Thursday, July 05, 2007

Full yet? IV: God's blessing

Be fruitful and multiplyWay back in February, I outlined a new series pondering the issue of population growth. After a couple of posts, it ground to a halt in indecision. I'd like to keep picking away at it, and maybe somehow make some headway. I'm abandoning the complicated structure I initially announced and instead will procede in my more traditional manner of adding whatever next occurs to me. I make no promises about finishing the series.

Last night in Bible study we spent some time looking at Genesis 1, a passage which must be up there as one of the most commented upon pieces of text in history. Nevertheless, I had a few thoughts. I doubt any are original, but since I can't remember where I got them from, I won't footnote.

It is often noted that the first three days involve the separation of two realms (light and dark, sky and sea, land and water) and the latter three the filling of those realms (sun and moon, birds and fish, animals and humanity). Initially, God creates simply by speaking, by divine fiat: 'Let there be light'; and there was light (v. 3). But later, his words call for creativity on the part of agents already created: 'Let the earth put forth vegetation'... The earth brought forth vegetation (vv. 11-12). The creation becomes itself creative. Other actors are invited onto the stage under God's direction. God's purposes of an abundant and good world are to be realised (at least partially) through the obedience of his creatures. Indeed, by the end of the chapter, with everything 'very good' (and that by God's standards!), nonetheless, there remains a job to be done. All is not finished when God enters his rest. Humanity has been given a task, a blessed responsibility: to continue the filling and ruling that God has initiated.

Some read verse 28 as a command: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.' But the text calls it a 'blessing'; this is God's intention for us, an invitation into his good abundance. Furthermore, it is addressed to humanity, not to an individual. To take it as a command that each human must have children (and as many as possible) is, I think, to misread this passage.

It is common when reading this passage to note the various way that humanity is distinguished from the rest of creation: we are the final item in a series (in fact, God's rest is the final item); we are made in the image of God; we are given dominion. However, we are the not the first recipients of divine blessing. In verse 22, the animals* are also told be fruitful and multiply. Abundance is not just for us. We, like the animals, are dependent upon God's favour for increase and prosperity.
*Specifically, the fish (or all that lives in the waters) and the birds receive this blessing. Is there any significance to the fact that the land creatures do not receive it? Or might they somehow be included the blessing of v.28 (since they are explicitly mentioned in v. 30)?

These parallel blessings unite us with the whole community of creaturely life. We are not simply different; we share with them the good gifts of God. Indeed, the same blessing may even indicate a common project, a mutual need. Human prosperity is interdependent with that of the rest of the biosphere. We don't flourish alone. This rules out both the instrumental rationalising of 'resources' to ensure our way of life at all costs, as well as cynically viewing humanity as a disease of an otherwise healthy planet. Creation will not achieve its purposes without us; but neither will we without it.
Series so far: 0; I; II; III; IV.
Up to five points each for the different ways this image breaks continuity with the rest in this series. No more than one attempt per person.

13 comments:

Anthony said...

You forgot to put a city in this picture. Must have been the influence of Genesis 1.

btw, your links to #1 appear to need some work, here and on other posts.

Mandy said...

Sunrise rather than sunset?

And, I remember at some stage you asking about how to footnote in a blog. This might help - http://www.sagehill.net/docbookxsl/HTMLFootnotes.html

byron said...

I think I've now fixed the links. I'll award points later since I need to dash, though these are both correct.

And thanks for the link Mandy - I'll be sure to check it out.

Andrew said...

Hmmm ... one attempt per person? Are your trying to ward off the sheer glorious quantity of my earlier comments?

psychodougie said...

there's no water. likewise a comment on the influence of the (scary) waters being seperated in Gen1!

there would have to be some saturation ratio, would there not, of humans:rest of creation, in order that the fruitfulness/multiplying of one doesn't too greatly impede on the ability of others to do so?

have you read the section entitled "Stop!", in Asimov's the left hand of the electron? it's quite thought provoking in regards to this whole discussion.

Drew said...

I wonder...

Is fullness of the earth achieved, in a sense, following Babel in Gen 11. And then, in response to this fullness, God calls Abram to leave this fullness, and find it elsewhere, to fill elsewhere. That is, to seek fullness in God. At this point, we are in a theological discussion, and your idea of fullness and the trinity has implications for it, rather than in an ethico-political discussion of current populations, state of creation etc.

However, as you point out in your post, the concept of 'fruitful' is in relation to the rest of creation, and the concern for this is not nullified by creation being full - we cannot simply ignore it by saying 'oh well, it's full, what else can we do?'.

Anthony Douglas said...

Did you ever award those points? Thinking of poor Mandy, of course...

byron smith said...

You're totally correct, and as a reward for your selfless thinking, I'll give Mandy ten points to make up for it. This was the difference I had in mind when I posted it.

For some reason, I don't remember seeing any of the comments on this post, though I obviously did see the first two.

Oh, someone else also made a correct guess. I suppose I'd better give them some extra points as well. Eight points Drew!

Although it's unlikely they'll get back to read these very belated thoughts, I like what both Doug and Drew say. I haven't read the Asimov and I'd never thought of the filling having been accomplished after Babel.

byron smith said...

OK, five for Anthony too...
I thought about making you wait for them some more, but wasn't sure I'd remember (again).

I really shouldn't do what I did here (say that I'll award points later).

... ok, I'll make it eight like Drew. :-)

byron smith said...

Oops - not Drew, but Doug. Sorry.

byron smith said...

Sort of makes that earlier gag even less funny.

*sigh*

byron smith said...

Anglican Public Affairs Commission has linked overpopulation to the eighth commandment. Report in The Age.

byron smith said...

David Attenborough and Jane Goodall: overpopulation must be addressed.