Creation Groaneth & Travaileth

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

— Romans 8:18-23

Mary is not alone as she makes ready to travel, gravid and heavy laden, toward Bethlehem. The whole creation groans with her, and through her. When our Lord is born of Mary, he is born of the whole world; for the body of Mary, and its life, are procedures of the whole world. Every part and portion thereof has flowed into the moment of her delivery, and as it has contributed to Mary, so it participates with her in the redemption conferred by her baby boy.

The body of Jesus, too, is a procedure of the world. To his life, every bit of the cosmos adds the effects arising from its own mere existence; his body, like ours, is the fossil of his living coordination of those effects. If a given bit of the world contributes nothing more (as with the lamb who nourishes him through his mother), then it adds at least its sheer inertial deformation, however attenuated, of his physical fields. His body would be somewhat different than it is, if Alpha Centauri had never existed.

Mater Mary is like all of us a synecdoche of all her material matrix. And so is her son. When God is incarnate in Jesus, he is incarnate in the cosmos. As Alpha Centauri contributes to Jesus of Nazareth, so the life of Jesus contributes to Alpha Centauri – and likewise to us, who are members of the world in which he is incarnate. When he dies and is raised, the whole world dies and is raised. So his resurrection is the first product of that general redemption and renewal, that will bring the world to its end, and raise it again. Into that sea change we shall be carried along, willy nilly, sucked down the enormous tongue and into the maelstrom of the eschaton, ready or not.  

When I was thirteen, a month of steady, torrential rains ended in a gigantic downpour that flooded the steep little valley in Vermont where my family summered. In normal times, the brook was three feet wide. That morning, as darkness began to soften into deep grey, we were awakened by the sound – the vibration, coming up through the earth and into our cabin – of great boulders bouncing along its bed. We looked out the window, and a pine tree a hundred feet tall raced by our deck, as fast as a speeding freight train. We scurried out the back door and up the hill to safer ground. The waters leapt and roared; three hundred feet up the hill, we could feel their operations upon the valley through the soles of our boots.

The cabin somehow survived. But the bed of the brook had been completely changed. Where there had been waterfalls, there was now gorge; where there had been deep pools, there were now acres of granite boulders, rocks, pebbles. It was a brand new brook. The valley, too, was changed. Meadows had disappeared, replaced by huge moraines. The road was washed away. Landslides had taken out whole slopes of hills, covered with old trees, and left no sign of them. We found out later that those trees had smashed into all the bridges downstream, battered them to pieces and washed them away, as if they had never been.

Advent is like the month of heavy darkness and rain. It prepares and softens the Earth for the overwhelming influx of the waters from beyond the firmament, the Ocean over which the Spirit brooded in the beginning. When they come, the crisis overtakes and remakes everything. Us, too. With Mary, let us make ready.

11 thoughts on “Creation Groaneth & Travaileth

  1. Excerpted from:


    Building on hints by Andreth, Finrod intuits that if things had gone according to Eru’s original plan, there would have been no need for Men. The first-born, immortal Elves would have been the best inhabitants and custodians of an unmarred world, because their very existence was tied to it.

    But since the demiurgic Morgoth infused creation with evil at a very early stage, Eru made a second race of mortals – Men – who lived in the world for a while, then passed on to another condition. Because mortals were not tied to the world, they had the freedom to act upon the world in a way that Elves did not. This freedom of Men could be misused to exploit the world short-sightedly; but it could also be used to heal the world, to the benefit of both mortals and immortals alike.

    [Finrod]: ‘This then, I propound, was the errand of Men, not the followers but the heirs and fulfillers of all: to heal the marring of Arda’.

    Indeed, Finrod perceives that to clarify this insight may be the main reason for their discussion: so that Andreth may learn the meaning of mortality from Finrod, and pass this knowledge on to other Men, to save them from despair and encourage them in hope.

    [Finrod]: ‘Maybe it was ordained that we [Elves], and you [Men], ere the world grows old, should meet and bring news to one another, and so we should learn of the Hope from you; ordained, indeed, that thou and I, Andreth, should sit here and speak together, across the gulf that divides our kindreds’. [12]

    Andreth suggests that Eru himself may intervene for this hope.

    [Andreth]: How or when shall healing come?…To such questions only those of the Old Hope (as they call themselves) have any guess of an answer.… [T]hey say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end’.[13]

    Finrod cannot at first understand how this could be, and Andreth herself seems to regard it as highly implausible – a wishful dream. But on reflection, Finrod argues:

    ‘Eru will surely not suffer [Morgoth] to turn the world to his own will and to triumph in the end. Yet there is no power conceivable greater than [Morgoth] save Eru only. Therefore, Eru, if he will not relinquish His work to [Morgoth], who must else proceed to mastery, then Eru must come in to conquer him’. [14]


  2. My apologies for being off-topic here but this is something I have long wondered. What are the opinions of Kristor, bonald, and Mr. Roebuck, on the issue of Evolution v. Creationism? What about the age of the earth?

    • You didn’t ask me, but I’m going to stick an oar in here too. (I do hope to see replies from the people you queried.)

      But I wanted to say that I think “both sides” may be in error. I have just a moment now, but I’ll say that I am influenced by the thinking of Owen Barfield (while rejecting his specifically Anthroposophical ideas). Barfield shows, notably in Saving the Appearances, that consciousness and nature or world are correlative. See Berman and Lanza’s book Biocentrism for a recent argument, on the basis of modern physics, that “life creates the universe.” This is not some kind of New Age claptrap. You can find an article on the topic in the online archives of Discover magazine. See also the magazine’s profile of John Wheeler, “Does the Universe Exist When We’re Not Looking?” These things can be warm-ups for Barfield’s Saving the Appearances.)

