September 5, 2009 at 5:56 PM 13 comments

Apostle Susan Skoor of the Community of Christ has just published a moving personal testamony about the sacredness of creation. All too recently, while walking along a beach on the Pacific Coast with her husband and sister, a large wave randomly rose up and swept her husband out to sea and to his death. I urge you to read her story here.

Apostle Skoor tells how, griefstricken and traumatized, her attitude toward water itself changed. On a trip into the winter mountains of Colorado suggested for healing, which began miserably, she found herself by a swirling river:

“I thought of the ocean wave that killed my husband, and shivered.

“’This water is life-giving,” I repeated. “It nourishes the trees, provides life for fish and microbes.” Unbidden, a new thought came: “It’s also death-dealing. If a dam broke, a wall of black water and crushing ice could destroy everything. Nature is life-giving and death-dealing.… And so am I!”

“I remembered the car accident. On a journey of renewal, I had unintentionally become an instrument of harm. All created things have potential to be both life-giving and death-dealing. Creation is like that. It nourishes and destroys, just as human beings both support and damage one another.”

Apostle Skoor goes on to say how after two years, while on a beach in her Field in Hawaii, the fear finally feft her, and she was able to again see her connectedness to all of creation — and its sacredness and evidence of Divine grace. Her article goes on to describe the need for human lifestyle changes to keep nature in balance, quoting CofChrist D&C Section 163:4b:

“The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.”

The article ends with a sidebar list of small steps people can take together to help the environment. I’m not sure such steps constitute a serious response to Section 163:4b — the list looks all to similar to lists being published when I took my first environmental job in the 1970’s when the problems were much less urgent and global — but that discussion is for another time.

What struck me was the bolded part of her quote above:  “Nature is life-giving and death-dealing.…” And what struck me about it was a question I find myself constantly asking: “How different can the Christian God be from nature?”

Does Christian theology really permit a God whose nature is not revealed by his acts of creation … and of destruction? The epiphany by that Colorado stream embraces the unity of creation and destruction in nature and in humanity, but it stops there. Yet, I keep looking at the omega side of the picture in my blog heading and saying to myself: “Nature is life-giving and death-dealing.… and so is ‘I AM’!”

Our notion of grace seems to shrink before that possibility. Whereas Job could cry, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him!”,  our notion seems to be more along the lines of, “If I trust Him, He will not slay ME!”

So God becomes Someone believers must appease, or manipulate, or constrain — whether through faith, or works, or rites. Yet, I can’t help wondering if, in refusing to accept the notion of a God who is NOT always “cuddly” — who will not be appeased or manipulated or constrained; who is ultimately no more under our control than any other aspect of life and death — we lose sight of something about the very grace that does bring creation into balance. That is the balance we so desperately need.

Alpha and Omega; the beginning AND the end. 


Entry filed under: Christian living, Community of Christ, Doctrine and Covenants (Community of Christ), environmental sciences, peace and justice, theology.


13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mormon Heretic  |  September 7, 2009 at 2:15 AM

    FireTag, I love this! Dealing with death in my own life has been tough for me. Grief is one of the most difficult things to deal with in life.

  • 2. FireTag  |  September 7, 2009 at 11:23 AM

    Thanks for commenting, MH. I know you’ve told on your own blog about the effect loss of siblings had on you. Perhaps those are the times when we really decide what we believe about life, and looking back on those times helps us decide what we’re willing to do and not do because of those beliefs.

  • 3. TH  |  September 9, 2009 at 12:23 PM

    Ok. So if we can’t influence God, then why pray for others or ourselves?

    • 4. FireTag  |  September 9, 2009 at 3:43 PM

      I think that is a very good question. I wish I had as good an answer.

      The question gets at the heart of a general theology of prayer, independent of anything I’ve written in this blog. Matt Frizzell has written some things on his own blog (linked in the blogroll) about the power of intercessory prayer that might be worth reading and asking him about.

      Broadly, I hold that prayer is primarily about changing behavior of people, not God. God, in this view, acts in each reality according to the choices made in that reality — choices He has already “anticipated” because there is no “unknown future” in the first place.

      When I pray, certain possibilities exist in my reality that do not exist in those realities where I do not pray. I’ve changed, and maybe on the scale of what I’ve prayed about, that allows God to interact differently in a measurable way than in the realities where I don’t pray.

      That may or may not make a difference on any larger scale. To use an analogy that I know you’re familiar with, there are huge numbers of thermodynamic microstates compatible with the same macrostate.

      This goes back to the notion in my post “Duality and Divinity” about reality being describable in two languages.The outcome of the prayer in either description ends up being the same in both descriptions; just the way of describing it changes.

