Jurgen Moltmann has gathered ten essays together into a challenging and enlightening book: The Future of Creation: Collected Essays, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis), 2007. Known for his extensive writings on the theme of hope, the threads of hope are here interwoven within the current climate crisis. Readers are encouraged to delve into his work directly. What follows here are some reflections stimulated by these essays, applications to the current climate crisis. This is one of many in a series of blogs based on Moltmann.
“But hasn’t mankind been given the responsibility to have dominion over the earth? Weren’t the first man and woman told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth? Didn’t God tell Adam and Eve that all things were given to them to eat and enjoy? Isn’t creation meant to fulfill the desires and delights of humankind?”
The questions go on and on. If someone wants to challenge the claims about climate change, they begin with… “The earth has always gone through cycles of heating and cooling; there have always been storms. This isn’t unusual and clearly not the fault of humanity.” Here’s where we need to listen to science, even sometimes discerning between differing claims whether there is a bias that interprets the facts.
And if that doesn’t work, then these statements from the Bible come up. I never would discourage anyone from reading the Bible, so let’s begin there. Go back and read the Genesis stories. Read them carefully. Read them respectfully, that is honoring the context, authorship and language of the day.
Note first there are two stories. Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4- 3;24. They come from different ages in history. They were written by different authors and actually tell different stories with different intentions or meanings.
Let’s keep it simple. Notice that the order of creation happens in different sequences. Notice that the Divine has two different names. “God” in the first story and “Lord God” in the second. The names are different in Hebrew. We won’t go into why here.
But even at that, it is clear we must read these stories carefully and not read into them what suits our purpose or bias.
To the justifying statements frequently made above.
We’ll come back to “dominion” in a moment.
“Be fruitful and multiply” was direction given to the birds and the sea creatures, Genesis 1:22, as well, as the man and woman, Genesis 1:28. If humankind was instructed to have dominion over the creatures and subdue the earth, and the birds and whales and cod stocks and salmon are going extinct, having extreme difficulty in being fruitful and multiplying, would humankind be accountable for their demise?
And reading carefully the instructions to the man and woman in the first story, regarding what they could eat, one needs to note that meat was not on the menu! Only plants were available for food. It’s not until Genesis 9:3 that God allows humanity to eat meat, but without its blood. Apparently even the beasts and birds were vegetarian in Genesis 1:30.
Interesting too that God says to the man in Genesis 2 that he may eat freely of every tree in the garden except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, the man was given freedom, within limits. Here is the heart of the second story.
And is creation given for the delight of humankind? Or is creation fundamentally meant for the delight of God? There are other passages about other creatures being pleasing to God; even the sea monster is made for God’s delight (read sport or play)
God makes everything because God wants to. There is no reason other than God can; God desires; and God does.
So, what is humankind here for? In the first story, the instruction is to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the creatures and subdue the earth. Sounds like pretty much a blank check, authority for just about anything. But then God says that everything has been given to humankind by God. Humankind cannot assume ownership. The earth and its minerals and resources and creatures belong to God and are given, with the instructions mentioned.
And before all of this, it is said about humankind that humankind is made in the image of God, male and female alike. So, what does it mean to be made in God’s image?
We read further…. In the second story, there was no one to till the earth. But that was ok because there was no rain and no plants yet. (Genesis 2:4-5). So, the LORD God made the man from the same stuff as the rest of creation – from the dust of the earth. And then the LORD God planted the garden. With everything pleasant to the sight and good for food. And the LORD God planted two trees, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.
Then, having prepared everything, the LORD God put the man in the garden to “till it and keep it.” Genesis 2:15. Again, the man could eat of every tree, except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
What about the tree of life? That comes later.
So, the man’s first job was to take inventory. Then the man observed every creature and named it and that was its name.
But the man was alone, so very alone. There was no creature of his own species. So, the LORD God made the woman. Now some would argue that the woman was made after Adam, second to his nature, a helper, under his arm, close to his heart… I won’t go there. Except to say that she too was made from the dust of the earth, in common with all creatures.
So, reading carefully, in the second story, creation was not made for man, man was made for creation! Man was given, from the beginning, the role of “tilling and keeping” the earth.
I know, what about “dominion”? When God gives “dominion” to the judges and kings of Israel it is always to rule for the benefit of the people. If the ruler gets in trouble, it’s because the rule has been for his benefit (not hers yet) not for the people. The good kings are sometimes described as shepherds, looking after a flock. So, dominion is not about expanding the empire and creating jobs, building cities and expanding trade… unless for the well-being of the people.
