Moment of confession: I’m not sure I’m fully human until after my first morning coffee… Jeremy Vine on his lunch time Radio 2 show has been asking ‘What does it mean to be human?’ and the guest contributions have been quite fascinating and hugely varied.
Chris Wright looks at this through the lens of the Genesis account of God’s first commands to Adam & Eve, in other words ‘These things are your purpose.’ He also notes that the name Adam is closely connected to the Hebrew word for earth – so closely, that in fact translated the name could mean ‘earth-man.’ Adam is an integral part of the whole living eco-sphere, even though he’s about to be given a very particular role. For Adam & Eve, read humanity: we do not exist separately from this planet; what affects it, affects us.
The commands that are given to Adam and Eve are these:
- Be fruitful (Gen 1.28)
Multiply – in fact, fill the earth. This bit humanity has quite successfully managed!
- Rule over the land (Gen 1.28)
This has been understood in many ways, with differing degrees of rapacity (sadly). Chris Wright’s interpretation is that this ‘dominion over’ or ‘subduing of’ the land is to be done in a way that is the image of God’s own kingship, ie we are to model his compassion and wisdom. This instruction is not about tyranny over or exploitation of the land, but about stewardship – as the next words indicate…
- Work the land (Gen 2.15)
The oldest profession is gardener, not anything else. The word used is one that means ‘to serve’ – Chris Wright notes ‘with connotation of doing hard work in the process of serving.’†
- Care for the land (Gen 2.15)
Interesting one of the meanings of the Hebrew word that underlies the translation – which literally means ‘to keep safe’ – is to treat it ‘seriously as something worthy of devoted attention’ – ie by studying and understanding it.‡
Note that these commands form the mission given to humanity – the Christian is first a human (after coffee, anyway!) then a follower of Christ.
Chris Wright then goes onto explore how God’s people might more effectively think about the world around us as being a part of God’s plans – in worship, in redemption and in consummation.
Does all of this mean that the Church should be addressing a green agenda? It does – the initial blessings bestowed by God are ones addressed to the living world. ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ is a blessing addressed to humanity after the teeming creatures of both sea and sky have had a taste of it first! What affects the planet affects us – we need to look after the world that first cares for us.
Does it mean that we can look at the living world as a place where God has spoken and can still speak? A new and increasing interest in a nature-based spirituality that are very old (Celtic Christianity meets Forest Church) would say ‘Yes, we can.’
If we are aware of nature as the ‘second book of God’ (read Ps 19, verses 1-4) – how do we attune ourselves to hear things about God through it?
The more we are aware of the world we live in, the more human we are.
† p 51, ‘People who care for creation,’ Christopher JH Wright, ‘The Mission of God’s People’, Zondervan.