes, stopping along the way to give thanks to God for these amazingly versatile little friends, and then fry them for 5–6 minutes on low, or until they turn pulpy. Then add the stock, salt, and tomato puree and bring it all to a gentle simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is as thick as a stubborn Methodist (OK, not quite that thick. Think, instead, of somewhere between a nice creamy Anglo-Catholic, that all-too-rare breed of high-church Presbyterian and an ol’ time charismaniac. In other words, thick but thin too. Better still, just think cream.). Stir in the kasoori methi, garam masala and chopped coriander leaves, and, checking the flavour, add more salt if needed. Add the cream, stir gently, and simmer uncovered on very low. Refill your glass and put on some Iris DeMent. If you’ve made it this far and it’s not looking like a complete disaster, then you’re a champion.

4. If you’re someone who likes super smooth gravy, then now is the time to set the blender onto the sauce. After blending, keep it simmering away on very low while you attend to step 5.

5. While the masala is simmering away uncovered, it’s time to cook the paneer and capsicum. Thread the marinated paneer cubes and capsicum onto skewers, brush with oil and grill until lightly browned on all sides. Take the paneer and capsicum off the skewers, place in the masala, stir in well, and serve immediately. (As an alternative to the skewer method, fry the paneer and capsicum in butter/oil until all sides are lightly browned. Or, as an additional but I think less successful alternative, brush each piece of paneer and capsicum with butter/oil and bake in a 180° celsius oven until lightly browned.)

6. Garnish with more chopped coriander leaves (if you’re into pretty food) and enjoy with naan or roti or rice (my preferred type of which is Sona Masoori). More importantly, enjoy it with friends and/or enemies.

God and the great heresy of lawn care

… and then God said:
Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.


It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.


Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.


The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.


Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.


They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?


Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.


They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?


No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.


Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?


Yes, Sir.


These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.


You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.


You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.


No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?


After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.


And where do they get this mulch?


They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.


Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?


‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about …

Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

[Source: an email from my mother-in-law, whom I’m not sure knows what a lawnmower even looks like]

And if you reckon that St Francis is kind of overstating things a little, you clearly haven’t visited the Berkshires, and you definitely haven’t seen Rick Floyd‘s neck of the woods. Of course, there are some stellar exceptions which would earn the divine approval – Rick’s ‘garden’, for example. Sadly, Frank’s vision for garden care is also all but lost on those who look after at least this section of the grounds of the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi in Assisi:

God and Papatūānuku: a conversation with a 4-year old

'Rangi (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother)', by Wilhelm Dittmer (1907).

One of my greatest joys is talking theology with my four-year-old daughter (who is nearly five). Here’s an excerpt from a conversation that we had last week:

‘There’s lots of Gods; well there’s two Gods – there’s the God who is everywhere, and then there’s Papatūānuku. God looks after everything, but Papatūānuku looks after the garden, and even the basil in the glasshouse’.

‘Do god and Papatūānuku talk to each other?’

‘Yeah, of course. They are best friends. They listen to each other, and care about each other. They tell each other stuff, everything there is to tell, and then they all go to bed in the same room, like me and Samuel do’.

‘So how can God be everywhere?’

‘God’s got lots of legs – 166,000 legs. God’s got legs everywhere. But only two hands – the Holy Spirit and Jesus are like God’s hands. God doesn’t need any more hands. Two is enough. But God needs lots of legs. Otherwise God couldn’t go to Australia’.

‘And do God’s legs look like our legs, or are they different’.

‘Don’t be silly daddy. God’s legs are square, and they are all different colours too’.

‘And does Papatūānuku have legs too?’

‘Yes. They are round. And they are colourful too. And Papatūānuku has hair, even when she’s in the sea, and in the garden, and in the glasshouse’.

… becoming estranged from the earth

‘We do not rule; instead we are ruled. The thing, the world, rules humankind; humankind is a prisoner, a slave, of the world, and its dominion is an illusion. Technology is the power with which the earth seizes hold of humankind and masters it. And because we no longer rule, we lose the ground so that the earth no longer remains our earth, and we become estranged from the earth. The reason why we fail to rule, however, is because we do not know the world as God’s creation and do not accept the dominion we have as God-given but seize hold of it for ourselves … There is no dominion without serving God; in losing the one humankind necessarily loses the other. Without God, without their brothers and sisters, human beings lose the earth’. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 67.

