Thursday, February 17, 2011

Imaging God Through Actions That Preserve, Conserve, and Foster Life

In today's daily Mass reading from the Book of Genesis, the waters recede from the Earth after the Great Flood and God establishes the first Covenant with humanity and all creation (Genesis 9:1-13). The story includes themes present in the two creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis: God instructs Noah and his family to be "fertile and multiply" and also instructs them to "subdue" the Earth. Finally, God reaffirms the fact that humans are made in the divine image and likeness. In a curious twist to this story, God reveals that humans and animals alike will be accountable for blood that is needlessly or recklessly shed. To God, the lifeblood of a creature is precious and holy. This command of God mirrors the ancient belief that an animal's and person's life and spirit were contained in the blood, thereby making it sacred. What is also revealed about God in God's concern about not needlessly shedding blood is that God desires that, as much as possible, life be preserved, conserved, and fostered. The preservation, conservation, and fostering of life offers insight both into what it means to "subdue" the earth and what it means for humans to be made in the divine image.

For a number of centuries now, especially since the industrial revolution and the dawning of technology and science, Christians have largely taken the divine command to subdue the Earth as license to "subject" the Earth to the impulse of making technological and economic progress and to consume. Unless we are hopelessly deluded or willfully ignorant, we cannot help but notice the irrefutable evidence that technological progress has it's limits and that the drive to consume is resulting in an unparalleled ecological and environmental crisis. In the face of such evidence, Christian theologians and spiritual writers are revisiting the ancient prerogative and notion of humans exercising "dominion" and "subduing" the Earth. Jurgen Moltmann, a leading theologian and author of "God in Creation", states that a more adequate and scripturally sound interpretation of "dominion" and "subduing" the Earth would have humans caring for it like a gardener tends a garden.

What might this "corrective" of this ancient prerogative and notion offer in terms of coming to a deeper understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God? To begin with, being made in the "image" of God does not suggest a physical resemblance but a capacity to act as God acts. To image God means that humans have a capacity for self-possession and to go beyond one's self in a mode of gratuitous and disinterested care, compassion, and concern for others. In other words, humans are wholly unique among all creatures as the one being that can fully receive the gift of self and that can fully give the gift of self. What this implies with regard to our relationship with the Earth is that we most fully image God on Earth when we restrain the selfish and destructive drive to make progress and consume at all costs and care for the Earth through actions that preserve, conserve, and foster all life. Pat, TOR