In previous lectures we have seen that at the root of our existence there is a concrete basic relation with God. We are willed for ever. We are willed in order to be companions of God for eternity. We have also seen that in the biblical description of the creation there is a sequence from darkness to light, as though there was a gradual and increasing unfolding of all the possibilities which were given to the created world at the first moment of its creation. Every day begins with evening and every day blossoms out to a greater light. We discussed these theme of light last time.
And I would like now to develop and to dwell on another image, which we find in the very beginning of the story of creation, that of water. It appears not only there in the first verse of Genesis but also in several connections in the Old and the New Testament. `In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.’ Leaving aside the scientific discussions connected with the origin of things, and taking just a general view of it, it seems that the waters are the origin of all that is alive. The waters of creation are not the deathly waters that spell death and destruction for us in our earthly life: they are filled, as all things created, with possibilities. They are filled with creative potentialities. These waters are a beginning. When we turn to other passages of the Old Testament concerning them we discover that the same image of the waters is to be found much later in the rite of the sacrament of baptism. Here again waters are at the beginning of things, here again these waters are endowed with recreative powers and more than one of the ancient rites of Christendom have insisted on the parallelism that exists between the waters upon which the Spirit of God moves in the beginning and the waters of baptism on which hovers the Spirit of God filling them with angelic power, and so filling men with power. Baptism is a recreation and a return beyond the fall to that life that begins anew. Some have insisted that creatively we are born from the waters of baptism. To be born of the waters of baptism is in parallel with a natural and supernatural world as in sequence, following one another. Yet the destiny of the two worlds is so similar if you put in parallel the creation out or the natural water and recreation from the waters of baptism. The gradual unfolding of the gifts of God are deposited in us in the mystery of baptism. Man was created in the image of God and recreated in the archetype of man: Christ. There is ambiguity in all things after the fall.
Waters are at the origin of things. They have a saving and a tragic reality. We find them in the story of the flood and the origin or life, they are the origin of life but when unleashed by human wickedness they become the origin of death. In the Red Sea they lie at the limit between slavery and freedom, between what is left of sovereignty of life and the possibility of renewed life. Egypt and the Promised Land are separated by the waters of the Red Sea, so our old life and our new life are separated by the waters of baptism. As the Spirit brooded upon the waters of creation, the Spirit came to empower the waters of Baptism. The Spirit of God blows on the waters as a mighty wind blowing and dividing the Red Sea. What is natural is in the first place made fruitful by the overshadowing of the Spirit; what could be, what can be or is life or death is made into life by the blowing of the wind sent of God, and becomes death again when His blowing ceases – life for the Israelites, death for Pharaoh and his people. And again in the wilderness two images which are very familiar to us: `My soul is athirst for Thee’ – water as the image of fulfilment – and this other passage in which the Israelites were athirst, wanted water, and where Moses struck the rock, this rock led a flood of water to the Israelites. This rock and these waters are taken up later in the writings of St Paul, who says this rock was Christ, and these waters remind us of the waters of eternal life, the waters of life running into eternity of which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself speaks to the Samaritan woman.
And all the time, throughout the Old and the New Testaments this image of water, together with the image or the Word signifying the Spirit, appears to us either as something completely natural (and then when it is not connected with the breathing of the Spirit it remains ambiguous, capable of giving life and death) or when it is touched by the Spirit it become fruitful and creative, – fruitful in the beginning of Genesis, creative of a new people in the mystery of baptism. Water is at the same time a danger and a power of life. And here again we can perceive in a concrete example the destiny of things created by God, of which St Paul says that the whole creation labours and groans under the curse of the Law, waiting for the revelation of the children of God.
Something that could be an origin of life but becomes in its ambiguity a mark of death, reintegrated by the act of faith within the mystery of the Church to the Kingdom, becomes again the origin of life. But these two meanings are set out very clearly together side by side also in the New Testament in its use of water in connection with baptism. If we take the 6th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, this image is so clear: `Know ye not that as many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death?’ Replace the word `baptised’ by the word `immersed’, which it means, and you will read, `Know ye not that as many of us as were immersed into Jesus Christ were immersed into His death?’ `Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.’
And this, connected with baptism, with the rite of immersion – because baptism means immersion (what the Jehovah witnesses call ‘going under’) is an image of the duality of these waters. For the fallen man. the natural man, and in the situation of the fallen world, they mean death, and yet they are the same life-giving waters of the beginning. Immersion into these waters means death; coming out of them means renewal, means return to life, but of a new creature that has come again out of the original, the primeval waters of creation. But this time it is newness of life, it is not the old life renewed, it is a new life, `to make all things new’.