[HT: W. Travis McMaken]

The Seriousness of Nasi Goreng and the Picayunishness of Copenhagen

In her delightful book, The World of Street Food, Troth Wells recalls a story by Liz Cullen as part of her introduction to a recipe for nasi goreng:

As a first-time delegate at a meeting on sustainable development in Bali, I was feeling disheartened. It seemed that every agreement reached was being diluted by the addition of statements such as ‘where appropriate’ or ‘where feasible’ thus mitigating any feeling that the ‘major players’ were about addressing issues of inequality and justice. It was therefore refreshing to walk on the beach at Nusa Dua and eat nasi goreng, cooked at a little mobile stall under the trees … (p. 60)

’twas strange weather today in Dunedin …

Markus Barth on Ephesians 2:15

Barth Ephesians 1-3‘The pacification carried out by Jesus Christ is an act of creation. This distinguishes it from sheer transformation or improvement, or from the unification of diverse elements by revealing a common feature … The beginning and first fruit of the new creation is called “a single new man” (lit. one new man”). Translations such as “new humanity,” “new nature,” “new personality” are not to be recommended because they create the impression that out of two (old) things, a new thing was made. But the text does not describe the creation of a combination of things, e.g. heaven and earth, or the production of a new concept or type of humanity or personality. It speaks only of the creation of a new person, “a single new man”. – Markus Barth, Ephesians 1–3 (The Anchor Bible; vol. 34; Garden City: Doubleday, 1974), 308, 309.

‘God will Transform’, by Jürgen Moltmann

Moltmann 2‘God will Transform: Destructive Judgement is a Godless Picture’

By Jürgen Moltmann

Since the Middle Ages, a conception of death and resurrection became fixed in Christian thinking that is deeply unchristian: the pictorial world of heaven and hell, the conception of a Last Judgement that rewards good works and punishes bad deeds to order the transition to the world to come. According to this notion, God’s judgement only knows two sentences: either eternal life or eternal death, either heaven or hell. If one asks what will come of the good visible creation, the earth and God’s other earthly creatures, the answer is everything will be burnt to ashes. This world will not be needed any more when the blessed will see directly in heaven without mediation by other creatures.

This idea of judgement is incomprehensible and hostile to creation. Are God the Judge and God the Creator different gods? Does the judging God destroy the faithfulness of the Creator to his creatures? This would be God’s self-contradiction or different gods. The Biblical trust in God is destroyed as well as trust in Jesus. The judging Christ with the two-edged sword has nothing to do with the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus of Nazareth healing the sick and forgiving sins. The idea of destructive punishment is an extremely godless picture.

However, there is another conception of world judgement. Injustice is a scandal. Victims do not die away. All the murderers do not find any rest. The hunger for justice remains as a torment in a world of violent crying. The powerless and oppressed hope for a world judge “who creates justice for those suffering injustice.” Israel’s psalms of lamentation are an eloquent example of true creative justice. God’s righteousness will “create” justice for victims, raising them from the dust and healing wounded life.

Later and under foreign influences, a universal criminal judge was made out of this saving Liberator in the biblical scriptures who judges good and evil and does not ask about the victims any more. A deed-oriented moral judgement according to the standard of retributive justice came out of a victim-oriented expectation of saving justice. Correcting this aberration means christianizing the idea of judgement so it is oriented in Israel’s original experience of God’s creative, saving and healing justice.

The New Testament offers staring-points. The New Testament understands Judgement Day as the “day of the Son of man” on which the crucified and resurrected Christ will be revealed and all the world before him. Both will appear out of their concealment in the light of truth, the Christ now hidden in God and the person hidden from him/herself. The eternal light will be revealed to them. What is now hidden in nature will be transparent because persons are physical and natural beings connected with the nature of the earth. We cannot be separated from the nature of the earth, neither in the resurrection nor in the end-time judgement.

