Reviewed by Brendan James
Life abundant characterizes Earth, this jewel of a blue marvel floating in a black sea of space.
Theology seeks to understand faith more deeply in order to live more vibrantly. This is the context in which the author reflects on Darwin’s monumental treatise, On The Origin of Species (1859). She bases her work on the premise that the book of Science and the book of Scripture have the same author.
Johnson, a highly respected feminist theologian, begins with an examination of Darwin’s core insight that species descend from other species via a branching process governed by natural selection. Darwin went on to illustrate this in a series of diagrams he named the ‘Tree of Life’. It is characterized by two key elements, variation and struggle. Darwin’s keen observations led him to conclude, that Nature is filled with a profusion of related organisms which vary in small but significant ways. Moreover, in every species, more individuals are born than can possibly survive. This leads inevitably to a struggle for the limited resources available. Those that adapt successfully live on. The rest die out. It is sobering to note that about 90 percent of all previously existing species have become extinct.
Darwin’s work is a sustained argument that all living beings are related through common descent from simple ancestors. Kinship is the most striking feature of this. Their diversity is the result of natural processes with an inbuilt propensity to evolve into ever more complicated structures. This was counter to the belief, held by most naturalists of the time, that each species had been independently created and remained unchanged throughout its existence.
Having established our relationship with the natural world, the author goes on to address the question of our relationship with the Creator. She boldly asserts that Creation is the dwelling place of a God who desires free partnership, not subservience. The relationship between Creator and creature is one of cooperation. As co-creators, our behaviour matters. The Giver of life freely and generously invests Nature with the power to organize itself and emerge into ever new and complex forms. Go, have an adventure and see what you can become and I will be with you every step of the way! This Spirit blows throughout the world with a compassion that grants Nature its own creativity and humans their own freedom.
The final chapters focus on what theology has to say about the current ecological crisis. The future of the Tree of Life is now at stake, warns Johnson, as she calls for an ecological conversion. The logic of belief holds that God, who lovingly created life, would also want to preserve it from annihilation. In an unimaginable way, the absolute mystery who is Alpha is also Omega who will transform original creation into a new heaven and a new earth (Rev: 21/1). Without revealing particulars, scriptural evidence essentially offers the hope that our ultimate future will be blessed. Trusting in a Creator who is faithful, theology dares to affirm that the living world with all its members is being drawn towards a blessed future, promised but unknown.
The title of the book is taken from a conversation between God and a disgruntled Job (Job: 12.7). The author leaves us with this encouraging message: A flourishing humanity on a flourishing planet rich in species in an evolving universe…such is the vision that must guide us at this critical time of Earth’s distress.
I found this an engrossing and enlightening read – an adventure of mind and heart. The attractive artwork displayed on the front cover makes this one book you can judge by its cover!