JESUS CHRIST; CARPENTER
(The following is the text of the meditation presented by Richard Hills at the Ninth Annual Gathering of the Society of Ordained Scientists at Launde Abbey, July 1995.)
Why should the Son of God have been brought up as a carpenter when he
was here on earth among us?
This is a question to which I will return later as we consider the background
to the importance of the role of technology in God's scheme for the
Universe, the world and the human race within it. The Shorter Oxford
Dictionary defines 'Technology' as "Practical or industrial arts; or the
application of science" -- and surely carpentry must be included among the
practical or industrial arts. In the practice of the arts, there must be some
form of creativity.
Therefore let us first go back to the very beginning. The Judaeo-Christian
tradition believes that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the
earth" (Gen. 1.1). The importance of this cannot be overstated because it
seems to me that this is one of the foundations for monotheism. If you have
one God responsible for the whole of creation, then there is no need for
other gods. The one supreme God looks after everything and everybody
that he has created. A Vulcan or a Thor, gods of smiths, or a Neptune, god
of the sea, become quite unnecessary. Often the Christian religion has
tried to replace such lesser gods with saints, for example St. Blasius of
Sebaste, patron of wool combers, or St. Cecilia of music, but in the end, the
Judaeo-Christian beliefs return to the concept of the one omnipotent God,
the only creator of the Universe and of the planet Earth on which we live.
In Revelations, we find this stated in that paean of praise,
"Worthy art thou, our Lord God, to receive glory and honour and power, for
thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created".
Now, in the creative activity, it seems to me that we have two stages. First
we have the initial creation of the basic structure or the building blocks of
material from which everything else can be made. There has to be this
creation from nothing to start the whole process; the big bang; the formless
void; or whatever. Here we have God's word or command speaking and
creating. Of this first stage, we have little understanding at present, and it
is unlikely that we can ever have a share in this initial part of creation.
But where it seems to me that the human race can come to have some role
in the creative actions of God is in the second stage -- where the lumps of
material have been provided and there is the possibility of using them like a
Lego set to assemble a wide variety of different forms and structures. I
cannot read Hebrew but in Genesis 1.2 there is a wonderfully descriptive
Greek word for this process, when "The earth was without form and void"
(Gen. 1.2); "akataskeuatos" or unfurnished coming from "kataskeuazo"
meaning to furnish, equip or construct a house; when God turned our
planet Earth into an inhabitable sphere out of the void.
Here is a form of creation or creativity which can be on-going --which can
bring order out of chaos, and lead to the great variety of the world we see
around us, the geological formations, the world of nature, and even our
own industrial and technological world. At the beginning of Genesis, we
have the picture, the myth of God creating everything that exists in seven
days. While he rested on the seventh, the arguements rage whether he
withdrew thereafter or whether he has been actively involved in an on-
going creativity up to the present time. Did God wind up the clockwork
mechanism of the Universe and leave it to tick away, or has He been
involved in some way ever since? To me, Darwin's claim of the survival of
the fittest accounting for the Origins of Species does not provide all the
answers, particularly for the extraordinary multitude and variety of forms of
life on our planet Earth. Here again, the Judaeo-Christian tradition claims
that our creator God has played and continues to play a vital role in
creating, sustaining and guiding the Universe in which we live and move
and have our being.
On the one hand, we have a series of laws which govern the world in which
we live --for example, the atomic elements, their restricted number and the
ways in which they can combine. So, in one way we have a Universe which
gives the stability necessary for our existance. The force of gravity does not
suddenly cease and our feet remain firmly on the ground. But, within those
laws, we have the possibilities of an amazing variety of creative
possibilities. The ever changing patterns and the numberless combinations
of the basic building blocks in the world around us is a cause for continual
astonishment --colour, shape, texture, scent while every flower has a
recognisable form, yet all are slightly different.
Linking with this Judaeo-Christian claim of God's involvement with his
creation must lie two other thoughts. The first is that, in the created world
and in creative work around us, we should be able to see the hand and
therefore the nature of the creator. St. Paul wrote to the Romans, "Ever
since the creation of the world, his invisible nature, namely his eternal
power and deity, has been clearly perceived in things that have been
made". (Rom. 1.20) A painter usually has his or her distinctive style, so
that, knowing the style, we ought to be able to recognise who drew the
painting. Therefore we should be able to learn something about our
Creator from the world around us, particularly from the creative process.
I feel that this is a very important point, something which we have tended to
forget in our modern society where so much is prepackaged for us. Kurt
Hahn, the founder of Gordonstoun, advocated that some creative project
should form part of the curriculum at that school to help stimulate the pupils
and this idea was carried over into the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme.
It emphasis the importance of the role of creativity in our lives. But, as far
as God is concerned, I wonder whether we have been asking the right
questions in our search for Him within his creation.
The second claim about God's involvement with his creation is that God is
a God of love and therefore presumably God loves what he has created.
The Bible, of course, is the story of God's love for the human race in
particular, and of His redemptive acts to restore the fallen descendants of
Adam through his special love for the Children of Israel. The Book of
Genesis claims that God made man, or the human race, in his own image.
I know that too often we, the human race, have made God in our own
image, but the whole thrust of the Biblical message is that there is some
form of special relationship between God and the human race. Therefore
some of the characteristics of God, such as God is love and God the
Creator, ought to appear in the human race as well.
Yet why there should have been the breakdown in the relationship between
the Creator and the created, why there should be the need for redemption,
remains a mystery. We have the Biblical claim that God saw all that he had
made and behold it was very good and that then Eve came along and spoilt
everything by falling to the wiles of the serpent after which she corrupted
Adam. But we know now that long before homo sapiens appeared on the
Earth, the struggles of the natural world, with one species fighting another
for survival nature red in tooth and claw had been carrying on for
thousands and thousands of years. Change and decay in all around
leading to annihilation seems to be at variance with the concept of a God of
love. Yet the other extreme, the paradise of the Jehovah's Witnesses
where one can reach out and pick ripe apples off the trees the whole year
round seems completely unreal and impossible too.