      Since consciousness “appears” so “recently” as compared to the 4.6 billion years posited for the age of the earth, the earth is a lot younger than that. If we limit ourselves to human consciousness, it’s still more recent. In short the earth is very old and also comparatively young. Put another way, when old-earth and young-earth people debate (if they do debate any more), they actually seem to share assumptions that Barfield helps to dispel.

      You can find an article by me that appeared in Touchstone magazine some years ago — “The Troubled Legacy of Owen Barfield.”

      • I see that Biocentrism author Lanza boasts on his website of being the “embryonic stem cell guru”and of having been on the team that first cloned a human embryo…I find that…alarming…..

    • I second what bonald said in the essay he linked. In addition, I would say that the Neo-Darwinian synthesis works just fine, from my point of view, except for the fact that it takes randomness to be the engine of the whole shooting match, the source of all novelty. Randomness being the zero of order, a system characterized by randomness must necessarily be unintelligible, and therefore inexplicable, rendering it unfit for scientific investigation, or indeed for thought of any kind. If Neo-Darwinism is true, it is in other words impossible to explain or understand biology; if it is true, there is nothing but brute fact, so that there is no “logy” that you can justifiably attach to “bio.” But this flies in the face of our experience with living things, which is that they are rationally ordered to a staggering degree.

      Order in contingent systems with degrees of freedom seems possible to me only if they are such as to seek certain forms, as for example atoms do in trying to complete their electron shells. This is where chaos theory has taken us, with its strange attractors. Attractors are strange only if we presuppose that there is not in nature really anything that is attractive – i.e., if we say with ateleologists, “nature never sucks,” that it is all just stuff happening for no reason.

      Even within a teleological framework such as that of chaos theory, where, e.g., things seek the “least path,” it is difficult to explain biological extravagance. Death being the ultimate strange attractor so far as any materialist account is concerned, it should reign pervasively. I discuss that aspect of the problem in a thread over at VFR. I recommend the whole thing, but the money quote is this:

      As a materialist explanation, Darwinism is committed to what is called the least path. It is an equilibrium model, under which biological systems settle naturally and without any supervision or teleology into the most thermodynamically efficient configuration. But the fundamental problem with this explanatory strategy is, first, that biological systems often display tremendous inefficiency (peacock, salmon, Monarch, human, on and on); and, second, that even the most parsimonious and efficient living systems homeostatically seek equilibria that are still quite far from thermodynamic equilibrium. It’s no good to point out that they can do this because they are running on the tremendous input of energy from the sun. The question is not how they can do this, but why they do this. Sure, life is thermodynamically possible because the sun is burning itself up, and we can survive and build negative entropy in the eddies of that vast great entropic flux. But why do we? Why is there not just a dead eddy? Wouldn’t that be a more thermodynamically efficient way of running an eddy?

      Life is possible, but so is death; and, death being more thermodynamically efficient, it should everywhere prevail. This is what I was trying to get at in a conversation we had about a year ago, in saying that the problem with Darwinism is that it makes death basic. It runs on death, and nothing else. If it is true, then only dead states of affairs should have survived the scythe of natural selection.

      Under a least path constraint, there is no explanation for life. The existence of the biosphere contradicts what we would expect to have discovered on planet Earth under a least path, thermodynamic equilibrium model, namely a dead planet with storms. This at least is true for the classical materialist doctrine of nature.

      But once we admit final and formal causation back into our doctrine of nature, the problem goes away. If we understand the adherence of things to physical law as a goal-seeking, value-seeking activity rather than as a happenstantial agglomeration in a dead chaotic flux, then the world is re-enchanted from the bottom up. Then such sentences as, “life [and, in the final analysis, matter, nature itself] inherently contains potentialities and is driven to fulfill those potentialities,” make perfect sense. Then the problem of explaining the wild extravagance of the Monarch butterfly or the Gothic Cathedral simply goes away. Instead of being only about thermodynamic efficiency and entropy and death, the world is about all those things plus beauty, goodness, life, consciousness. Then we don’t have to ask what it is that is driving nature toward the expression of beauty: nature wants to be beautiful, because the beautiful is good.

      “Want” is a word carefully chosen. It connotes both desire for the Good and privation thereof, thus indicating that impulse, essential to all created beings, toward the realization of their particular ideal contribution to the transcendent ideal for the whole created order.

      As for the age of the Earth, or for that matter of the cosmos, we could say that God created it all out of nothing about 8,000 years ago, including all sorts of things that made it look to us as though it was much older than that. We could equally say that he created it 8 seconds ago, complete with all our “memories” of our childhood. The problem I have with this sort of notion is that it is in the first place silly – why would God take the trouble to do that? – and in the second place it makes God a deceiver. It has always troubled me least to take the accounts in Genesis to be intended as typological and anagogical, rather than as natural history.

      • Kristor,

        The information you provided is most thought provoking. I have long been a believer in an undefined form of evolutionary creationism. Having accepted neither simple creationism nor atheistic evolution it seemed most logical to assume the truth lies somewhere in between. Bonald’s post and yours have reaffirmed that.

  3. A. Meadows, of course you are right to be alarmed about the matters you cite, but I don’t think you will find that to affect the argument of his book — which in any event I was suggesting as an optional warm-up for Barfield.

  4. Pingback: Order, Randomness & Evolution | The Orthosphere

  5. Pingback: What Good is Pain? | The Orthosphere


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