Being given ‘Dominion’ as God’s localised ‘Image’ usually referred to the role of Royalty. The word was used of Solomon. The title ‘Caliph’ means the Same. In Christian history coronations were virtual sacraments. To apply it to all people may well have been part of the social revolution involved in the people entering the promised land. Not to be like the nations, but everyone called to live God’s social justice, environmental care, debt relief etc. 1886 words, including Questions for discussion
1) Our on-going obedience to God’s call comes out of a conversation between text and context. Text is that which God mediates to us through scripture, liturgy, and teachings of the Church. Context is the realities of our personal lives and our contemporary culture. Our context draws out of text latent, and new, truths. And text brings light to bear on how we interpret context.
The conversation must be on going, humble and imaginative. It is perhaps how we seek to respond to the Lord’s urgent call to be vigilant.
2) These reflections are a contribution to the critical, and in some ways new, context in which human activity threatens the earth’s environment and bio-diversity. (It is not their purpose to spell out the extent and urgency of these ‘contextual’ realities)
“Let us make human beings in our own image and likeness male and female God made them…
To have dominion over the fish…the birds…all living creatures…and plants for food.”
3) This classic text was written out of the mature faith and experience of the people (Not a primitive text written on the eighth day.) For us to be in God’s image probably meant that we carry a divine mandate of responsibility and care for and over the rest of living creation. We are God’s localised presence.
In that sense it is crucial to understand what ‘Dominion’ means. The word itself does not mean arbitrary rule or using other creatures simply for our own ends.
4) A second meaning of our being in the image of God is that we share in God’s ability to know, to love, to be creative and imaginative. And to become, through God’s grace, as God is.
In this sense human beings are those in whom creation can appreciate itself, know its beauty, read its story, render praise to its creator… and take moral responsibility for its future.
5) Evil and sin, in our lives and our world, are the perversion of good. And the greater the good the greater the potential evil.
The ‘text’ helps us appreciate this in the words of the serpent. If you are God’s image why not play God? Why not decide for yourselves what your ego wants to be good and bad instead of fitting in with the nature of things as God creates?
This tragic dark side of the dignity of being in God’s image, this underlying temptation, is part of the human condition. (The serpent’s words to Eve are almost the same as Satan’s words to Jesus in the desert)
But in our modern western context the arrogance of rationalism, the naïve idea of freedom as a right to do and have whatever one wants, the enormous growth of science, technology and industry developed within their own logic – are these not our versions of beautiful gifts becoming insensitive to the common good of which they are, in reality, a part? Is it, we wonder, too late to learn modesty (in its original meaning)? Blessed are the modest they shall inherit the earth.
6) If we are to allow the scriptures to speak into our context not simply as a collection of books or a source quotes but as the word of God, then the whole has to be understood in the light of the defining event of Christ’s Passover. The new creation born out of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
7) It was, perhaps, the most significant of any breakthrough of consciousness when, in the decades following Jesus his disciples realised, in the light of his resurrection, that he had been “I am” in their midst. That he was the bodily presence of the One through whom everything in our world has its being. And now the crucified–living one in whom we and all creation will find its true end – when God shall be all in all.
To bring that knowledge into real conversation with our secular knowledge of our environmental context today seems to be one of most profound challenges for our churches (let alone for each of us.)
8) In the days of Jesus people expected God, in the person of His Christ, to restore the fortunes of His people. And today some Christians look to Christian Faith for some special Christian programme for the future of people and planet.
But what was revealed then, and is true today, is that God is not a mister fix-it.
The two disciples going to Emmaus started their journey speaking of their expectation of Christ and ended it discovering hope.
As St. Paul put it we have to learn that God does not behave in the way we would if we were God. That he who was supremely the image of God, when it came to it, chose to forego what we think that entitled him to, and emptied himself into the story. A free decision for non-violence, truth, and belonging which drew out the enmity of ‘The Powers’ – Those in whom the image of God was, as it were, playing God. The outcome, the trauma of his death was revealed in his resurrection as the hour of Glory. But it meant the death of expectation and birth of hope.
What does that call us to in seeking ways of non-violent living in a world of such widespread latent violence, environmental, social, economic?
