Teilhard de Chardin was once asked by a critic: “What are you trying to do? Why all this talk about atoms and molecules when you are speaking about Jesus Christ?” He answered something to this effect: “I am trying to formulate a Christology that is large enough to incorporate Christ because Christ is not just an anthropological event but a cosmic phenomenon as well.”
In essence, what he is saying is that Christ did not come just to reshape human history and save human beings, he came to reshape the earth and to save it as well.
That is a profound insight and it is nowhere more true than when we try to understand all that is implied in the resurrection of Christ. Jesus was raised from death to life. A dead body was resurrected and that has dimensions that are not just spiritual and psychological. There is something radically physical to this. When a dead body is brought to new life the very physical structure of the universe is being rearranged, atoms and molecules are being changed. The resurrection is about more than just new hope being born in human consciousness.
The resurrection is the basis for human hope, surely. Without it, we could not hope for any future that includes our full humanity, beyond the rather limited and asphyxiating limits of this life. In the resurrection of Jesus we are given a new future, in it we are saved. But the resurrection gives a new future to the earth, the physical planet, as well. Christ came to save the earth, not just human beings, and his resurrection is also about the future of the earth.
The earth, like ourselves, needs saving. From what? For what?
In a proper Christian understanding of things, the earth is not just a stage for human beings, that is, a thing with no value in itself, apart from us. Like humanity, it too is God’s work of art, God’s child. In fact, it is the matrix from which we all spring. We are, in the end, only that part of God’s creation that has become conscious of itself. Hence we do not stand apart from the earth and it does not exist simply for our benefit, like a stage for the actor, to be abandoned once the play is finished. Physical creation has value in itself, independent of humanity. We need to recognize that, and not just so that we practice better eco-ethics so that the earth can continue to provide air, water, and food for future generations of human beings. We need to recognize the intrinsic value of the earth because ultimately it is sister earth, destined to share eternity with us.
But, like us, it is also subject to decay. Like us, it too is time bound, mortal, and dying. Outside of an intervention from the outside it has no future. Science has already, long ago, pointed out to us the law of entropy. Put simply, energy in our universe is running down, the sun is burning out. The years our earth has before it are, like the days of any human being, numbered, counted, finite. It will take some millions of years, but finitude is finitude. There will be an end to the earth as we know it, just as there will be an end to each of us as we know ourselves to be. Outside of something offered us from the outside we, both the earth and the humans living on it, have no future.
It is to this concept that the Epistle to the Romans refers when it tells us that creation, the physical cosmos, is subject to futility and that it is groaning and longing to be set free to enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God. Romans then assures us that the earth will enjoy the same future as human beings. In the resurrection it too is given a new possibility, transformation and an eternal future.
How will it be redeemed? Just as we are redeemed, through the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection brings into our world, both into its spiritual and its physical elements, a new power, a new arrangement of things, a new hope, something so radical (and physical) that it can only be compared to what happened at the initial creation. In the beginning, the atoms and the molecules of this universe were made out of nothing, nature took its shape, and its reality and laws shaped everything from then on until the resurrection of Jesus. Something new happened then and that event, that physical event, touched every aspect of the universe, from the soul and psyche in every man and woman to the inner core of every atom and molecule.
In the resurrection of Jesus the very atoms of the universe were rearranged. Teilhard is right. The resurrection is not just about people, it is about the future of the planet as well.