holistic vision of the human’s role in creation

adam and eve resized
Photograph by Jorisvo / iStock images

by Sarah Withrow King

This article is excerpted and adapted from the forthcoming Animals Are Not Ours (No, Really They’re Not), Cascade Books 2015.

Animals were not created for human ends, but for God’s. All of creation, from the tallest tree to the smallest insect, belongs to the Creator. In Shalom and the Community of Creation, Native American Christian theologian urges us to consider that, “Coming in last place [in the creation story] should give us all pause for creaturely humility. We should realize that everything created was not made primarily for human happiness. Obviously, creation was enjoyed prior to our arrival.” For centuries, we humans have placed ourselves at the center of the creation story. We remove ourselves from the symbiotic harmony of God’s creation. For many years, I intentionally alienated myself from the truth about where animal foods came from in order to avoid feeling guilty about eating them.

When we embrace God’s commands in Genesis, and if we keep these commands in mind as we consider the whole biblical narrative, we can begin to develop an alternate vision for the human’s role in creation that does not rely on hierarchy but still recognizes the imago Dei. Humans are not little gods on earth. We are created, as German theologian Jurgen Moltmann says, “to be his image,” a reality only fully realized in and through the person of Christ, our best understanding of being made in the image of God. And when we look at Jesus, we see mercy on a radical level. We see love and sacrifice. We see service.

Our dominion in creation is not one of paternalistic overseers (uncomfortably reminiscent of justifications for slavery), or even of siblings, but of servants. Christ calls us to love and to serve, and it is only through Christ that we are able to love and serve. But we do not love only our family, our friends. We do not love only our neighbors. We do not love only those who look like us, who share our political views, or who love us in return. Christ calls us to love our enemies. Christ calls us to love those we do not understand and do not appreciate. Christ calls us to love the leper. In our time, that must include the furry, the finned, and the feathered. Kristen Largen, Andrew Linzey, and a host of other theologians both in our day and in centuries past have pointed out that in loving and serving others throughout the whole of the created community, we love and serve Christ. What do you think? How can we best image God?

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