Sunday, July 3, 2011

God's Good World

Books 13& 14

Last week I happened to be reading two books at the same time, and they interestingly paralleled each other, in many ways arriving at the same conclusion to two different questions.

I feel a little foolish even attempting to summarize the two essays on this blog, and would much rather be sitting in a circle having this discussion with friends.

This is a long post of mostly quotations, you may just want to read the essays for yourself: you can read the full essay of  Christianity and the Survival of Creation, by Wendell Berry here, and the book Love Wins, by Rob Bell.

First, the essay Christianity and the Survival of Creation is just one in his book Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community- several great essays in this book.

Wendell Berry sheds light on Biblical instruction about the care of the earth, but his conclusion carries greater implications as well, of course:

The Bible is clear about the sanctity and holiness of the Earth:

"The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof: the world and they that dwell therein."  In biblical terms, the "landowner" is the guest and steward of God: "The land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me."

Destruction of nature is blasphemy against God:

People who quote John 3:16 as an easy formula for getting to Heaven neglect to see the great difficulty implied in the statement that the advent of Christ was made possible by God's love for the world- not God's love for Heaven or for the world as it was and is.  Belief in Christ is thus dependent on prior belief in the inherent goodness- the lovability- of the world.

. . . our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility; it is the most horrid blasphemy.

Dualisms within modern Christianity need to be avoided:

.  . . between Creator and creature, spirit and matter, religion and nature, religion and economy, worship and work, and so on. ..  .  In its best known, its most dangerous, and perhaps its fundamental version, it is the dualism of body and soul."

Holiness of Creation:

Gen 2:7:
The Lord formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.
The formula given is not man= body + soul; but soul= dust + breath.  "God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter in an envelope.  He formed man of dust, then, by breathing His breath into it, he made the dust live.  The dust, formed as man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul.  "Soul" here refers to the whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discreet parts temporarily glued together but as a single mystery.

The breath of God is only one of the divine gifts that make us living souls; the other is dust.  Most of our modern troubles come from our misunderstanding and misvaluation of this dust.  Forgetting that the dust, too, is a creature of the Creator, made by the sending forth of His spirit, we have presumed to decide that the dust is "low."  We have presumed to say that we are made of two parts: a body and a soul, the body being "low" because made of dust, and the soul "high."  . . .we inevitably throw them into competition with each other, like two corporations.  . .. The dominant religious view, for a long time, has been that the body is a kind of scrip . . . which can be cashed in to redeem the soul but is otherwise worthless.  And the predictable result has been a human creature able to tolerate or appreciate only the "spiritual" (or mental) part of Creation and full of semiconscious hatred of the "physical" or "natural" part, which it is ready and willing to destroy for "salvation", for profit, for "victory", or for fun.  This madness constitutes the norm of modern humanity and of modern Christianity.

But to despise the body or mistreat it for the sake of the "soul" . . . is yet another blasphemy.  It is to make nothing- and worse than nothing- of the great Something in which we live and move and have our being.

Connection between religion and economy:

. . . by our work we reveal what we think of the works of God.  How we take our lives from this world, how we work, what work we do, how well we use the materials we use, and what we do with them after we have used them- all these are questions of the highest and gravest religious significance.  In answering them, we practice, or not practice, our religion.


. . . Because [Christianity] has been so exclusively dedicated to incanting anemic souls into Heaven, it has been made the tool of much earthly villainy.  It has, for the most part, stood silently by while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households.  It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of empire.

. . . Less is said of the Gospel's "bad news" which is that Jesus would have been horrified by just about every "Christian" government the world has ever seen.  He would be horrified by our government and its works, and it would be horrified by him.

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It seems to me that Wendell Berry's essay on our approach to creation care- that life is holy now, and everything we do is holy resonates with the ideas Rob Bell is suggesting in Love Wins.  That,
Life has never been about "just getting in."  It's about thriving in God's good world.  It's stillness, peace, and that feeling of your soul being at rest, while at the same time it's about asking things, learning things, creating things, and sharing it all with others who are finding the same kind of joy in the same good world. 
Jesus calls disciples to keep entering into this shared life of peace and joy as it transforms our hearts, until it's the most natural way to live that we can imagine.  Until it's second nature.  Until we naturally embody and practice the kind of attitudes and actions that will go on in the age to come.  A discussion about how to "just get into heaven" has no place in the life of a disciple of Jesus, because it's missing the point of it all.  (p.179)

Love Wins has been discussed all over the blogosphere, I don't care to add more opinions.  Yes, I would recommend reading it . . . but only if you can just for a moment put aside any anger or defensiveness and approach the book as a child . . . with a joyful heart, hopeful spirit, and great imagination.  You don't have to agree with everything, or anything.  Reading the book will not make you a heretic, and neither will asking questions.  God is big enough.

My favorite line from the book:

Whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it.

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