Incarnation in Light of Evolution

Livingston, Montana (2018)

The title of this post is the title of Chapter 1 of Diarmuid O’Murchu’s new book Incarnation: A New Evolutionary Threshold (Orbis, 2017). O’Murchu, a prolific writer and theologian who lives in Ireland, writes for adult faith seekers in our time who wish “to reframe the Christian notion of Incarnation above and beyond the inherited Christian context.” I found myself reading with a pencil, underlining every other paragraph! Much of what I read resonates with my own questions over the years. O’Murchu is very direct and does not mince words. I found myself penciling “Wow!” into the margin more than ten times throughout the book. My reflections on this book will probably span several posts.

Incarnation names and celebrates the embodiment of God in the whole creation, celebrating what God creates through the 13.7 billion years of evolution and beyond that into deep time. (p. 1)

When we hear the word Incarnation in a Christian context, many of us think of God-made-man in Jesus Christ 2000 years ago – God’s full revelation of who God is. What if we reconsidered that concept in light of what we know today about 13.7 billion years of evolution? O’Murchu is not suggesting that we abandon our beliefs about Incarnation, but rather that we expand them. According to O’Murchu, “no longer can we accept that Jesus is the one and only person who has ever had the experience of being incarnated.” (p. 22) (Wow! #1 in my reading) Incarnation did not begin with the historical Jesus; it began with human life 7 million years ago in East Africa, when divine creativity was fully at work. In future reflections, I will address the significance of Jesus’s Incarnation and our evolving understanding of salvation, redemption, and resurrection. For now, I would like to focus on the evolutionary aspect of creation and incarnation.

What insights are causing me to rethink my own understanding of Incarnation?

  • God is revealed to us primarily in God’s creation, in a process that has been unfolding over several millennia – and will continue to evolve into the future. We name this embodiment of God in creation, Incarnation.
  • God’s primordial Incarnation is not in the human but in the cosmic creation. Everything born out of that creation – including humans – mirrors the divine presence.
  • The Holy Spirit is the primary energizer, the creator and sustainer of all that is. (O’Murchu names this creator and sustainer, the Great Spirit.)
  • We experience the Spirit’s animation and Incarnation in every aspect of creation, but it is always mediated and reflected in our dealings with the earth.
  • We come to know God’s Incarnation in our midst, primarily through the Spirit, and subsequently through a range of other breakthroughs, of which the life and ministry of the historical Jesus holds a distinctive uniqueness for Christian peoples.

For about 95% of our time on earth (prior to 10,000 years ago), we remained very close to surrounding creation and lived out a convivial relationship with the living earth itself. As a species, we need to take seriously God’s unconditional affirmation of all that is created. Jesus marks an evolutionary moment of culmination of all that is right in creation, not necessarily one of rescuing all that is wrong. Jesus is also a bridge builder to our next evolutionary state, currently taking place within and around us.

What are the implications of this new understanding?

  • We grow into a deeper acceptance of our incarnational faith when we relate anew with the incarnational presence of the Holy One in every part of creation.
  • As incarnational earthly beings, we get it right as long as we remain closely affiliated with the living earth.
  • As beneficiaries of a God who forever showers upon us original grace and abundant blessings, we begin to live out this grace and become the co-creative beings God wishes us to be.
  • We can grow into what the Gospel calls the fullness of life, embedded in and sustained by an interconnectedness that spans the entire web of creation.

Incarnation is about the fullness of life, an evolutionary aspiration always beckoning us from the future, in the luring awakening of the Spirit who forever energizes fresh breakthroughs and possibility.

  1. Which of these ideas ring true with your own experience?
  2. Is there something that grates against your normal way of viewing things?
  3. Has something shifted in your understanding? What is different?

(questions based on Judy Cannato’s writings)


4 thoughts on “Incarnation in Light of Evolution

    1. Thank you for this important feedback, Elaine. Your reaction tells me that 1) taking selected quotations out of the context of the whole of O’Murchu’s book may be more confusing than helpful, and 2) in this post, there may be too much O’Murchu language and not enough of my own. I hope to change that in future posts. Thanks, again.


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