Christ will be revealed as the crucified and resurrected victor over sin, death and hell, not as the avenger or retaliator. Christ will be revealed as the Everlasting One and leader of life. He will judge according to the justice he proclaimed and practiced through his community with sinners and tax collectors. Otherwise no one could recognize him.

God’s justice is a creative justice. The victims of sin and violence are supported, healed and brought to life by God’s righteousness. The perpetrators of sin and violence will experience a rectifying transformative justice. They will change by being redeemed together with their victims. The crucified Christ who encounters them together with their victims will save them. They will “die off” in their atrocities to be “reborn” to a new life.

Helping and supporting the victims and straightening the perpetrators as the victory of God’s creative justice over everything godless, not the great reckoning with rewards and punishments. This victory of divine justice leads to God’s great day of reconciliation on this earth, not to the division into blessed and damned.

Seen this way, the Last Judgement is not the end of God’s works. It is only the first step of a transformation out of transitoriness into intransitoriness. The new eternal creation will be created on the foundation of justice. Because the judgement serves this new creation of all things, its future-oriented justice is creative and not only a requiting justice referring to the past. It was the mistake of Christian tradition in picture and concept, piety and teaching to only see the judgement over the past of this world and not God’s new world through the judgement.

If a social judging occurs in the Last Judgement, it is in truth a cosmic judgement because the coming Christ is also the cosmic Christ. Already in the psalms, YHWH is called “to judge the earth.” All shattered relations in creation must be straightened out so the new creation can stand on the solid ground of justice and abide in eternity. All creatures should share in eternal being and in God’s eternal vitality. That will be a fundamental change of the cosmos and life. “God will indwell all things and be present in all things.” Then the nothingness will be destroyed and death annihilated. The power of evil will be broken and separated from all creatures. The misery of separation from the living God – sin – will end. Hell will be destroyed. Then the reign of glory will begin.

[Source: Publik-Forum; HT: Marc Batko, via Jürgen Moltmann group]

If creation fails …



‘If creation fails, then all has failed: God has failed. Making a new and different creation is not the sign of God’s success but of His failure. Indeed a new creation has no guarantee, either, that it will succeed. If the work of redemption is a corrective and an aid to initial creation, then that is not good enough: creation would still prove to be defective if it were to fail. It must succeed’. – Geoffrey C. Bingham, Creation and the Liberating Glory (Blackwood: New Creation Publications, 2004), 73.

Brueggemann on Isaiah 40:28-29

sowerJim Gordon shares a ripper from Brueggemann on Isaiah 40:28-29 that speaks powerfully to the anxiety that attends and motivates modern life:

‘Creation not only works for the powerful, the mighty, and the knowledgeable. It works as well for the faint, the powerless, the hopeless and the worthless. It works by giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater. It works so that strength is renewed. It is creation that precludes weariness and faintness, and invites walking, running and flying.

Evangelical concern may derivatively raise the issue of our terrible disorderedness that issues in unseemly anxiety and in inescapable fatigue. It is a good question to raise in a local parish; Why so driven, so insatiable, so restless? The answer, in this doxological tradition, is that our lives are driven because we are seriously at variance from God’s gracious food-giving program. 

And where there is a variance and a refusal to trust:
youth are faint and weary, 
     the young are exhausted, 
     and there is little liberated flying or exhilarated running. (Isaiah 40.30)’.

– Walter Brueggemann, Text under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 35-6.

Robert Jenson: Burns Lecture 6 – Genesis 1:1 and Luke 1:26–38

jenson-2For his grand finale Robert Jenson offered a practical demonstration of what had been argued for in the first five lectures, namely, a creedal critical exegesis of Scripture. Due to time limitations Jenson took as his text Genesis 1:1-3 only. The joy of hearing him on this text was that it touched on many of the key themes of Jenson’s thought and gave us a kind of overview of his doctrine of creation and time.

