The Rhythms of Epochal Revelation
The dance of evolution and revelation
Consider the proposition that divine revelation has a “rhythmic” relationship with natural and cultural evolution. At the largest scale, this relationship has at least “three beats to a measure.”
First beat: “Source” initiates cosmic evolution; it invents a space-time platform in which life can unfold and human culture can evolve; and it originates and implants life itself. Bang! It’s the mystery of cosmic creation—divine beings acting directly as Creators. This phase is the “down beat.”
Second beat: this First Source “dances” out of the way—it provides a huge manifestation called the evolving universe, but then appears to withdraw. Thereupon, the evolution of matter and life flowers forth in an unconscious process of natural emergence. It proliferates as billions of galaxies and reaches its apex (according to The Urantia Book) in trillions of inhabited worlds.
The original Source, or Spirit, rarely shows itself as itself during this awesome display of natural evolution. It does not directly intervene under its own name. But that doesn’t mean that the Infinite is no longer present. According to its intrinsic rhythm, divinity will swing back into direct contact with the finite realm when the timing is right.
And when it does return for direct contact, there is an evident logic and powerful appeal in these divine intrusions. That’s the third beat. We can call it direct divine revelation. But revelation, like the beat of a drum, is specific. It has a staccato quality—exacting, well-targeted, and highly significant. It is appealing and vivid, but revelation always leaves lots of room on the dance floor. It does not overawe. It always conserves space for freedom to choose, thereby allowing the prospect of soul evolution by free-will beings who have the option to appreciate and participate in the process, or opt-out entirely. Their choices create evolution too.
The Uncanny Timing of the Incarnation of Jesus
The Incarnation of Jesus is one of those highly specific intervention events whose logic and appeal was hard to miss. The Greco-Roman world had run its course and was beginning to exhaust its potential. The religion and national life of the Hebrews had matured and crystallized. A kind of crazy religious pluralism had engulfed the Roman Empire—it had become a great cacophony of beliefs and religious practices. There was no discernible rhythm of the sacred presence.
And then, the third beat: Suddenly a “messiah” appears quite out of the blue, a young carpenter from a provincial town named Nazareth. He taught startlingly new revolutionary truths. Jesus’ teaching to the common people of Palestine had an out-of-the-way and contingent nature that was easily dismissable. But his beat, his intrusion, had perfect timing. Ordinary people “got” the infinite mercy of the divine heart that was on display.
Oddly, Jesus’ immediate followers and advocates misunderstood the rhythm. They thought Jesus would return again quite soon to dominate the dance floor. In a sense, they were spoiled by their proximity to him. They fell in love and wanted more! But that’s not the “beat of the drum” of revelation. Christ had a much bigger scope and repertoire than they could have imagined, or that we could. He doesn’t fill all of the space, because he loves us enough to leave room for our own dance of soul growth; and he is the embodiment of cosmic evolution itself.
Let’s put it another way. The divine hides herself, disappearing just as soon as an amorous suitor spots her. But she is just beyond his sight. In other words, the Goddess stays intimately involved with her beloved, even if she does not engage in dramatic appearances to him. Her passion is unfathomable, but she never crowds or overwhelms him with her divine beauty. Yet she always lures him forward into the dance.
The Rule of the Rhythm of Revelation
So now, let’s get theological. God by definition has an unlimited ability to engage, whenever and however God desires. God’s will rules. But as a rule—the rule of the rhythm of revelation if you will—the divine chooses to hang back so far and remains so quiet that, for example, the likes of Isaac Newton and Thomas Jefferson, along with the other deists of the European Enlightenment, concluded that God exists—but that this God must be almost totally disengaged. He wound up the universe like a clock, set the cosmos in motion like the Energizer Bunny, and then went absentee. Strong evidence seems to support this idea; and we must be sympathetic with this perspective.
We understand now that the Enlightenment’s deist perspective represents the second beat. It was “Nature’s God,” as Jefferson put it. This same lineage of thought continues to our moment but has reached great sophistication. Evolutionary theory and evolutionary biology points to the idea that something transcendent embeds itself in evolution as a catalyst for its forward motion—an impersonal presence of the divine. It is not overt, but hidden—while showing itself indirectly. What we now call “natural theology” is a theological and scientific process of discernment that recognizes the “rooted” quality of spirit, its immanence in evolution, as the truth of evolution itself. It is in this sense that cosmic evolution offers—as Steve McIntosh argues in The Presence of the Infinite—a rich spiritual teaching to us.
But, to complete our argument, we can say that natural evolution is not self-sufficient and not entirely self-organizing. It is too complex and has too many moving parts. Entropy is too powerful. Not unlike computer software, evolution is prone to dead ends, fits and starts, and even crashes—in certain localities, it winds down and eventually goes off its own rails. It has fatal bugs. Its high functionality and rich versatility guarantees that there must be such unsolved problems. And that’s why the programmer must intervene to set the program straight. Such moments of direct revelation or divine guidance are always adapted to the situation at hand. They sometimes demand epochal interventions.
For, if the universe really has a Creator who is loving, such would have to be the case. Love means relationship. It entails engagement. And if it involves a Father-Mother Creator, it is parental. And further, the divine hand is artful in its applications—consummately skillful. All parents are engaged with their sons and daughters, but wise parents only intervene to redirect their kids’ activity when these kids are truly ready for it. The “kids” will have exhausted their free-will prerogatives during the process of exercising them; they will have reached a tipping point where they have earned their parents’ effort to further their education. They can even demand such attention, in prayer. But the divine sees all and knows all. It has a higher purpose that transcends the emergencies that troubles the children. God is willing to pay a premium in the universe by making allowance for first-hand, raw experience of his creatures. In a sense, cosmic evolution IS this experience. And the rhythm of divine revelation is consistent with this requirement.