It is a resurrection, but a peculiar resurrection, I would say a truer resurrection than the resurrection of so many of whom we are told in the Old and New Testaments. Remember Lazarus, the child of the widow of Nain, the various events of the Old Testament. What happened when Lazarus was raised from the dead? His soul was called back into his body, he was reinstated into this transitory life. He had to go through all the process of living, of discovering eternity again, of dying and of entering into it after Christ. The resurrection of which we speak in this newness of life is different. When the Apostles saw Christ after his resurrection, they who had died together with Him came back, not to a new lease of life but came back into the eternal life which was Christ Himself and which belongs to Him. It was irrelevant whether they would last long on earth, whether they would die soon, because it is not this resurrection and this death that mattered. They belonged already to the Kingdom that was to come and it is the experience of this Kingdom which they shared with all people. St Paul puts it sharply and clearly when he says that the apostles do not preach with wise and clever words, but manifesting the power of God, manifesting eternity already there.
These are the things which I wanted to say as an introduction to a possible discussion about the meaning and the place of the waters of creation.
I would like now to turn to three questions which were asked me in writing. The first one is: `Would it be true to think that when God called into being what did not exist, He did in fact bestow the gift of life on the not-God, so that the not-God or nothingness called into being, became alive with his life?’ The second question is: `As God has ever existed infinite goodness beside whom there was no other, would it not be true to think that the not-God or nothingness would be the entire absence of goodness and that when it became alive it would be evil alive, the origin of all evil?’ The third question is: `The absolute otherness that we are from God, has God not given to it the power gradually to transform itself through His gift of life and through the Holy Spirit from unlikeness eventually into likeness – this absolute otherness given the power of self-transformation, evolution?’
I would like to say something about each of the questions in short. The first faces us with creation out of naught and of course the tendency we have is to imagine God surrounded by naught and creating within this absence. In reality this is not a sufficient or adequate image, because what was when there was nothing but God was not absence of creatures, it was the fullness of the divine presence, it was God alone, but it was not God surrounded by absence. And when we say that God created things out of naught, we mean to say only and solely, I think, that those things which exist are not rooted either in Him nor in anything pre-existent, that things have no generic kinship with Him, they are not an emanation, they are not a development of the divine being. God remains what He is and simply calls into being things which were not, which were radically absent, but which are not rooted in any way in Him, in His existence, otherwise than within the act of will. And the plenitude of the divine presence which precedes the existence of the first creature is a real absence of all things, and there is nothing that precedes the creative words that bring into being what was not. In that sense when God created something which is not God, to which I apply the term of absolute otherness, He did not create a naught, He created something concrete and real, and at no moment – and that touches the second question – at no moment was there a nothingness, of a `not-God’ which was side by side with God and yet was not already in motion towards its fulfilment. For, as St Athanasius of Alexandria puts it, God created all things in motion towards their fulfilment, their deification.
One can see that all things created by God became alive with the impulse of life He gave them, but what I cannot see is that what He created was not only entire absence of goodness and when it became alive would be evil alive and the origin of all evil, that there was no moment when there existed anything which was not already within the creative act and within the dynamic becoming.
What I have said before about the otherness is enough I think to state my position. The fact that things are not rooted in God, that they exist only by an act of divine will, but not as a process of emanation or development out of God, establishes their otherness. But this otherness establishes at the same time also their independence, their objective reality. And when endowed as they are – as all things are – with the gift of existence and eventually with the gift of the Holy Spirit, they are called to develop, each according to it nature and to its statutes, into its own fullness. As St Paul puts it, stars vary in glory, and there is a variety of created natures, each will attain to its fulfilment in its own way, and yet each of them is called to be within this gift of life in God.
How would you put Christ’s walking on the water, in relation to what you said?
I think it would apply probably to all the situations which we would call a miracle, the water taken as a creature capable of understanding and of obedience – belonging to a world which itself has gone astray because of man, but has not ceased to remain obedient and faithful to God when God speaks or acts Himself.
What then is the connection of St. Peter walking on the water?
I think that what is essential in all the situations in which we see a miracle happening is that a world which is alienated from God by human betrayal is reestablished by an act of human faith within a situation which is almost, or up to a certain point, to a point to which it can reach before the fulfilment of all things, the Kingdom of God come with power. This we find, I think, practically everywhere, and the moment things are brought within that Kingdom, things become the normal, not abnormal as we imagine them when we speak of miracles. So that as long as St Peter was in an act of faith, God-centred, as long as he looked at none but Christ, and saw no one but Him, he was within the Kingdom of God come with power, to the extent to which it can be revealed in a fallen world. The moment he turned away from God he found himself back in what we call the normal world that is elusive and unreliable, which cannot be dominated by the power of man, simply by an act of will, but which can be re-established within a life relationship with man, once the relationship is established with God.