His starting point was the observation that, although the two well-known translations of Genesis 1:1 are both grammatically possible, the shift in the NRSV to the temporal subordinate clause (‘when God created the heavens and the earth’) is a move from the most straightforward and default translation to something that more closely reflects the religiosity of ancient paganism. (There is no reason, Jenson contends, to abandon the LXX and KJV here) It is a departure from radical Judaism to a view of the universe in which chaos is antecedent to and coeval with God’s creating. Jenson noted that if in the beginning there is both God and chaos then both God and chaos are involved – at least at one level – in our creation. Creedal criticism, where the creed provides the lens for our suspicion of appearances, makes us immediately alert to this reading which assimilates YHWH to the anthropomorphic gods of religion. Even if it is only chaos it is a foothold outside God – a point of independence – something other than the absolute beginning of the Christian faith. It challenges our faith in the world’s ‘self-founded timeless being’. It is, says Jenson, Scripture’s scandalous ‘metaphysical put-down’ that we try and avoid. Interestingly, Jenson notes this same impulse in the cosmologist’s attempt to avoid creatio ex nihilo by means of positing multiple universes – a totally untestable and therefore unscientific hypothesis, which has nothing other than the conviction of ‘no absolute beginning’ as its basis.

With an eye on the creed Jenson continues: ‘Who is this God who tolerates no antecedents of his work?’ Creedal criticism assumes it to be obvious that it is the Father of the Son, Jesus Christ. It thus justifies the gloss ‘In the beginning the Father of Jesus created the heavens and the earth’. Thus we may conclude that ‘the contingency of the world is founded on the contingency of the life of Jesus’.

Jenson cites Westermann to claim that Genesis 1:1 is a caption summary for the whole story that follows. This then leads on to 1:2, which is where the creation narrative properly begins. Jenson claims that the best scholarship locates this verse in the post-exilic editing of a priestly savant in the second temple and then poses the question of whether this scholar was (a) thinking paganly or (b) using pagan language of Near Eastern mythology to serve the purposes of 1:1. Under the guidance of the creed, Jenson choses to read it the second way. His account of 1:2 is something like this. Given the unavoidable sequentiality of the narration of events, the writer wields the language of subsistent nothingness as a place-marker to indicate an absence. There can be no question about before. In Jenson’s phraseology, ‘To ask what was God doing before he created the world is a dumb question.

Again in verse 3 Jenson’s creedally-suspicious mind spots ideology at work in the NRSV’s translation of ‘a wind from God’ where in every other instance of the phrase ruach elohim is translated ‘Spirit of/from God’. What’s more, because Genesis 1:3 is a late text the tradent knew this title. Jenson’s creedal reading thus concludes ‘The Holy Spirit agitated the empty possibility posited when God begins to create and there is nothing’. What’s more, this suggests that there is an ‘inner liveliness in God’ which is directed towards making something when there is nothing.

At this point Jenson offered asides on the Nicene concept of the Holy Spirit as ‘enlivener’ and the folly of continuing to insist on the filoque which was after all an illegal addition.

From here the story of creation begins: (a) God said let there be light; (b) God saw that the light was good; (c) God separated the light from the darkness. The world simply is an affirmative response to God’s command: ‘That’s all there is to it’! And this explosion of energy (light) is good (for something). Here Jenson explores all the non-creedal and non-trinitarian puzzlements surrounding this text. A monotheistic/Unitarian/Aristotelian God cannot speak. For such a god eternity is necessarily silent.  At best, if a god like Aristotle’s did speak it would be an act of condescension. Moreover, for such a god to speak presupposes a polytheistic pantheon. However the creedal critic knows that not only can the Triune God speak, but God can be conceived as a conversation. ‘God is a conversation’. Only the Triune God who is a conversation can issue a command to creation before creation existed because the second person of the Trinity is himself a creature – Jesus of Nazareth. At this point Jenson talked of a conversation in which the Son, as the creature Jesus Christ, hears and speaks. ‘In what language does God speak?’, Jenson provocatively asks. In the language of Spirit – that universally self-translating language heard by the prophets, and which at Pentecost all the nations heard as their own.

And God saw that the light was good. Was it good because he saw it so, or did he discover it to be good? Jenson responds that there is ‘no humanly ascertainable difference’. However the key question Jenson moves quickly on to is, ‘Good for what?’ And here he refers us to the second and third articles of the creed – that is, that creation is the good stage for the drama of Jesus Christ. Moreover, this 78-year old ‘unreliable’ Lutheran affirms with Barth that creation is the ‘outer basis’ or ground for the covenant and its events, and that covenant is the inner ground of creation.

