At the risk of pushing another metaphor, I wanted to put forward some top-notch stuff by a top-notch thinker and writer. See, I got my hands on Robert Farrar Capon’s The Third Peacock: The Problem of God and Evil, which is out of print but still available as part of a trilogy, The Romance of the Word: One Man’s Love Affair With Theology : Three Books : An Offering of Uncles/the Third Peacock/Hunting the Divine Fox. The Third Peacock is a wild book… I noticed that he has a sentence that spans from the end of one chapter and into the beginning of the next, being a chapter called “Which Requires a Chapter by Itself.” What editor would let an author do that? But it’s brilliant. Chapter one, “Let Me Tell You Why” opens the book like this:
Let me tell you why God made the world.
One afternoon, before anything was made, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost sat around in the unity of their Godhead discussing one of the Father’s fixations. From all eternity, it seems he had had this thing about being. He would keep thinking up all kinds of unnecessary things—new ways of being and new kinds of beings to be. And as they talked, God the Son suddenly said, “Really, this is absolutely great stuff. Why don’t I go out and mix us up a batch?” And God the Holy Ghost said, “Terrific, I’ll help you.” So they all pitched in, and after supper that night, the Son and the Holy Ghost put on this tremendous show of being for the Father. It was full of water and light and frogs; pine cones kept dropping all over the place and crazy fish swam around in the wineglasses. There were mushrooms and grapes, horseradishes and tigers—and men and women everywhere to taste them, to juggle them, to join them and to love them. And God the Father looked at the whole wild party and he said, “Wonderful! Just what I had in mind! Tov! Tov! Tov!” And all God the Son and God the Holy Ghost could think of to say was the same thing. “Tov! Tov! Tov!” So they shouted together “Tov meod!” and they laughed for ages and ages, saying things like how great it was for things to be, and how clever of the Father to think of the idea, and how kind of the Son to go to all that trouble putting it together, and how considerate of the Spirit to spend so much time directing and choreographing. And forever and ever they told old jokes, and the Father and the Son drank their wine in unitate Spiritus Sancti, and they all threw ripe olives and pickled mushrooms at each other per omnia saecula saeulorum. Amen.
It is, I grant you, a crass analogy; but crass analogies are the safest. Everybody knows that God is not three old men throwing olives at each other. Not everyone, I’m afraid, is equally clear that God is not a cosmic force or a principle of being or any other dish of celestial blancmange we might choose to call him. Accordingly, I give you the central truth that creation is the result of a Trinitarian bash, and leave the details of the analogy to sort themselves out as best they can.
One slight elucidation, however. It is very easy, when talking about creation, to conceive of God’s part in it as simply getting the ball rolling—as if he were a kind of divine billiard cue, after whose action inexorable laws took over and excused him from further involvement with the balls. But that won’t work. This world is fundamentally unnecessary. Nothing has to be. It needs a creator, not only for its beginning, but for every moment of its being. Accordingly, the Trinitarian bash doesn’t really come before creation; what actually happens is that all of creation, from start to finish, occurs within the bash—that the raucousness of the divine party is simultaneous with the being of everything that ever was or will be. If you like paradoxes, it means that God is the eternal contemporary of all of the events and beings in time.
Although this blog entry will be deprived of the story of how duck #47307 came to be in May of 1970 as an illustration of the fact that God is still involved in creation and that ducks do not just propagate themselves in a cottage industry of duck-making, and that “The world is not God’s surplus inventory of artifacts”, I stop quoting here for one reason, and one reason only. If I didn’t, I may find myself reading another paragraph which I then find infinitely insightful and quotable, type it out for you, read the next, type it out, and so forth until the end of the book. And apart from the fact that it would be a copyright violation, it keeps me from savouring the book. So there… that’s all you get from Capon for now, and I am thus free to continue the book and find out what else it says.
But first, now that I have stopped quoting, let’s reflect. This absurd metaphorical metaphysical romp is profoundly orthodox, is it not? I love how he illustrates how God’s creative expression is also a sustaining, continuing one… God supplies the state of being. Blow your mind, and think of it this way: God is “is“. Without him, nothing would be, and all that already is would simply cease to any longer be. Really, this is pretty wild stuff.
Press your brain a little further with that notion that God stands outside of time, and can look down upon you and Socrates or Cleopatra or Jonathan Edwards — or all of them — at the same instant, despite their not having existed in the same time and space. That’s what it means to be alpha and omega, the beginning and the end… all at once.
But what of this story of creation… the notion that the world is a sudden impulsive act of God’s exuberance? Gotta say, I love that. And I’m imagining Jesus eating and drinking with the disciples or with the tax collectors and all manner of other sinners, feasting, laughing, hoisting a glass of wine, tugging on a leg of lamb, eyeing a plate of mushrooms — and throwing an olive across the table at John. John laughs, and Jesus winks. This is what it’s all about. Tov meod!