So, when God’s Son comes to reign as the anointed one, Messiah, that is, king – he is described as a shepherd, a healer, a teacher, a judge for the freeing of the people, not their oppression.
This king would even surrender his own life, rather than take some personal advantage. He came not to be served (have dominion – power over), but to serve (Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45).
OK, since this is part of the Moltmann series of reflections, let’s bring him in now.
“According to the Bible, man’s (sic) leadership over the world is justified because he (sic) is made in the image of God. According to Bacon and Descartes, it is man’s rule over the world that substantiates his divinity.” (p. 128) However, in their day, the relationship between humanity and creation was that of a subject to an object. Science studies creation. Science experiments with nature. Industry utilizes the resources available in creation. Business commercializes space, creatures, minerals and the like. Even bottling water and air for sale. Humanity enjoys a quality of life sustained and improved by better utilization of creation. This is “a pattern of domination and exploitation.” (p.128)
Moltmann quotes Heisenberg, from his book, The Physicist’s Conception of Nature, stating that that subjective-objective perspective no longer works.
“Science, we find, is now focused on the network of relationships between man and nature, on the framework which makes us as living beings dependent parts of nature, and which we as human beings have simultaneously made the object of our thoughts and actions. Science no longer confronts nature as an objective observer, but sees itself as an actor in the interplay between man and nature.” (Quoted on p. 128)
Put simply, instead of science as a subject observing and acting upon nature as an object, now science and nature communicate and mutually act upon one another, subject to subject. Moltmann continues, “Nature is no longer the subjugated object of man, but a cohesion of open life systems with its own subjectivity.” (p.128) Continuing, “Two subjects with, of course, different subjectivity enter into a mutual relationship with one another.” (p. 129)
Moltmann calls for Christian theology to revaluate traditional values because of Jesus Christ, “true man” and the “image of God.” To Christ was given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). And this same authority expects not to be served but to serve.” And he, Christ, “true man” and “image of God” served to make us free for fellowship with God and for openness for one another.” (p. 129). In light of Christ’s authority and image of God, Genesis 1: 28 must be reinterpreted. To have dominion and subdue the earth is not to “subdue” it as formerly understood, but to free it, through fellowship with it. (129). As expressed in Romans 8, enslaved nature waits for the “glorious liberty of the children of God.”
Karl Marx called this the “true resurrection of nature,” to come from the “naturalization of man” and from the “humanization of nature.”
Moltmann sees this transformation requiring a new ethic, “away from the will to power towards solidarity, away from the struggle for existence, towards peace in existence, and away from the pursuit of happiness towards fellowship.” (130)
Continuing, he writes, “The most important element in the future development of civilization is social justice, not the growth of economic power. We shall not be able to achieve social justice without justice for the natural environment, and we shall not be able to achieve justice for nature without social justice.” (130)
Readers familiar with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si will recognize a similar conviction.
Moltmann argues (twelve years ago) that we today are realizing the limits of continued expansion, development and growth. We are experiencing shortages of food, limited access to clean water. “Doing without” is becoming increasingly necessary. “Solidarity and fellowship are the values which make unavoidable suffering and necessary sacrifices endurable.” (130)
Moltmann concludes by quoting from the Bucharest Consultation of the World Council of Churches on Science and Technology for Human Development, 1974…
“Independence, in the sense of liberation from oppression of others, is a requirement of justice. But independence in the sense of isolation from the human community is neither possible nor just. We- human persons – need each other in communities. We – human communities- need each other within the community of mankind. We – the creation – need God, our Creator and Recreator. Mankind faces the urgent task of devising social mechanisms and political structures that encourage genuine interdependence, in order to replace mechanisms and structures that sustain dominance and subservience.” (130)
Faithful people understood this forty years ago! Why has it taken so long? Are we not listening to the birds, the whales, the winds, the trees, the fires, the seas? If we still cannot understand that these are our kin, why are we not listening to the poor, the homeless, the starving, the displaced? These, certainly, are our kin! Why are the only voices that claim our attention coming from boardrooms, warehouses, shopping malls, staterooms, and advertising media?
Where are the conversations of people in solidarity, in relationship? Not only have we objectified and commodified nature, but we have become objectified and commodified as people no longer in relationship but as consumers in the pursuit of the myth – the lie – of ever-expanding GDP!
In the words of Job 12:7-10 –
Ask the beasts and they will teach you; the birds of the air and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among these does not know that the hand of God has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of every human being.
God help us all!