What about darkness? Does God create a non-good. Jenson accepts Augustine’s reading of darkness as absence, where light runs out. Evil is the ‘running out’ of being in its finitude. Thus like the dimming of light an apparent necessity (or at least an actuality) of created finitude. The creation of life includes within it ‘death on an enormous scale.’

The story moves from the creation of life (‘energy’ in (post-)modern parlance) to its endless differentiation. Jenson comments: ‘Never rest too much on agreement between science and theology’ precisely because science is constantly changing and it is inherent in its claim to be science that it is open to such change. So Jenson argues, our priestly savant used the best science of his day to tell of God’s creation of the world – ‘what other science was there?’ We ought to emulate his courage?

Question time followed. The first question in the gladiatorial fray went to the heart of Jenson’s theology asking whether the creatureliness of the Son (no logos asarkos) implied the eternity of creation (pantheism?). Jenson, clearly familiar with the need to defend this ‘novelty’ in his thought, was surprisingly brief in his response. It was two-fold: (a) his Ockham’s razor saw no need for a pre-incarnate logos (begging some prima facie questions posed by John’s prologue, of the Word’s becoming) and (b) a pre-incarnate logos becoming flesh presupposes a common timeline in divine and human history. This doesn’t correspond to Jenson’s view of the relation between time and eternity, and is a nonsense. However, he didn’t feel the need to defend this claim here. No doubt time did not permit.

Further questions focused on theodicy. In different ways, Jenson’s succinct conclusion was that ‘we can’t get God off the hook for evil. We can’t do it, but we have confidence that God can do it!’ Jenson mentioned in passing the open theist theodicy which diminishes the notion of omnipotence so that God is not morally responsible for all that happens. Jenson is not personally happy with this, but was not completely dismissive either.

The lecture was a powerful presentation of Christian reading/exegesis which depends on the premises of his previous lectures (see I, IIIIIIV and V). One might reasonably be not entirely convinced by Jenson’s radically post-modern/pre-modern scepticism with respect to objective meaning in texts (see Lecture 5) and therefore have some doubts about the pathway Jenson takes to a theological interpretation. Are authorial intentions really as private as Jenson suggests (and Vanhoozer, for example, denies)? A comment Jenson made to post-graduates at a seminar on Wednesday morning about the infinite malleability of texts makes one wonder about the distinction between reading a text and projecting onto the text – if this distinction is lost the proposal of a creedal exegesis seems to have a certain kind of arbitrariness. However, even if Jenson is wrong about hermeneutics, it does not follow that his theological reflections on the text of Genesis 1 are wrong, just that its relation to something one might call ‘the meaning of Genesis 1’ is different from how he conceives it.

One might also think that Jenson’s suggestion that the contingent creaturely life of Jesus is part of the eternal life and conversation which is the Triune God requires considerably more unpacking than Jenson is want to do. Might Jenson’s formulation suggest that this creature who is also creator might be in fact self-creating? Might Ockham be cutting himself shaving?

A final thought: however one arrives, one never leaves a Jenson lecture unchanged. Whether he is lecturing on theology proper, on eschatology, on the Trinity, on culture, on anthropology, on ecumenism or on the relationship between Holy Scripture and the Church’s Creeds, Jenson is undoubtedly one of the most original and erudite theologians of our time. Certainly, as one commentator noted, ‘Jenson’s mind makes stimulating company’. One comes away from this series of Burns Lectures with a renewed love for Scripture, with a new appreciation of the abiding witness and value of the Church’s Creeds, and with a lively sense of doxological fervour for the Triune God. At the end of the day, isn’t that what all theology exists to be about?


Past Lectures:

1. Creed, Scripture, and Their Modern Alienation

2. The Tanakh as Christian Scripture

3. The New Testament and the Regula Fidei

4. The Apostles’ Creed

5. The Creed as Critical Theory of Scripture


Notes by Bruce Hamill and Jason Goroncy