Artist: James Ceaser
Our feature on living faith
Living Faith is a declaration of faith of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
You can download it for free at presbyterian.ca. We suggest you seek out and read the passage being discussed each month.
The Wonder of it All (July/August 2010), & Soil, Food and Faith and Walking Gently (April 2008).
We are Created
Human beings are not an accident of time and chance and energy. We do not create ourselves by intelligent career choices, padding our resumés or consuming and accumulating stuff. There are no self-made men or women. The more fundamental truth about us is that we are God’s creatures. As the psalmist says, “It is God that has made us and not we ourselves” (100:3). What’s more, the life that God gives us is for the sake of fellowship with God. Our creation says that for love’s sake God has decided not to be God without us. In an act of sheer love, God makes what is not God for the sake of a relationship of love.
Living Faith encourages us to think about our creation “in the divine image.” This phrase found in the book of Genesis has inspired a great deal of reflection in the history of Christian thought.
The majority view on the meaning of this phrase is that the image of God resides in our rational nature. While there is truth to this proposal, I think it has often led us to overemphasize the intellect at the expense of emotional, imaginative and physical dimensions of life.
God’s image may also have to do with our domination over the earth. God rules over human beings and human beings rule over other creatures. When this way of understanding the image of God in us is predominant, it has been used to sponsor the exploitation of the world and its resources. If human domination is like God’s dominion, rightly understood, this will involve respect and care and service to other creatures rather than exploitation and mastery over them (2.4.1).
Human beings also reflect God’s image in our free creative activity. The fine arts and human inventiveness show our abilities to form and arrange resources with novelty and delight. Here we need to remember that God’s creative freedom is always for the good of the other and not just in the service of self-satisfaction and ambition. Our tendency toward idolatry sometimes comes out in our creativity too: Voltaire said, “God made us in God’s image and we’ve returned the favour!”
I find the major difficulty with all these ways of speaking of our creation in God’s image is, however, that they focus on a single human being. Each one of them seems to suppose that our creation in God’s image has to do with endowments, abilities and faculties that each lone-ranger human being has in isolation from other human beings.
We are Called
My attention in recent years has gone to the last half of Genesis 1:27: “God created humankind in His image … male and female He created them.” Image of God here leads us to reflect on our co-humanity. God’s image isn’t an isolated feature of a solitary human life; but rather human life in loving relationship with God and other people. It is not good that a human should be alone and so God creates male and female coexistence. In loving relationship, the image of God is reflected in humans. We might even go so far as to call this the image of Christ and an image of the Trinity. Just like Jesus lived alongside and for others, and just like God lives in a triune fellowship of mutual unending love, so we live in giving and receiving from God and others. We’re designed to revel in community, to live for the love of God and our neighbour.
Living Faith identifies living in relationship as our calling. We find ourselves, the meaning of our existence as creatures, when we live as friends of God and our neighbours in our work and play and family life. Selfish ambition and desire need to die if we are going to inhabit our full humanity; that will take the cross and resurrection, the gift of the Spirit and a community of the baptised. God’s intention from the beginning and His renewed intention in Christ is for us to live in loving communion and community.
Interestingly, Martin Nowak, a biology professor at Harvard, has proposed that human beings are hard-wired not just for competition but co-operation. As an evolutionary scientist, he maintains that ours is not just a “struggle for survival” but a “snuggle for survival.”
We Care for the World
God created us for fellowship with God and other people. We also live in dependence upon and in relationship to other non-human creatures and the earth, our home. Living Faith is attentive to our stewardship of God’s good earth and all living things in it. We are encouraged to borrow from all human skill and science to carry out the mandate of responsible and respectful living in our warming world.
The creation account in the second chapter of Genesis offers the context for our creation: “And there was no one to till the ground” (2:5). God makes the human (Adam) from humus (adamah) to till and keep the land. I think the connection here is important. Earthlings and earth belong together. We groundlings have an attachment at a basic level to the dirt from which we came. Our biological life is rooted in the land. God takes the earth, fashions human beings and breathes life into them. We come from the earth and to it we return (3:19).
In the creation story of Genesis 2, human beings are significant by their vocation: tilling the earth and caring for God’s garden. I think this section of Living Faith and Genesis call us to renew our connection to the soil. Too often we are estranged from the earth by our highly mobile lives and our lack of connection to place—any place. When this happens we tend to treat the earth like weekend campers rather than residents who have a stake in the neighbourhood. Friends of mine have taken up gardening and buy local produce as ways of renewing their connection to the soil from which we’ve come.
In this section of Living Faith, the news is good and familiar. We are made for the love of God, of one another and the good world God has made. As my colleague, theologian Sallie McFague likes to say, “The glory of God is the whole of creation fully alive.”