* * * *
MONTY PYTHON’S ODE TO CREATION
All things dull and ugly
All creatures short and squat
All things rude and nasty
The Lord God made the lot
Each little snake that poisons
Each Little wasp that stings
He made their brutish venom
He made their horrid wings
All things sick and cancerous
All evil great and small
All things foul and dangerous
The Lord God made them all
Each nasty little hornet
Each beastly little squid
Who made the spikey urchin
Who made the sharks? He did
All things scabbed and ulcerous
All pox both great and small
Putrid, foul and gangrenous
The Lord God made them all
* * * *
QUESTIONS FOR PONDERING OR DISCUSSION
We carry deep-seated attitudes of mind which a love of truth invites us to become aware of, here are some to ponder.
A) Do we look to the ‘text’ for a single message or allow one part to criticise others? We should not expect, for example, in the great span of scriptural books a single approach to the animal and plant worlds. Wisdom literature and some psalms praise God for these in their own right. Genesis implies they are there for us to name and take responsibility for. And the archetype story of Noah it is striking how human beings survive or perish together with the animals.
B) We should be cautious of an over romantic creation spirituality. Quite widespread today, partly helped by watching ‘nature programmes’ on T.V. Those with hands on experience of gardening or animal husbandry – let alone those who know about snakes, scorpions and wild beasts, have a more robust appreciation of ‘nature’.
C) And that can ask questions of how read the creation narratives in Genesis. Was everything in the garden ideal before human sin? (The serpent was already there.) Or do we read back from Isaiah’s picture of lions lying with lambs – an idealised future – do we read back, longing for a golden age?
There is a pity:
God’s plan made a hopeful beginning
But man spoilt his chances by sinning
We hope that the story
Will end in God’s Glory
But at present the other side’s winning
In how many ways is that blasphemous?
In Romans 8 St. Pauls speaks of the whole of creation groaning for its fulfilment but unable to attain it until something greater than itself makes it possible. It is at least likely that he was thinking of human creation, social history, yearning for the redemption of our bodies in Christ.
But in our context today, when we have gone through a mega shift of consciousness from seeing the
rest of nature as a static, inexhaustible, backdrop to human history, to knowing it as an integral part of human history, and vice versa – in our context we converse with the text in a much deeper way. Yes/No?
D) If it is in the ‘nature’ of human being to be creative and industrious would it not be better to see ourselves as part of the natural order at large? To see a computer or a car as a wonderful part of God’s creation, as well as a cow or a cloud. To see that it is a much part of nature for one to make one’s bed as for the bird outside the window to make its nest. (It simply is not true that all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil, by human intervention).
Do we not need to get away from the idea that the rest of created nature would be ‘unspoilt’ without us? …
Do we not need to get beyond the idea that we are ‘stewards’, sort of Caretakers? …
And come to a much more profound, and demanding, idea that as human beings we are those in whom God is bringing the whole of nature to its fulfilment. If we can learn to be part of the whole yet carrying, uniquely, God’s image we could afford the sacrifices needed in our present critical context.
E) The real difference between our human activity and the rest of the biosphere is that the latter has, by and large, an incredible power of re-generation (Gaia?). Our human enterprise is so often extractive (of unrenewable resources) and disposive (in ways that threaten the whole).
F) How do we think of our bodily selves?
Tom Berry, a pioneer in creation theology, loved to remind people that they were genetic cousins to every other living being on earth.
And Teilhard De Chardin once wrote (wait for it) ‘That which I call my body is not part of the universe I possess totally but the whole of the universe I possess partially’…
G) A final pondering; which could take an hour or two. I would ask whose environment is it? We could dwell on the opening of John’s Gospel (The Word who is God, through whom everything exists), on the opening chapters of Ephesians and Colossians (The one in whom all things hold together...). And various readings from Revelation (the Alpha and the Omega... Who opens the seal of meaning… To the transformed new earth)
If our human presence on earth gives meaning to and appreciation of the rest of creation, it is the incarnate, crucified and risen who gives meaning to us.
Our expectations may die but our hope is born. Surely the spur to action. It is not in our environment but that of God’s incarnation.