And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.Genesis 1:24-31 (NRSVA)
I love Genesis 1 -every time I look at it, there’s something different, something I didn’t expect to find: just as I thought I really knew it, there’s something new it brings. This time round, what I noticed was the progression of becoming: first “let the earth bring forth” (all the sorts of living-breathing things) then animals and then humans are “made” and then “God created humankind”. Those verbs are all different. The last one ‘bara’, created, which Alison last week made us aware of is only used with God as the subject and occurs only three times in the chapter -two of them in this bit.
‘Bringing forth’ seems to imply a natural generativity which is part of God’s making and this is described as ‘God said … it was so’. In other words, we don’t have to hear ‘make’ and ‘created’ later on as a spontaneous generation but as emergent: the matter of the earth is fashioned by the earth’s innate God-given generativity in response to God’s creative will. This seems to emphasise our kinship with other animals and indeed the earth itself. The word ‘adam/Adam’ is related to ‘adamah’ -one of the words for earth (emphasising the soil) leading some commentators to suggest ‘earthling’ as a translation. When I read ‘Let us make …’ it seems to me that in what the earth is bringing forth there is something that could be more; an earthling that could carry the image and likeness of God. So God leans into that and creates such a being: one that is kin to the earth and its creatures but one that is also akin to God in some way.
Now, the image and likeness of God seem to be related to subduing the inanimate earth and having dominion over the living creatures. One of the things this time around was to be reminded that most ancients believed that nature ruled over humans -that’s why they deified so much of nature -gods of springs and storms and crops and the rest. So to say it is supposed to be the other way round would be puzzling or even shocking. In turn that puts into perspective the worry that I, for one, have in reading this passage that it gives license to humans to exploit the hell out of the non-human world. This passage, by contrast, is actually saying, “Don’t be afraid of nature: it is God’s creation and God is sharing with you the responsibility for it. You have the capacity to work it and not just be victimised by it”. Now that doesn’t quite allay my fears that this could be a license to burn the planet up or to suck it dry. What does settle my concern, though, is to recognise that this is God’s dominion and rule that is being passed over to us. In turn this implies responsibility to use our planet-mastering capabilities with the delight, care and reverence of the Creator who sees the global ecosystem (including ourselves) and appraises it as “very good”. We should recall that the mandate for Israelite kings later was to rule their for the benefit of their people and land: to promote justice, mercy and the practices that cared for the land.
Of course, that’s not what’s been happening…
So, let me ask you to think about a few things on the back of those reflections. I’d be interested to know something of your reflections and responses.
- It is being recognised that being among trees and in greenery is good for our mental health. I suspect that this is a way in which our kinship to the earth shows up. What helps you to really get a deep-down sense of your /our kinship with the earth?
- One of the insights of Extinction Rebellion is that the scale of devastation humans are wreaking on the planet exceeds the capability of individual actions (like recycling, driving less, using less plastic etc) to make sufficient difference. By all means ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ -but recognise that the scale requires us to do things at a societal scale: how power is generated and distributed, transport is organised, how food is grown gathered and distributed. What things do you think are most key to making the society-level changes to address the scale of the issue?
- The idea that rulers use their authority and power for the benefit of people and planet. Do you think that is so? And if not, what to do about it?
- Big businesses clearly have a lot of wealth and power that rival national governments in many cases. How should we make sure they use their de-facto authority for the common planetary good?
- “With much power comes much responsibility” … Or should that last word be ‘irresponsibility’?