It is not surprising that Marilynne Robinson named her excellent book of essays “The Givenness of Things” rather than the cumbersome and awkward “The Intrinsicness of Everything.” Nevertheless, one of the main points of her essays is that things are what they are. We might get squishy on definitions and see reality through imperfect lenses, but nevertheless, intrinsically, things are what they are. And, intrinsically, we know what they are in spite of our best efforts to insist we don’t. Things are what they are because God created them, and God does not dissemble. This is true not only of material things – a rock is a rock, a bird is a bird – but also of spiritual and emotional things, also given by God. For example, even when we admit that love may have a thousand definitions, we know what love is, independent of anything material, such as the firing of neurons or the natural injection of dopamines. Robinson claims, and I agree, that the neurons and dopamines don’t cause love; love causes the neurons and the dopamines to react.
Embracing the totality of God’s creation by encompassing the true nature of reality has consequences. Since free will is a part of reality, we have the ability to deny reality or try to create our own, making it ever so easy for us to walk off the path. If reality is intrinsic to God’s creation, then denying or distorting reality puts one on the path of denying or distorting God. As Robinson claims in one of her essays, God created the universe for his purposes, not ours. We are a part of God’s purposes, not the creators of them. I suspect most serious Christian theologians would agree with this. The self-created reality is an attempt to put oneself in the Creator’s drivers seat.
With this in mind, it is curious how we are currently being overrun by proponents of self-creation, even in religious circles. For example, having compassion and Christian love for persons experiencing gender dysphoria is a noble goal that recognizes the intrinsic inner image of God that all persons possess. But affirming that a man is actually, intrinsically, a woman, or vice versa, simply because they feel that way represents a forceful push in the direction away from God. The argument that “God loves me, and God made me this way” is only half true. God does love you, and I doubt God cares too much about how you dress or put on makeup. But a self-created claim that through God’s love you are entitled to all the pain, joy, sorrow and shared experience of the opposite sex puts you, not God, in control, thereby denying the givenness of gender.
It is also curious how the above paragraph will be seen as controversial, when the subject really only started coming up a few years ago, after hundreds of thousands of years of sentient, God-aware human existence. The givenness of gender, as the givenness of all things, has been known by humanity since humanity came to know God. What changed? To begin with, people have simply lost faith in God. The advent of a technology driven society has pushed many to rely solely on the rational mind, an approach that seems to lead some to a kind of unbalanced technological psychosis. The tech-mind also promotes the idea that humanity can solve its own problems, thank you very much, so what do we need God for? Influences such as these – and there are many more – lead us to forget the givenness of things, the intrinsicness of everything, reducing humanity, God’s most splendid creation, to little more than pointless cause and effect.
Just as it is important for Christians to look for the image of God in everyone, it is even more important to stay moored to the givenness of things, in no small part to help be an anchorage for those in danger of drifting away. Things are what they are because God made them, and God made them for God’s purposes, not ours. Truth actually is a value, and God has graciously and explicitly invited us to live within his truthful reality. True because it is of God. Reality has a purpose because God has a purpose. God invites us to join in and share in that purpose, to be an active participant in the purposes of God. When God created things to be the way they are, he said it was good. When God created you, he said it was very good. By embracing the God-givenness of things, you take a step into the given wisdom of God.