Crisis and Climax
The story of the crisis of created humanity is the story of the crisis of selection. This crisis disrupts creation by corrupting it. The selection, the separation that leads to flourishing becomes the alienation that is annihilation. Adam and Eve die when they stop saying ‘we,’ step outside their limitations, and seek dominion over all creation rather than satisfaction within it. There is no crisis but this crisis, and no evil that cannot be attributed to it. Every graceful human separation becomes a graceless human fall.
The separation of primal goodness from primal goodness for the purpose of fecund multiplicity becomes the division that erupts in humanity’s distrust, malice, and murder. Such crises are telling because they illuminate both the nature of continuing calamity and the nature of the possible solutions. They tell us that we want to believe in God’s provision and that we want to trust that God is with us, but that we ultimately fail to do both. They tell us that we yearn for Sabbath and for our rightful separation within creation but that we instead opt for that which is violently opposed to faith and to humility, to being of the earth.
When the humans as a whole fail to represent either creation or God, God elects a tribe to represent humanity to itself, to be a holy nation and a priestly people. The Biblical account of Abram is the beginning of this separation and its subsequent corruption and aftermath. It begins promisingly as Abram trusts God sufficiently to leave the land of Haran and go he knows not where, and it continues in hope even when Abram learns that God will grant the land to his promised children rather than himself. Abram only builds an altar to mark the place as holy, set apart by him for God and vice versa. Abram will not only be good but will also be blessed, will be separated and holy by being added unto. The God that spoke to Abram in Haran also speaks to him in Canaan, and God does not mold the chosen people from clay but will provide them from Abram’s own loins. With Abram and through Abram God will produce another teeming multitude; the God of Abram is again the Sabbath God of power-for and power-with creation.
But Abram does not take the subsequent famine as a Sabbath; he does not trust in God’s provision. Rather he leaves the land partitioned for him and goes to Egypt for supplies. Therein he consorts with domineering Pharaoh, lies about his wife’s identity and tacitly condones Pharaoh’s male and female human slaves. None of this was promised, and Abram has defied his separation within humanity by taking advantage of Pharaoh, implicitly prostituting his wife for food, and collaborating with a power-structure that defies human limitation. This is the prototypical crisis story.
Any account of human calamity true to the biblical spirit will include alienation, enmity, deceit and distrust and domineering arrogance. The emergence of God’s selected people from Egypt, while more well known, only reiterates this story on a grander scale, as the Decalogue which details the elements of Hebraic separation within the world presages idolatry, continuing distrust in God’s providing Sabbath, and the failure of the chosen people to separate themselves from entangling and unholy political structures, even within the land that God does in fact ultimately set aside for them. The eventual fall of the house of Israel is the fall of Abram writ large, and is the fall of Eden inscribed on more numerous hearts. It is this essential and patterned experience of fall that the story of global climate change must relate.
The calamity of humanity is our failure to share in God’s gracious work. We opt out of creation when we defy Sabbath and claim unto ourselves our ability to provide, breaking the envelope of human limitation. But that has not changed the nature of creation or ended God’s purposed work—only God can do that. Rather, the genius of the creation story is that creation contains the possibility of its own solution. It is nothing extraordinary but is in fact the return to primal business as usual.
This can be a powerful part of the story of global climate change – many might argue that global industrialization and the emergence of a world market that feeds on the exploitation of human and natural resources is necessary, but no one is ever going to argue that it is historically the norm. The story of global climate change is simply the story of the human fall writ in unprecedented proportions and somewhat distorted by the scale. It is not the story of our created state. It is not the story of our promise. But it is the story of human choice and consequence. It is the story of what happens when humans abandon God’s work and opt instead entirely for our own.
The solution, of course, is suggested by the biblical theme of repentance, of turning away from ourselves to address the proffered work of God. The invitation has not been rescinded. If anything, it has been increased. Just as God’s response to the fall of Abram was Abram’s gracious separation from Lot and reiteration of the covenant, so God’s response to the first Israelite anxieties concerning provision in the wilderness was the blessing of the law that detailed the nature of the holiness they were to accept. God’s work is salvation, and salvation always builds; deliverance from Egypt is deliverance for the purposes of remembering, worshiping and imaging God. The crisis that provokes our indignation can become the crisis that wakens our consciousness.
Instead of asking why calamity is happening to us we can opt out of participation in its continuation and opt into discovering its remedies. Repentance and the salvation it leads to are creational acts because they reorient humanity to its proper place within the partitioned paradise, within nature’s teeming multitudes. When God’s promised people promise to obey, they hear commandments concerning the holiness of God and God’s face and name, holiness of humans in their marriage, parentage and in life itself, and the holiness of the created world in its Sabbath and in its provision. The holy nation is to create a holy and separate culture; this is the nature of the blessing and God’s added work. The people of God becomes a holy nation when they begins to fear God and do not touch the mountain God set aside as God’s own dwelling place. Goodness begins again when humans simply accept their limitations.
But the holy nation is not to be consecrated simply for itself but is instead is to be for other nations, as a blessing to them. The shape of God’s work is expansive and expanding. God always adds more characters. When the priestly nation fails the solution will not be abandonment of the program but the separation and the holiness of one man to image God to the nation that was to image God to humanity and thus to all creation. When the priestly nation itself fails to recognize the image, the solution will be for the holy one to embrace all humanity directly. The motion of salvation is always outward. The solution to the crisis is always broader than the situation that led to the crisis. Creation increases, sometimes by staggering degrees.
The climactic ethics of Jesus of Nazareth is the salvific ethic of reverence for life. Creational holiness is concern for the welfare of God’s created creatures. It emphasizes humanity but never excludes that which is not humanity. Human beings only have much more worth than the many sparrows of the parable if the individual birds themselves have value. Goodness, after all, is always goodness-with. The law included in the story of global climate change must be the law of reverence for all life. To the areas of human experience subject to God’s mandates – politium, ecclesium, and economium— the story of creation must add also the domain of ecologium. Without the teeming of the ecological household, after all, there is no human thriving whatsoever. We must recognize that the God that touches all things is that God that loves all things and is touched by them.
The law of love written into the story of global climate change must be the law of love written across all creation. The only biblical duality, after all, is that between creation and creator. No other duality is credited good, as delineation exists precisely for the purpose of fecund relationship. Alienation between humanity and nature will never contribute to human thriving or the love of God. Human domination over heavens and earth will never contribute to creational exuberance, but only destroy the stage upon which all life plays. The law of love for all creation, on the other hand, invites participation in the ungoing work of the holiness of Jesus Christ. It is sharing in the kingdom which Jesus Christ claimed to be at hand.
The climax that solves the calamity of selection is the election not only of all people but of all created things. It is the vision of the community of communities of communities created by God, proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth and hoped for by the prophet Isaiah. It is the provisioned pearl of great price, and the Sabbath extended into eternity. It is that for which all creation groans. Such a satisfaction must be included in our story, but must primarily be anticipated. Both the biblical and ecological narratives must advocate our place within them and within their open nature. Living in the climax, we must look to the future for final hope and satisfaction, for the ultimate realization of the transformations the crisis and its solution have brought about.