All Things?

This is part five in a series looking at the question, what does it mean to be human. First, I explored the question itself and how complicated it is to ask today in our 21st Century, Western context; particularly for the church. Next, I considered an entry point back into the conversation. This week I have been looking at the criteria necessary for engaging in a theological anthropology for the 21st century. 

To be truly human is to be in submission and obedience to God, exercised in the context of community life, for the flourishing of human and non-human creation. - Cherith Fee Nordling

Yesterday I demonstrated the importance of our context to this conversation; that we are not independent creatures, but are instead a part of vast network of interconnected relationships. It follows then that a theological anthropology cannot ask what it means to be human without also asking how humans are meant to live in this interconnected context with the rest of creation. 

The third criteria for engaging in a theological anthropology of the 21st century is that it must involve both human and non-human flourishing. 

At the heart of what God is doing in the world is a relational goal: to restore creation to proper relationship with its creator. This is what I was getting at yesterday in the discussion around reconciliation. Flourishing is the outcome of that restored relationship. So, while it is the telos of all creation to flourish in right relationship with its creator, it becomes a uniquely human response to be committed to participating in that flourishing. In this way, our identity as humans becomes interwoven with our ethics. 

Human existence is intrinsically ethical existence because a right relationship with God fosters an orientation that is attuned to God’s purposes and priorities, leading to a way of living that promotes the well-being of self, others, and world. - Patrick Franklin

One of the failures of most of our conversations around what it means to be human is that we tend to view the rest of creation through an anthropologic lens. By this I mean that we tend to view humanity in an elevated and central position. David Kelsey suggests that there is little theological reflection given to the difference between stewardship and “self-interested exploitation and devastation” of non-human creatures. This again highlights the importance of starting with God rather than humans in this conversation; it moves humanity out of the centre position and allows us to think more carefully about what it means to be the Imago dei in relation to the world around us. 

The imago Dei designates the royal office or calling of human beings as God’s representatives and agents in the world, granted authorized power to share in God’s rule or administration of the earth’s resources and creatures. - Richard Middleton

There has been near unanimous agreement among biblical scholars that the image of God is referring to our role as God's appointed rulers, to carry out God's kingdom in the world. This, however does not suggest an exploitive rule; rather, humans are meant to image God’s non-violent, non-coercive rule to the rest of the world. It is generous, loving power. (see Middleton)

To be human is to participate in God’s ongoing re-creation of the whole world.

Patrick Franklin refers to us as “gardeners in God’s sacred garden.” Catherine Tanner uses the language of ministering “divine beneficence… healing, nourishing, attending to the needs of the world.” It is an ethic driven by God’s reconciliation of the entire cosmos; the conviction that all things are being made new and that we have been invited into that.

Any anthropology that places humans in the central or elevated position allows for all manner of exploitation and consumption of everything that is seen as less than or other than human. Rather, we need to begin with a good and generous God who creates out of love and sees humanity as one part of an interdependent whole. The uniqueness of the imago Dei is not to elevate in priority, but to give responsibility to humans as God's reconciling agents in the world.

As Jesus said, I am among you as one who serves. 

To be human is to serve the world in that same sort of generous, healing love that God has invited us into. It is to say yes to God's vision of all things being made new and turn from our selfish exploitation of the world we were given to care for. It means seeking reconciliation even where we have broken relationship. 

Among traditional Native Americans, restoring broken harmony is less individualistic, being more about restoring the community - less guilt ridden, not inherent, more tangibly rectifiable, and much more oriented toward restoring harmonious relationships in all of creation, rather than simply obtaining human forgiveness. - Randy Woodley


We will return to this idea tomorrow with our final criteria.