The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016
Creation in the Book of the Twelve – Hosea (5)
Lent 3We have seen thus far how wide and deep Hosea casts his net in probing the most basic truth of human life: God’s relationship with us. Nothing seems to escape the orbit of this relationship. Even things we might not imagine or have been led to believe have nothing to do with it.
See, truth is that God through Hosea is on the side of those who think human actions play an important role in environmental degradation! So whether you think the science behind global warming is legitimate or not, God insists that our actions, particularly our sin and idolatry, are a root cause of defiling and defacing the good creation he entrusted to our care.
God says in Hosea 4:3
“Therefore the land mourns,
and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals
and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing.”
The poetic, symbolic language used here should not be pressed into literal service by counting the “perishing” of various species in a scientific sense. That may be some kind of ancillary extrapolation from this poetry but not its intended meaning.
I think we do it more justice if we read it against the creation stories’ account of human vocation. God grants us “dominion” over the creation in the Gen.1 story and then clarifies that dominion in Gen.2 with protecting and nurturing the creation (2:15). Thus we have a picture of humanity directing and shaping creation toward its full flourishing.
But it hasn’t worked out that way. In 1967 Lynn White, Jr. wrote a famous article in Science in which he laid the blame for the ecological crisis we were just becoming aware of at the feet of Christianity, and in particular its doctrine of creation.
"While many of the world's mythologies provide stories of creation, Greco-Roman mythology was singularly incoherent in this respect. Like Aristotle, the intellectuals of the ancient West denied that the visible world had a beginning. Indeed, the idea of a beginning was impossible in the framework of their cyclical notion of time. In sharp contrast, Christianity inherited from Judaism not only a concept of time as nonrepetitive and linear but also a striking story of creation. By gradual stages a loving and all- powerful God had created light and darkness, the heavenly bodies, the earth and all its plants, animals, birds, and fishes. Finally, God had created Adam and, as an afterthought, Eve to keep man from being lonely. Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man's benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man's purposes. And, although man's body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God's image . . .
“Man shares, in great measure, God's transcendence of nature. Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia's religions (except, perhaps, Zorastrianism), not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.
“At the level of the common people this worked out in an interesting way. In Antiquity every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own genius loci, its guardian spirit. These spirits were accessible to men, but were very unlike men; centaurs, fauns, and mermaids show their ambivalence. Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge of that particular situation, and to keep it placated. By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.”
White is correct that Christianity bears responsibility for treating the creation the way he describes. He is incorrect to lay the blame on its understanding of creation. The problem runs much deeper than that. Hosea, as we have seen, is already aware of the degradation of God’s creation. But he roots this in humanity’s revolt against God’s intention for them. Instead of serving him as those who direct and shape creation to its full flourishing, we chose to run it ourselves in accord with the distorted and perverted passions that came with our revolt against God, that is for our own benefit as its presumed masters. And we treated creation just as Lynn White describes.
No nook or cranny of God’s world was untouched by human sin. Thus no nook or cranny of God’s world will remain untouched by the healing and restorative touch of those who have “returned” to God in humility and faith. Restored to their primal and proper vocation of those who guide and shape creation to its full flourishing under God, creation will begin to look as the Creator designed it. And that will God very happy!