outside view

Humanity’s Responsibility

Humanity’s Responsibility:  Creation 2.
Genesis 1: 26 –31; 2: 4 – 25  (Psalm 121)
Created in the image of God carries two responsibilities.
Something happened at last Monday’s Taizé service.  We came to our time of meditation. We had read Psalm 121 and had received a short reflection on the psalm.  I began to meditate noting the time as I usually do. As leader I manage the 8 – 10 minutes of silence. What happened next was that I was caught up in Psalm 121 where the psalmist highlights that God who cares for us God the creator of the world.  My mind instantly turned to being created in the image of God.  I saw that God was all-sufficient for our needs. These weren’t new thoughts. I have taught and preached these truths for years, but at that moment the truth of being made in God’s image was irrevocable. I was God’s creation and God was all-sufficient. This knowledge has been strongly with me this week. You see I have been a little anxious of late. I don’t know what the best word is to describe how I have been feeling, but anxious is sufficient for the moment.  In Monday’s meditation I was convicted of God’s sufficiency for me.  Now there is another side to this little epiphany I had. I came back to my surroundings got up and lit a taper and prayed. Normally we sing O Lord hear my prayer after lighting a taper. The pianist was a bit slow. I looked at the pianist – she shall remain nameless – and I struggled to get her to lead us in song. I was getting that look. Unbeknown to me I had truncated our usual 8-10 minutes time of silence to 1 minute.  It took a good few minutes of the service before I realised what had happened.  I had been completely lost with the Holy Spirit for a few seconds.
I tell this story for two reasons. At one level it reminds us that we can knowing about God is not the same as knowing God.  We can know the things of God and yet not allow the Spirit to weave them into the fabric of our lives. That blessing came to me last week. I can just thank God for it. The other lesson for me is the recognition of what it means to be in the image of God. To bear the image of God means we are close to God. In being close to God the light of God’s love strikes us and reflects off our lives. When light, heat or sound strike a surface they are cast back, unless that surface the light strikes is dull, rough or absorbent. When light falls on an object the object is lit up and reflects the light. Sometimes the reflection is a likeness and an image. This physical law has much to teach us spiritually.  Reflection depends upon the quality of the surface. A bright, smooth and even surface will produce a clearer reflection. Correspondingly an uneven, dull and absorbing surface will reflect poorly.  The other thing to remember is that an object that reflects no light cannot be seen.  Now transfer these general laws of reflection to our relationships.  If we don’t reflect the affection of others, if we don’t reflect or return their conversation, we won’t be seen. There is a difference between seeing a person so not to stumble over them, and seeing a person to engage with them.  The reality is if we reflect the attention we receive from others then we will become healthy social beings. If our surface of our lives absorbs all attention and holds on to what comes our way and does not return the social interchange, then we will have a very limited set of relationships.
All this of course applies to our relationship with God. If we simply don’t reflect the rays of love that come from God then we will not be.  If we simply absorb God’s blessing and do not reflect that blessing then we will have no relationship with God or with God’s people. At best we will have a very limited relationship. So it is important that we keep the ‘surface’ of our lives clean, smooth and reflective so that we reflect the image of God, are seen and are a blessing to others. God’s love will light us up when our ‘surface’ – our life – welcomes God’s light and reflects it. 
Our first responsibility as humans is to do our part in preparing ourselves to be present in the presence of God.   Our first responsibility is to nurture our relationship with God. In some sense my experience last Monday night is an example of preparing oneself to receive and reflect God’s light. Although I was leading that service I was also entering into it and opening myself to the possibility of God healing me.
The second responsibility we humans have is to care for creation. The two Creation Stories in Genesis make that abundantly clear.  The words dominion, subdue, till and keep the earth along with naming the creatures of the earth tell us so.  Now the Bible uses words and concepts that do not resonate with us. We live in a democracy and Biblical writers lived with rulers. The Bible uses the concepts that relate to a king’s rule. However they understood that a king had the responsibility to ensure peace, prosperity and blessing for his subjects. Of course there were and are bad selfish rulers as also with democratic leaders, but the assumption in the text is that the ruler will create well-being for the people. So it is easy to understand that our God-given responsibility is to be stewards of the earth.
This becomes clearer when we reflect on humankind’s dominion, subduing and naming of the animals and plants. Our relationship with animals provides a helpful example of what this might mean. In thinking about this I recalled my holidays on the farm. My mum would send me up to my bachelor uncle and his mother’s farm. I loved it. I played cowboys there.  I was given a horse and told to roundup the heifers in the big paddock, which was small by Australian standards, and take them to the watering stream in the neighbouring paddock. On one occasion he was training some young oxen to be draught animals. That was a struggle. The oxen didn’t like the yokes, the pulling and the shoving.  Remember these young oxen were powerful beasts. I recall once being told to keep the oxen back while my uncle was giving medicine to some of them. One large Africander ox moved forward. The beasts horns where about five foot wide. I don’t want to exaggerate. He came towards the line separating the two groups. I waved my hands to no avail. So I put my hands on his horns to push him away. His head was down. He simply lifted his head and me too. So I let go very quickly. I wasn’t going to move this animal easily.
Well the subduing of the young oxen in training continued. A couple of oxen lay down and wouldn’t move. My uncle had an interesting technique. He simply clasped his hands over the nostrils until they got up gasping for breath. During those weeks that span of 16 oxen began to work as a team. A relationship between humankind and creature had developed. It was a relationship of cooperation, of protection, nurture and produce. I could see then in many other incidents that my uncle cared about his animals’ welfare.  I don’t think it was simply the dollar factor. Something more complicated. One thing is clear that the Creation Stories in Genesis are not a licence to exploit and destroy this earth for our own good.
These two Creation stories in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 – the first follows a more scientific pattern of development the other very human-centric – provide us with a clear understanding of our relationship to God and to nature. We have a responsibility to both. We cannot escape our responsibility for the world.
This takes us to one of the greatest issues facing us today – Global Warming.  Global warming is not a cataclysmic disaster like a bushfire or earthquake. It is hardly perceptible to us. Unless we are looking at temperature charts over the past 100 years or so, or viewing aerial photographs of the Arctic and Antarctic ice coverage over the past 50 years, which visibly demonstrates the enormous reduction of ice, we will hardly discern it. And again people want to argue that humans have not caused it. I think we are blind or just disingenuous to think that the world’s human population expanding from 1 billion in 1800 to 7 billion in 2012 with its corresponding expansion of technology and resource consumption has not impacted on this planet, let alone the scientific data that demonstrates the effect of greenhouse gases.  It is our duty to discuss it and do what we can. It is our God-given responsibility to address this issue.
I invite you to sing the following song written by Victorian born, Dr Norman Habel, and Professor of Biblical Studies, Hear this earth mourning.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  11/09/2016
 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org.au