What if we are so much of creation that the gift of free will, given in love, had consequences for all creation?
“…for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;” – Romans 8:20-22
First you have to recognize that we’re not separate from creation. Imagining ourselves as separate alienated egos is a fiction (a creative act) grounded in our capacity for self awareness. As a fiction it contains a nugget of truth but forgets something else. Notice instead that in our every breath, in every meal, in every time we open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our mouths to speak, our skin to touch is the rhythmic pulse – the give and take – of the universe. Our bodies could not function without the bacteria that team through us. Our thoughts, our language, our culture, every created object in our daily lives, even the cast of characters in our dreams speak to our social nature. You are plural. That the universe is intelligible and accessible to inquiry means that our minds, (emerging within that universe) are made of the same stuff. We are not connected to the universe because that would imply that we are separate to begin with. We are of the universe. We are universe-al.
Second, love does not seek to control. In loving us, God, though he/she guides gently, allows us to choose well or badly. Here is the crux of the matter: God’s creation is of one piece so much so that allowing our freedom for the sake of love has implications for the whole of creation. Though we at times wish for a rigidly controlled universe where nobody gets hurt, there would be no room for love there. This is difficult to accept.
We can more easily reconcile with the consequences of freedom in the moral order because we have some control there. We can take responsibility and learn from our mistakes. It is harder to accept the consequences of our freedom given in love for the (a-moral) natural order because these are largely out of our control. Maybe it helps to consider that the universe-al conditions which give rise to nature’s destructive capacity also give rise to our capacity for free choice (including destructive choices). As beings free to choose, we are vulnerable – vulnerable to our own weakness and to the forces of nature. Meanwhile we long for a perfect (or re-born) universe where there is no sin, death or natural disasters.
We tend to think that God was finished creating things a long time ago but creation is still groaning in labor pains even until now. To ask the question of why there is suffering, disease and natural disaster is to feel in our bones the tension of this “not yet.”
Of course, this is merely a meditation on the connection of love, freedom, nature and suffering. It offers only a cosmic context for the question of suffering and a piece of healing for our relationship to creation. There is a more important layer to the question. Especially when asked in the midst of suffering, the quest in the question is for relationship: in it and through it we seek God and find God seeking us.