I have indicated in my previous blog what I have felt obliged to do in face of what humanity has done to the planet. But are what the obligations of churches at this critical time? My first answer is that they should shut up and consider their own part and the part of their tradition in allowing human beings to dominate the earth.
The key verse is Genesis 1:26
Then God said,”Let us make humankind in our own image, after our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”
And the key word is “rule over.” (Hebrew: Rathah)
I heard a colleague on the Radio saying that the Hebrew word means to care for, to touch tenderly. NO IT DOES NOT. I can find no instance of its use elsewhere in Bible where it does not point to holding authority or power over another, in some cases, forcefully. Yes, it can mean to tread, but not with any emphasis on treading lightly. It is important to insist on this meaning because it becomes clear that human beings want no limit upon their rule. Genesis admits this as a problem: God has created beings who are capable of rule and misrule; and no amount of threat or punishment can keep them in order. God finally admits he’s going to have to persuade them.
That means the Genesis author was serious about God creating humans with dangerous power. They would not be so dangerous if God had not made them in his image and likeness. This indicates a much more profound understanding of humanity than any attempt make the creation story ecologically acceptable. In fact it shows humanity as a real danger to the planet- and God created it that way!
When we exit myth and set this story against what we know of the evolution of life on earth, it makes good sense. Human beings have developed from other animals, and clearly possess enough ability to destroy many of them and possibly themselves. It is the “image of God” that’s the problem: no other animal is able to be so destructive. It is not that human beings know everything; it’s that they know so much they forget they don’t know everything, especially about themselves.
We have plenty evidence that the problem is very bad, but it may not be terminal. Human beings have still the power to decide whether our evolution, our creation in God’s image, is a terrible mistake, or just in the Duke of Wellington’s phrase, a “damn close-run thing.”
The Christian tradition has commonly failed to take this story seriously enough, because, even when it has emphasised human sinfulness, it has emphasised its unfitness to dwell with the holy God, but not its unfitness to inhabit the earth. It has examined “man’s disobedience” but not God’s folly in creating him. I am speaking provocatively of course, but I want to make the anomalous, alien violence of human life as evident as possible. Christian people especially should remember that in addition to all the millions of species we have destroyed we tried to make the “Son of God” extinct as well.
Did we succeed? To be Christian is to believe that in God’s kindness, we did not, but we must never minimise our capacity for wrong or the scope of the wrong we can achieve. A change of heart/ mind that issues in ecologically beneficial life-styles may be better that any amount of public wittering that disguises our sin.