There is a group of about 15 people from amongst us that has been meeting for a few weeks to explore what might comprise a faith for today able to sustain us and empower us in the face of the issues and context of our time in history. From the conversations, it clearly means, letting go of most of the doctrinal statements that have comprised a ‘right faith’ until fairly recently. We are giving consideration to what we might put in their place. Our work together is provocative and serious theological work that is unsettling for many of us. It’s hard to let go notions, words, images, and metaphors that we have held since childhood: God the Father who will forgive us and judge 'others'; who will reward our efforts and respond to our prayers; the Son of God who died on the cross to save us; the angels who watch over us…
Over the last few weeks we have been considering our theology and faith in the light of the current climate crisis. This crisis now shapes our time in history and our theology and our faith must speak to it and offer us the resilience to face it. So we must ask,
“Who are we humans, and who now is God?”
We haven’t found the definitive answer yet!
But the questions must be asked.
In one first testament story, found in the book of Exodus (3:14) from about the 15th C BCE, Moses asks God what his name is so he will know what to tell those who ask. God's reply is translated as ‘I am who I am’ though these days it is thought ‘I will be who I will be’ is more accurate. The latter shifts the idea of God from a finished being, to an unfinished becoming; to a god always in process of becoming in response to the needs of the people and the times whether that be from swarming locusts or plagues, droughts or floods, war or famine.
So again we ask “who are we humans?” and “who now is God”?
We know we are consumers of the resources of the earth. We are the biggest consumers. We inherited a theology that set us on that path long ago along with stories that gave us dominion over all the earth and its creatures. We assumed all the resources of Earth were for our use and benefit (those of us from the religious tradition that became known as Christian that is). We humans produce nothing – we contribute nothing of substance to the wellbeing of the earth’s life-sustaining cycle until we die and decompose. Apart from that we fool ourselves with notions of creativity and our capacity to produce thing, but in reality we translate, transform or transmute the resources of the earth from one substance or thing to another by application our amazing imagination. Everything we use is sourced from the substance of Planet Earth; from the plants that convert carbon and minerals into food, from the rocks and soil, from sand and water, from the metals and carbons under the earth. Even our very selves, in all our amazing complexity, are made from the substances of earth: humans from the humus. As Sally McFague says in her book A New Climate for Theology, “we are born of the earth and the earth will be our tomb”. We are of the earth – we belong to the land as the Maori wisdom suggests – it does not belong to us.
Paul declared to the people of Corinth who were struggling from their different experiences, to understand who this God of his could be (Acts 17:28) “in whom we live and move and have our being”. Many notable theologians have pondered this image of God, “in whom we live and move and have our being”
What could that point us toward?
Who are we and who now is God?
We are of the earth and not separate from it, we are not different in substance and are totally dependent on it for our living. So what of God – of the earth too? Do we live and move in God as fish move in the sea?
What can we expect of God then, or of ourselves, in the face of the climate crisis? There is little doubt we humans have created the crisis and continue to exacerbate it with the carbon emissions we are still pumping into the atmosphere. The earth can no longer clean up our mess at a fast enough rate to ensure our wellbeing. Eventually acid rain will makes it impact; droughts and floods affect food supplies; air pollutants (including pollen) will affect our breathing. All these things we are seeing and experiencing already.
So who are we humans, and who now is God?
There is a thread in our Christian story that differs from the dominant 'dominion over' story with its location of humans as the pinnacle of God's creation and the suggestion, (that we have wholeheartedly embraced), that the world and all that is in it was made for us. The other thread suggests living well together, respecting and caring for each other and the earth. We are not too keen on this alternative thread because it goes against the grain of all we have been told for the past 400 or so years culminating in post-war consumerism: that Iam important and I deserve all Ican get. This individualistic ideology, and concomitant psychology, as worked to separate us from each other and to put boundaries around ourselves and our possessions. We have divided up the earth and set boundaries around bits of it for the individual possession of those who have the money to buy it, or the means to patrol the borders. As nations we are even setting boundary markers in the oceans and claiming it for our possession. We have turned the generous earth into commodities to produce profit for our individual-selves instead of food and commodities for the wellbeing of communities. The thread of our story we must reclaim is, that we are mutually dependent on each other and with the earth; that the struggle for justice includes justice for the earth; that it is in God that we all live and move and have our being. To this end our endeavours demand we stop privatizing and start 'commoning' to use a phrase I heard at a lecture last week. The protesters at Ihuāmatao are an example close to home offering us this wisdom. Our imaginations must turn from how we accrue private wealth to how we can share common wealth.
This is possible, if we give deep consideration to the questions who we are and who now is God?
Theology's cause is to help us shape meaning, value and purpose; to shape the questions and ideas that will guide us to living well together and help us understand who we are and a little more about God. The wisdom of our Christian heritage offers us a way of looking at all this. It offers us a lens through which to look when searching for how we can live well together. The Jesus story suggests the lens should focus on all humanity living well together in harmony with the earth, and not only a rich few or the nations with the most powerful military force able to dominate others and able to secure borders. Perhaps one of our key contributions to today's climate crisis is to actively promote this other vision of a world in which we all share life in a sustainable earth. It will mean some of us will have to consume less; it will mean knowing ourselves as part of the whole, it will perhaps mean knowing God as the matrix of all that is and in which we live and love and have our being.
When preaching, the common wisdom is never to give the last word to someone else, keep it for yourself.
But this morning I want to give my last word to a powerful prophet. Not a familiar prophet from our, but a prophet from our future – Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish climate crisis activist. To paraphrase what she said when addressing the UN leaders at an assembly on climate, "I don't care about offending people or being politically correct, I only care about the survival of the earth's capacity to sustain life for future generations."
I'm not worried about doctrinal correctness, but rather the wellbeing of planet earth and all who inhabit the earth – human and non-human – that we might all live well.
So let us ask ourselves who are we humans and who now is God?
Bouma-Prediger Steven. The Greeing of Theology. Atlanta, Georgia, ScholarsPress. 1995.
McFague Sallie. A New Climate for Theology. Minneapolis, Fortress Press. 2008.
Noah Harari Yuval. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. London, Jonathan Cape. 2018.