Take, for instance, the passage in which Christ could not perform a miracle, because He found no faith. He was not lacking in divine power, the surroundings created were obedient and supple in His hands as anywhere else, but the link was absent. And I think it comes out very clearly in the passage of Cana in Galilee: `They have no wine.’ `Mine hour is not yet come’. Instead of either begging or explaining to her divine Son that the hour has come, the Mother of God turns to the servants and says, `Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it,’ and Christ works a miracle, contradicting His own words. For what happened between His first words and His action was an act of total faith, which establishes a situation which was not there before. It is not the same hour. There was a natural situation, a marriage feast without wine, and it is a situation in which perfect faith is present, and it is the Kingdom. But nothing has happened except the act of faith. And I think that one could trace the same situation in practically every miracle of which I can think, without that act of faith there is no link because God does not act by intrusion. Freedom is left to man… God is faced with a situation on which He could pronounce a judgement. Instead of pronouncing a judgement He accepts the whole situation and works within it, and when within this situation human faith is present then He is free to enter. `I stand at the door and knock.’ He knocks, He does not enter.
There is a first statement that God has ever existed infinite goodness if we accept that there is a not-God or a nothingness side by side with Him, it could be three things: It could be the fact that it was called into being by God, be good. Or it could have no quality, be a sort of neutral situation. Or it could, because it is non-God, be evil. Now, in the last case God would have created evil. It is not quite clear whether it means that evil as evil is a creation of God or whether it is in the situation in which we are that things which we call good and things which we call evil are both coming out of the same hand of God.. The fact that something is non-God does not make it evil and it does not even make it in any obligatory way the origin of evil because anything that remains related to God remains in the right harmonious relationship or situation. It becomes evil or it loses of its goodness when it seeks for autonomy, when it becomes something which is non-God by choice, by self-determination. And then it is never, I think, entirely absence of goodness, and it does not become evil alive in any full sense, it is something that is corrupted, that is impaired, which may acquire anti-God qualities but it is never something which is totally evil in the same sense in which we can say that God is totally good, because whatever is created will never be possessed of evil in the way in which God is possessed of goodness. There is always a difference between immensity in God, and bigness, scale, volume in the created things. Nothing of the created world will ever be on the same scale as His opposite, if we speak of opposites in God. Created evil cannot match uncreated good, it belongs to two different categories, the finite and the infinite, the divine and the created. Not `created evil’ in the sense that God created it, but evil is always creaturely.
Without the possibility of evil, how could one choose the good?
The fact that there is no choice does not imply that you need evil for the existence of good. Before anything existed God was there and there was nothing to choose from, because there was no one to make the choice. If you take the passage in Isaiah: “before the child could distinguish between evil and good, he will have chosen good” (Septuagint), to choose good basically is a healthy situation. To sit and waver between good and evil, light and darkness, is already conditioned by something that has gone wrong. The normal thing is to strive towards fulfilment and not diminishment. You may be beguiled into it, you may be told that if you do this, which is wrong, you will achieve that which you imagine to be right, but that is another proposition. The notion of choice comes when there is already something wrong.
Of the use of good things in no miraculous sense…
Taken the point raised of the natural use of things for good, which is good and which is not miraculous: it is an important and interesting point. Commenting on the beginning of Genesis, there were two schools of thought in the fourth century: the ones thought that the fall was a hopeless tragedy, and the other ones thought that although it was a tragedy, it contains possibilities of redeeming the situation because it had brought man face to face with the necessity of taking in hand the whole creation, taking possession of it in a new way and developing all the possible skills that lead to the knowledge of creation and the use of creation for good purposes which are in later time to be fulfilled into the Kingdom. It is a thought that Origen had, and a few others had, and we should never dismiss it lightly and easily. There is a whole problem, a whole vocation – good on this level, and right doing on this level – which is within the scope of biblical call. It is important for us to remember it and to realise it. There is also an idea which was present in the Church very early, that God does not perform a miracle when man can perform an act of charity, (…the story of a saintly priest who was ensnared by the doctrine of the heretics – his deacon saw it clearly, yet there were angels con-celebrating with him during the liturgy and who told him nothing about his mistake. Once the angels, being asked, answered the priest that what his deacon told him was right, and that they would have warned him if his charitable deacon had failed to do so…) It conveyed the idea that as long as there is a human being next to you who has all the data to make an act of charity, and puts things right, there is no reason for God to step in, in a miraculous way, because the miracle of charity is equal to the miracle of intrusion, if I may say. When there is no one, then that is another matter and you see the `intrusion’ of Christ at the pool of Bethseda.