The story of salvation is the story of human experience of God. It necessarily includes all human experience, because there is nothing accessible to us that is not accessible to God and there is nothing accessible to us without experience. Experience is the primal human truth. But it is formless, fragmentary and unrealized outside of story and cannot be understood apart from encapsulating narrative.
To formulate the story of global climate change is to formulate our contiguous and comprehensive experiences of the world as such and within the drama of God and humanity – our experience of creation as well as salvation, and, as I will later argue, our experience of sanctification as well. To form the story of global climate change, then, we must understand the primal experience. We must be able to tell what it is like to be created. We must understand the opening scene.
In the beginning there was everything – or, more precisely, the place where everything would be. There was not a small egg which grew or a god who died to provide its body or a heaven of perfect forms, but there was ‘when God created the heavens and the earth.’ That which God first creates is that which will contain all things. God first creates the envelope in which all matter and light and life will be. God first builds the scaffolding, or the foundation, of creation. God, in other words, first creates the stage, and the stage will hold all things. There will be nothing in the drama that does not occur upon the stage. No character or image or plot will ever escape the canvas on which God draws or writes or makes it; this is simply a function of creation and creativity –although, of course, the canvas itself can always be transformed.
Humans, we must note, do not precede the stage. Nor are they first upon it. They are not the reason for the drama or the stage, which exists solely to please its creator. At first, the stage does not do so because it is formless and void – it is empty, shapeless, and without boundary. Every movement of God is away from this chaotic stasis. Separation, division, and limitation will be direction of all things. Even Eden will be paradise, partitioned.
God separates creation not from God’s self but within creation’s self, moves creation from sterile unity toward teeming delineation. God populates the stage with distinctive abundance and delineation. Separation is not a movement away from God but is a movement by God; it is precisely God hovering over the face of the waters that precedes God calling light into being and separating it from darkness. Creation is God’s investment. And this is the primal creational scene: God calls into being, God separates elements of creation, God sees that it is good, and God proclaims that it is so.
Please understand, God does not declare it good and thus make it so; rather, God recognizes the created thing as good and then announces God’s own realization. The creation holds integral to itself its own created value, in each of its delineations. God repeats this for effect. And God anticipates humanity in creation with increasing complications of form – plants and beasts being more complex than each and all of the previous things that they themselves rely upon. The story generates its own excitement. Human beings are not first, but they are prepared for. They will be its dominant theme. They will just be so within the canvas of all created things. They will rely upon all created things, as all created things have done before them.
Much has been said about the imageo dei, and the story of global climate change would add little to it, save this: it is surely representational. “Let us,” says God, “make man in our image” – and immediately makes humanity divided, male and female. The issue of course is not the nature of the sexes but the internal division within humanity itself. All is partition. Even singular God refers to multiple identities within one image, and the experience of creation is the experience of fecund multiplicity. To be created humans is thus to reveal the likeness of God to creation and to represent to God the likeness of the created world.
And the image of God in humans is not distinction from creation except in the grace added unto us: the blessing of dominion. It is limited domain, not over the land or the seas or the heavens themselves, but only over the creatures that dwell within each of them. It is the dominion of domestication, the last link of a long chain which begins with plants: “to everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” The image of God is not a departure from creation; it is rather a separation within and a culmination of all that has gone before. Humans in their image and dominion are not an exception to creation – they are an exaggeration of it.
To be created is to be within creation, and to be created is to respond to the creator. All other things respond by being, by being called into being. We respond to God’s call by imaging God, by representing God; that is what the imageo means. What, then, is this God that we are to imagine? First, the God of the story of creation is not God-over; rather, God is God-for. The goodness of creation exists independently of God’s estimation, and the power of the God of the creation is precisely the power to create, to establish the flourishing of life. Secondly, the God of the story of creation is God-with. Creation is God’s investment, and God touches all things. There is nothing that is without God. God is not God removed but God present and drawing nearer through creation and especially through humanity, though not ultimately so.
Rather, the primal image of God-with and God-for the entire contiguous chain of creation is the image of the Sabbath. This is the creation that culminates created humanity and completes the ecological chain of being. This is the experience that the story of global climate change must pay careful attention to. Our narrative must tell the story of the good creation remembering that it is God’s and that its goodness is primal and integral. It does not need humanity or human work to flourish. It needs rest. So do the humans who image creation to God, and vice versa. All the Sabbath day is holy, and all the on the Sabbath day is whole.
The story of global climate change must relate the contiguity of humanity within creation and delineate the purpose of humanity’s partitioning within it. Its narrative must itself image the power of human dominion and its profound and necessary limitations, the very core of which is Sabbath. Sabbath is what happens when the stage is itself sufficient. Sabbath is the essence of what it is like to be created. The completion of creation is the respite of God’s satisfaction, God’s restraint from further creativity. God has called into being and all being has responded. God has moved into creation and called it very good. The creation is satisfied because God is satisfied. The experience of creation becoming has become the pleasurable experience of God. There is now only a little time to wait. All the actors are on the stage. The curtain has come up. There will be a crisis.