Creation Is Our Neighborhood – Jeremiah Sassaman reflects on loving our neighbors.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary
Readings for Sunday October 30 – November 5, Year B (2018, 2021, 2024)
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
The shema in its fullest authority and the necessary addition of Christ Jesus’s proclamation of the second commandment to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” in Mark’s gospel, form the foundations of Christian faith and life. It can be said that it is these two commandments that give meaning, purpose and direction to all of humanity. These commandments ensure life, liberty and happiness. These commandments are life-giving and life-sustaining. These commandments protect, preserve and provide for the coexistence of humanity within and alongside all of creation.
The people of God have from the beginning, known God as LORD and Creator of all. For the early Israelites, God’s authority and power were evident alone in Himself. While the world is the creation of God, and within the cosmos God’s power and glory could be witnessed or experienced, there was a clear distinction between God and the creation. To avoid the pitfalls of idolatry, God, and God alone, was separate from God’s handiwork (Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, Volume 2, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967, pp. 107-109). God created all things and declared them good. As such it can easily be deduced that all things too were created in perfection. The perfection of God, witnessed in God’s creations and creatures, are thus to be equally cherished. Humanity, given lordship over all of creation (in Genesis) as the representative of God, ought then to seek to adhere to the intent of God in His creative act (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Volume 1, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1962, pp. 146-147).
Now, to be clear, these initial thoughts surround the concept of Creation before the Fall of Adam. Before sin entered the world, the relationship between humanity and the creation was untainted and without death. Humans were alongside all animals in finding their sustenance in the waters and soils of the land. Killing was completely unnecessary and unknown. Pollution and destruction were unknown. There were simply no instances where greed and gluttony would cause the abuse of fellow creatures, their habitations, or sources of life.
With the advent of the knowledge of good and evil in the human consciousness, the relationship between humankind and every other component of the created world became broken. What was, for a time, the perfection of God’s hand was weakened and entered a terminal existence. Life changed. Creation began to groan in travail. Humanity and animals alike no longer ate from the fruits of the soil alone, choosing rather to regularly dine on one another. From a scientific standpoint, we can certainly argue with this biblical account in terms of its authenticity as myth or fact. Evolutionary science directs us to a deeper understanding of the reasons why species exist as herbivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous. Yet the text itself leads us to ask the question, “Does it matter?” Does it matter if we take the text as literal or solely inspired? Or is there some concept of authority in between? I am by no means an Old Testament scholar. I am aware of the depth of biblical knowledge and interpretive possibilities; by no means a master. So, I pose these questions purely out of a sense of provoking existential thought. Can understanding our role as elements of God’s creation be simplified? Should it be? I am unsure, yet propose the following:
God is LORD alone.
God created all that has been made.
God saw that it was good.
We are part of what God has made.
We are created as lords and stewards of creation as God’s representatives.
Because God created things in perfection and declared them good, and we represent God, humanity thus ought to exert its representational authority according to God’s will and with God’s vision of creation as good.
These thoughts are by no means exhaustive or perfect, as nothing human hands and minds can devise is such. Yet in their simplicity can this line of thought be accurate? If so, humanity has a God-given responsibility to view all of creation as an affirmative witness of God’s awesome and everlasting grace and glory. Creation in its entirety, must be viewed as neighbor, not to be fenced in nor kept at arms-length but embraced and loved. Creation becomes something to commune with, not pillage. Regardless of one’s understanding of the role of humanity, it seems universal that people do not squat where they eat. Thus, pollution and destruction of earth’s non-living creation is equally repulsive to Christian life.
All of God’s creatures as our neighbors fall under Christ’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves. To fully love our neighbors and their existence, we must protect their homes as well. All of creation is our neighborhood. Dr. Kristin Largen suggests that we must see things this way first if we ever hope to love all that God has made, including ourselves as human creatures (Kristin Johnston Largen, 2017. Neighbors, Neighbor-Love, and Our Animal Neighbors,” Word and World Vol. 37 No. 1 Winter, 2017, pp. 37-47). Indeed, caring for the world around us requires a radical rediscovery of our pre-Fall relationships.
Originally written by Jeremiah Sassaman in 2018.