Q&R: If God is non-violent, why is nature violent?
“If God is non-violent … then why is there evidence of violence in nature, i.e. between animals and also in weather, such as hurricanes/typhoons, volcanic eruptions, etc.?”
At the most basic level, I often boil things down to these ideas, which most folks can understand if we provide examples:
1. God created the conditions for life and love, which are the laws of nature and human freedom. This is very good.
2. But nature and humans also cause a lot of suffering. Nature and people can become violent of their own accord.
3. But in his great love for us, God became human to enter that suffering with us, enduring the limitations and afflictions of natural law and human freedom.
4. The miracle and mystery is that Christ’s co-suffering love somehow heals us and our world (or will, ultimately) as we surrender ourselves to God’s care.
Now in a bit more detail:
I follow Simone Weil’s cosmology on this and I write about it a bit in A More Christlike God in the chapter titled, “God is Good and Sh*t Happens.”
Here’s her basic logic:
God is GOOD and all he does is goodness, includes creating a universe that is good, specifically for habitation.
Within that good creation are what she calls two orders: the order of the good (or grace) and the order of necessity (or gravity). How these two orders come together in the overarching GOOD is a mystery, because at times, there is a great distance between them. More on that later.
The order of necessity includes two necessary conditions:
1. the conditions necessary for life = natural law
2. the conditions necessary for love = human freedom
For these conditions to work requires God’s complete consent to authentic otherness, seen in the extreme on the Cross.
That is, God creates the conditions for life and love but does not tinker with either or directly interfere with how these indirect causes work in the world.
Weil would say that God does not directly “intervene” in a way that violates natural law or human freedom.
Miracles, for example, are not magical suspensions of law, but rather, manifestations of the higher natural law of love.
Natural law creates the conditions for life, which can manifest as breathtaking beauty but also as tremendous tragedy.
For example, for life to exist on earth, gravity is necessary. But gravity can also kill you.
For life to exist, tectonic plates must float on magma. But these plates rub together, creating earthquakes and deadly tsunamis.
Siimilarly, human freedom creates the conditions for love, but can also manifest as rebellion, hatred, murder and war.
For love to exist, our response to the good must be authentic–we cannot be forced to respond. Hence, rebellion.
As you can see, natural law and human freedom can manifest as great beauty, but also as mindblowing affliction.
And while God is not the direct cause of affliction, he does create the conditions that lead to affliction and consent to them without interference.
However, to stop there is not much more than Deism. As if God wound up the universe and let it run. But that’s not the whole story.
God is not violent, but is complicit in the conditions that create violence, and therefore, in love, must participate in healing violence.
Thus he also rules by the order of grace. Gravity and grace can seem to far apart. Indeed, says Weil, the good and the necessary are infinitely distant.
But, Weil says, by grace, God images himself in the world through willing human partners,
who span the two orders and mediate God’s grace into the world through surrender or consent to God and the good.
And this is seen to the extreme in Christ crucified. God incarnates grace in the world through Christ, who perfectly submits to God as a prototype partner in goodness.
He demonstrates how the highest human freedom and the highest natural law are actually love.
But God also submits his Son to the order of necessity, where he consents to the affliction of the cross.
Grace and affliction intersect there on the cross even as rebellion and gravity crucify him.
Every affliction in the history of the universe are encompassed between the two nail-pierced hands.
Every affliction in history passes through his heart. And all your affliction nails you to his heart.
Here is the irony, through those wounds flows a perfect love that will restore all things.
The perfect manifestation of God and his goodness is NOT a world that preserves the good by preventing human rebellion or levitating us through natural disasters.
Rather, it is there on the Cross where grace, freedom and nature, where all beauty and all affliction, are drawn up into the One hanging there, assumed into his heart of love and recycled as self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love, then released to and through those who will pick up that Cross or rather, be picked up by it–those who surrender to it and through whose own wounds manifest restorative grace in the world.
That’s my understanding of Weil. I’ve written about 100 pages on this in my book, From the Cave to the Cross: the Cruciform Theology of George Grant and Simone Weil.