June 10, 2018
On the old TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard would occasionally retire to his cabin and instruct the replicator: “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.” And in about 2 seconds a piping hot cup of tea would materialize in the replicator.
I thought I would try this with my phone. “Hey Siri. Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.” [The phone says, “Coming right up.”] The thing is, Siri is lying here. Instead of replicating a cup of tea, she is merely repeating the correct response from the TV show. I am going to have to wait to get my tea later.
Just as Captain Picard spoke and tea happened, Genesis tells a story in which God speaks and, well, everything happens. Picard was speaking to a very advanced piece of technology, sort of like a 3-d printer only a lot faster and that can make food, which was engineered to produce, I believe, a molecularly correct copy of what was asked for.
But for God, the very act of speaking itself causes the creation to emerge into being. Kind of like the way clouds form when moisture-laden air encounters a disturbance. Creation is like the condensation or the precipitation of the whole universe from God’s spoken word.
God speaks and stuff happens. In fact, we could say that that’s who God is. God is the One who speaks and things come into being. Everything that exists is spoken into existence by God. Everything is a revelation, a communication from God, and expression of God’s Word.
All speech has two components: there is the breath, passing over vocal chords to produce sound; and there is the content, the idea, the meaning of the sound, the word. From the very beginning, then, there is the Speaker, the breath, and the word. The word has a different relationship to the Speaker than does the breath, but all three are integrated into a oneness, and yet each of the three is distinct. Thus from the first few verses of the Bible, we are introduced to what Christians later identify as the Trinity, God as both one and three. The things that emerge into being from this creative action are all good. How could they not be, seeing as they are all born from the same action of the One God?
What God creates, ultimately, is life. First, God breathes into being the conditions for life by hollowing a safe space out of the formless void and darkness of the primal waters. Then God breathes life itself into that safe space, life which gets ever more complex day by day of creation, until at last animals and humans emerge into existence.
Finally, the humans are given responsibility for this whole magnificent garden, and they are instructed to do two things: multiply and migrate. (Multiply is not about arithmetic, by the way.)
The point of Genesis 1 is that the whole place is literally God-breathed, inspired, and a direct product of God’s action. Even more than this, everything has its being, meaning, form, and purpose in God, and God, as the primal Speaker of everything, has left an imprint in and on everything. Indeed, God is indirectly within everything. Psalm 24 would later crystalize this truth in a verse I repeat almost every Sunday: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein.” Everything and everyone belong to God, because everything and everyone are an expression of God’s creative Word.
This is contrary to the way humans came to treat the earth, which is as an inanimate object to be disposed of as we please. That is how the ego-centric, sinful, depraved human mind interprets the word “dominion.” As if dominion means that we are to act now as if the earth and its fullness, the world and all who dwell therein, did not belong to God, but to us. So we act as if every tree, every animal, every ocean, every non-human life, and even every rock were a thing that it was up to us to decide what to do with, without any reference to the expressed will of the Creator at all.
Forests are to be clear-cut. Mountains are to have their tops blown off so we can get to the coal in them. Oceans are to be fished and filled with plastic waste. Animals are to be hunted or bred into factory farms for our consumption. People who farmed land for centuries are to be driven off it so cash crops can be sold on the open market. And of course we are to burn fossil fuels without limit, creating an atmospheric greenhouse effect which is warming the planet.
I once mentioned this to someone in a church I was serving, and he just shrugged, saying, “God put it all there for us to use. Why not use it?” This is the execrable philosophy called “Dominionism.” It basically interprets Genesis 1 as a blanket permission for the strong to oppress the weak. It is sort of a cosmological Social Darwinism in which people dominate the planet and a few strong individuals dominate humanity.
All this can only done if we first conveniently forget the rest of Genesis 1, which insists that the whole creation is breathed into being, piece by piece, day by day, by God and therefore participates at some level in God’s being. In order to treat the planet like something to be exploited by the strong and the privileged, humans had to pretend that God merely manufactured the earth and handed it over to us to do with as we pleased. We would have to think of creation as something God did at a distance, something from which God was absent, indeed, something which God doesn’t even really like, instead of as something God intimately and directly speaks into being and declares to be very good.
Indeed, in order to act in this self-serving, dominating manner, you have to treat creation as if it were dead. And if it’s not dead, we have to kill it. Our laws, habits, traditions, and actions depend on having a dead creation to exploit and manipulate. A tree is not sacred, it is lumber. Land is not sacred, it is real estate. Everything else from minerals to humans are not sacred, they are resources and commodities, objects to be bought and sold, used up, and thrown away.
Enter Jesus. In him, God’s Word is made flesh in an even more direct way. Everything is an expression of God’s Word, as breathed into being at creation; Jesus Christ is God’s Word himself, incarnate, and embodied as a living, breathing human being, living in time and space.
In the very center of his characteristic sermon, his “stump speech,” as it were, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is addressing the calcified cancer of human greed and self-centeredness, which always spawns a resentful anxiety and worry in our hearts, and which causes the kind of predatory, extractive, consumptive, hoarding approach to creation. To draw his hearers’ attention away from themselves he does not quote Scripture at them. For his authority he points to God’s Word in nature.
“Look at the birds of the air,” he says, looking upward. “Consider the lilies of the field,” he suggests, casting his gaze down at the ground. These are examples of God’s economy. God takes care of them even though they do not work at anything humans deem productive or valuable. They are more beautiful than anything even the richest king can buy.
It is as if he is saying, “You people have cut yourself off from the truth. You have made a world of anxiety where people starve and wars happen. But all around you the world as God makes it remains, and it is seen in the careless and joyful life of birds and flowers. “Are you not of more value than they?” Doesn’t God love you at least as much as God loves birds and flowers? Will God not take care of you?
There is more than enough abundance in God’s creation to feed and clothe and house all of us. It just depends on how we distribute it. And how we distribute it depends on how we view it, imagine it, think of it. Jesus’ prescription is to “strive first for the Kingdom of God.” In all things, in every decision, in each choice consider and follow the teachings of Jesus who reveals to us God’s nature and plan.
In other words, start to treat the earth with the respect and love due to something breathed into existence by God and declared very good. Treat other people this way too. Realize that we are all together in this, we are all united, we are all made of the same matter and energy which emerged from the speaking of the Creator. We are all one expression of the Creator’s will.
Realize that we already share everything: the same water, the same air, the same minerals. Realize that hoarding and storing and keeping for yourself is killing you, and everyone else.
Realize as well, and act upon this realization, that God put us here for sharing and generosity, for mutual feeding and building up, for thanksgiving and for joy. And if we would only submit ourselves to God’s will, revealed in Jesus, and put aside the falsehoods and fear that dominate us, we will emerge in God’s Kingdom, which is already here.