The Thinking Poet




 Yesterday I watched a TV drama documentary about the events at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station on that fateful day in 1984 when reactor number four exploded. It seems the key to the calamity was the assertion of authority by a member of staff in the control room. Orders were given by someone not experienced or knowledgeable enough, which were seen to be fraught with danger by those compelled to obey.

 The exercise of authority can be dangerous, yet God has given this freedom to both angels and mankind. As Carl Michalson writes in his essay on Authority:-

“Relations between God and man are always relations between two spiritual freedoms . . . Man is essentially a being who rebels.” *

 This is a consequence of being made in the image of God.

 The perennial hiatus between good and evil is expressed in psalm 139:

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (verse 14)

“If only you would slay the wicked, O God” (verse 19)

 Martin Palmer in this morning’s “Thought for the day” suggested that we should not feel ourselves to be the prime instigators of evil. He points out that in Genesis 1.6, the second day of creation in which the separation of water from water by the expanse (sky) takes place, God did not “see that it was good”. Evidently at this stage in creation something occurred to mar God’s work.

 Early in Genesis (6.4) we read of  Nephilim on the earth. Some commentators believe their origin to be connected with the Titan myth: the fallen angels who tried to storm heaven and were cast out. This tradition is voiced in various parts of the Bible. In Isaiah 14.12 we have the reference:

“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to earth, you who once laid low the nations!”

 And Jesus, in his euphoria at the reception of his seventy two disciples at the end of their successful mission (Luke 10.18), exclaims:

“I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven”. 

 In Matthew’s account (26.53) of his moment of peril and arrest in Gethsemene, Jesus made it clear that God’s authority had necessarily been withheld; that he could call upon the Father to put at his disposal more than twelve legion of angels to protect him. But then how should God’s redemptive plan be accomplished through the Son?

God’s authority is necessarily tempered by the freedom invested in His spiritual and material creation. This, for struggling and vulnerable man, has always been a bitter pill to swallow. Why the recent earthquake in Iran which left 40,000 dead? Because of the freedom invested in the earth’s plates to move. Why the Chernobyl disaster? Because of the freedom for one personality to dominate others. Why is the psalmist’s pathetic cry, “if only you would slay the wicked, O God”, not answered?

The question goes back to the beginning of creation; why were the fallen angels not utterly destroyed and therefore prevented from infesting the earth?

Freedom is a double-edged sword: it can defend for the good, or destroy for evil. In freedom rests potential rebellion. The Christian revelation of God as a God of love implies that God desires to share his glory with the spiritual creation, both man and angel. Other despotic gods have been conceived by the human mind prior to Christ; such gods would indeed have destroyed all opposition, and would have had dutiful men and angels obedient to their every whim. But this is not the way of a God of love, a “suffering servant”.

The only God, the one true God, desires nothing less than spiritual beings like Himself, to share in His glory. The price He pays, that we all pay, is rebellion, counter-godlikeness and inevitable destruction of the glory. Is it worth it, we cry out in our agony? God thinks so, and His agony is the accumulated pain of us all.

Ron Cretchley 

 * Chapter on Authority in “A Handbook of Christian Theology”, edited by Halverson and Cohen