      What are your views on intercessory prayer?

  • 5. TH  |  September 9, 2009 at 6:39 PM

    I like what you are saying (assuming that I understood what you meant to say), but the matter is still troubling, yes?

    I understand the two descriptions of reality–one, you come to a decision point and decide to (a) pray, or b) not pray. two, there isn’t really a choice because it has already been made. You either will pray or will not pray (and I mean this differently from deciding that you will or will not).

    You said: “Broadly, I hold that prayer is primarily about changing behavior of people, not God. God, in this view, acts in each reality according to the choices made in that reality — choices He has already “anticipated’ because there is no “unknown future” in the first place.”

    It’s almost like saying that prayer really matters, but whether or not you do it is already decided based on who you are (or, said the other way, you will choose whether or not to pray based on who you are and that choice will influence what happens.

    It almost feels like circular talking.

    So, is it possible to change people and not change God? Is it possible to change people if whether or not they change has already been decided? Or is it one big cause and effect chain in which the causes and effects happen together?

  • 6. FireTag  |  September 9, 2009 at 9:10 PM

    In quantum mechanics there are things called entangled particles. If you measure a certain property of one particle, you can tell what the value of the other particle’s property will be before you measure it — no matter where the second particle may be. The effect has been verified beyond doubt in the laboratory. It’s a requirement of the mathematics of quantum mechanics, but an effect that one would never expect until you derived the math from simpler experiments. But nobody knows why the math should be what it is. You can not always even pick the value of the property of the first particle.

    The closest I can come to describing what I’m thinking is that intercessory prayer entangles our lives in the lives of those we pray for. The presence of our prayer will be associated with some change in the properties of both the pray-er and the pray-ee, and so it matters, but we don’t understand or control the mechanism. We don’t understand why God/nature works that way.

    Indeed, in an infinite universem there will be copies of us that decide to pray and copies that decide not to.

  • 7. TheFaithfulDissident  |  September 24, 2009 at 11:28 AM

    Great post, Fire Tag. This has been on my mind lately, particularly the last couple of days after learning about a young co-worker’s deteriorating condition (he has brain cancer). Your last paragraph was especially poignant.

    • 8. FireTag  |  September 24, 2009 at 12:32 PM

      May your entanglement bear visible fruit.

  • 9. Madam Curie  |  September 26, 2009 at 3:22 PM

    Great post, FireTag! I’ve been thinking a lot lately on the dual “nature” of God, as giver and as taker. The God of the Old Testament seems to be represented in the anger of the wave, while the God of the New Testament in the bringing forth of fruit and of life. Indeed, didn’t Jesus call Himself the Living Water?

    Nature acts, and never reacts, except in a potentially physically predictably manner. For instance, the concept of a butterfly flapping its wings in New Zealand causing a hurricane to form off the coast of Africa is an indication of this. Although we may not be able to predict what effect that butterfly will have, we do know that it will have one. In an ideal world with ideal mathematical simulations, we should be able to model and predict such things.

    Does this mean that there are no miracles, then? That God does not “intercede” in the sense of a physical manifestation? Or can prayers also be effectors of change, much like the butterfly? If so – are the changes within the individual, or within God? I tend to argue for the former.

    One last thing that your post struck me with was the sense that we need to spend more time in nature, if we really want to understand the “nature” of God. I think I would agree with that.

    Perhaps I should look into Paganism….

  • 10. FireTag  |  September 26, 2009 at 3:49 PM

    Well, a non-Romantic Pantheism, anyway. I hope you find a lot on the site to interest you.

    My attitudes toward miracles are complex. I think the physical and spiritual are alternate “maps” or descriptions of the same reality, and in one description “miracles” are a more easily recognized phenomenon than in the other description, even though both descriptions are referring to exactly the same set of laws.

    But I think the most important thing about spending time with nature is that you learn more about the nature of the “law-giver” by studying the laws, not the exceptions.


  • 11. Margie  |  October 9, 2009 at 9:36 AM

    “The closest I can come to describing what I’m thinking is that intercessory prayer entangles our lives in the lives of those we pray for.”

    I’m going to have to think about that statement. It does appear to make sense. Although I have doubted that miracles can happen, over the years of my life, several things have happened for which I have no logical explanation.

    This may help explain that.

  • 12. FireTag  |  October 9, 2009 at 12:18 PM

    Maybe I need to put on my “to post” list a piece on entanglement.

  • 13. Margie  |  October 9, 2009 at 12:21 PM

    Sounds interesting! Do it!


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