… the material objects that constitute part of our outward reality can have two different relations to out inward mental life: they can be instruments that take their character from what is done with them; or they can be symbols that take their character from what is known by them. This useful working distinction in human experience has a parallel in two ways in which God may be regarded as related to the world. The world may be viewed as the instrument whereby God is effecting some cosmic purpose by acting on or doing something with it. Or the world may be viewed as the symbol through which God is expressing God’s eternal nature to those who have eyes to see, that is, revealing Godself within it. ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
Therefore, the world can be an instrument of God’s purposes, as when God brings forth all living creatures through the natural processes of the world. We have also talked about how God continues to act in the world. On the other hand, the world also functions as a symbol of God’s purposes.
Matter has evolved into humanity and we cannot avoid concluding, even from the most materialistic point of view, that this demonstrates the ability of matter to display in humanity functions and properties for which we have to use special terms such as ‘mental’, ‘personal’, ‘spiritual’. ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
Jesus manifested the kind of human life which, it was believed, can become fully life with God not only here and now, but eternally beyond the threshold of death. Hence, for Christians, his imperative ‘Follow me’ constitutes a call for the transformation of humanity into a new kind of human being and becoming. The created and creating world in its evolving and emergent aspects is thus symbolic of God’s deepest purposes. In Jesus, Christians have seen a divine act of new creation because the initiative was from God within human history, within the responsive human will of Jesis inspired by that outreach of God into humanity designated as God the Holy Spirit. Jesus the Christ is thereby seen as a paradigm of what God intends for all human beings, now revealed as having the potentiality of responding to, of being open to, of becoming united with God. In this perspective, Jesus represents the consummation of the evolutionary creative process that God has been effecting in and through the world of matter. ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
Science tells us that matter can be imbued with ‘spiritual’ capabilities, as seen in the emergence of the human mind and consciousness from the complexity of the human brain. This is the same with the sacrament of the Eucharist, where ordinary matter, bread and wine, can be imbued with a spiritual significance as a symbol of God’s purposes. Both attest to the fact that matter is not inherently ‘evil’, as found in early Gnosticism and some versions of modern Christian theology. Even the participation of humanity in God’s creative process is affirmed through the Eucharist. Peacocke points out, that the elements of the Eucharist are products of human action on nature. Jesus used ‘bread not corn, wine not grapes’. So the scientific view of matter is congruent with the Christian idea of sacrament, as well as the whole concept of incarnation.
Christians have had to understand matter both in the light of their conviction that matter was able in the human Jesus to express the being of God – who is nevertheless regarded as supra-mental, supra-personal and supra-spiritual. ~ Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God
Gnosticism tries to wrench our attention away from all things physical and earthly in favor of focusing only on realms of pure thought and spiritual insights. Although Gnosticism was condemned as heretical centuries ago, traces of a Gnostic mind-set continue to crop up. Despite being the religion of incarnation, Christianity too often shunts fleshly matters and concerns aside in favor of thinking about only the salvation of our souls. ~ Scott Hoezee, Proclaim the Wonder
Now if I believe in God’s Son and remember that He became man, all creatures will appear a hundred times more beautiful to me than before. Then I will properly appreciate the sun, moon, the stars, trees, apples, as I reflect that He is Lord over all things. ~ Martin Luther
All creation – and therefore all matter (including humanity) – is sacred, and thus is symbolic of God’s purposes in the world, yet also functions as God’s instrument within it.