A few years ago, our Christmas holidays were spent enjoying the BBC’s wildly popular nature series, Planet Earth. These films are quite simply a magnificent window into life on our planet. They are spectacularly shot, well narrated, and offer some truly rare glimpses into the lives of animals and their environments.
One thing that strikes me, however, whenever I watch Planet Earth is the limited nature of life on earth for non-human species. Despite the overwhelming beauty and marvelous abilities of, say, the snow leopard, the wild bactrian camel, or the hammerhead shark, their entire lives seem to be comprised of a struggle to accomplish two tasks: securing food and mating.
These creatures’ entire existence seems to be dictated to them in advance. There are no “new” options open to, for example, the Walia ibex whose lives consist of struggling for food in the African mountains, avoiding predators, and mating. The beauty of the wildlife portrayed in Planet Earth was sometimes, at least for me, tempered by the harsh and unforgiving nature of the lives of so many of these creatures.
Perhaps bare survival is enough for non-human species. It seems doubtful that too many of these animals spend their wandering days ruminating upon the limited options available to them, or lamenting the biological “determinedness” of their lives.
On one level, of course, our lives are not much different from the animals seen in Planet Earth. Our days are spent securing the resources necessary for survival, and we, too, have an instinct for passing our genes on to the next generation. Just like the animals, our bodies will wear down and, eventually, cease functioning. In many ways we are no different from the wonderful variety of species we share this planet with.
But we are also gloriously different. We have the ability to introduce novelty to the cosmos—to create, to imagine and work toward better futures for ourselves and those who will follow us. Our decisions and actions, individually and collectively, can make a qualitative difference in and for this planet. The New Year’s resolution may be among the most hopeless and poorly grounded of gestures, but the fact remains that we can make changes; we can decide to live better, more human and humane lives. We can do our part to improve the quality of our relationships, we can become more responsible stewards of the time and the gifts that God has given us, we can venture out and take risks, explore previously untried opportunities.
In all of these endeavors failure is, of course, a real possibility but this does not detract from the uniquely human potential for newness. Human beings, like no other creatures on the planet, have a unique God-given ability to freely decide to contribute (or not) to the flourishing of all that God has made.
And this ability, Christians believe, can be even expanded when we come to see Jesus Christ, God Incarnate who, in the ultimate expression of new possibilities, entered the human condition, began its transformation, and promises to continue to “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). From a Christian perspective, “Happy New Year” can and ought to be more than a hollow wish for a vaguely benign next 365 days; it can be a profound expression of hope and trust in the God who creates, recreates, and allows those who bear his image to participate in the newness.
I really like this quote: “From a Christian perspective, “Happy New Year” can and ought to be more than a hollow wish for a vaguely benign next 365 days; it can be a profound expression of hope and trust in the God who creates, recreates, and allows those who bear his image to participate in the newness.”
A thought I had while reading and often have is that we humans really can’t do anything good apart from our creator – that is in our will. In that way creation bares witness against us as it’s often more in tune with God than we are. In other words it works and even our bodies work marvelously, when we seem not to work. I know this brings in questions of sovereignty, free-will and etc., but as a youth worker I’ve used the illustration that if God were to leave this room, all good would be gone, and I’d be at your throat. They always give me a funny look when I say that. Any thoughts? http://www.philip-bloggled.blogspot.com
I agree—all of the goodness we participate in is enabled by our Creator and an expression of being made in our Creator’s image. I think this is true even for those who do not acknowledge or even explicitly reject God. Even if God were to leave the room! Unless God were to “uncreate us,” I think his mark on us remains. We cannot completely shake what we were made for, no matter how hard we might try.
I definitely believe it’s true for unbelievers as well. I wonder though, and now I think I’m just theorizing, whether God’s absence would be an “uncreation” of sorts. It seems to be backed up by references of God’s sovereignty over creation, “holding all things together by His power”, etc. etc. I’ve always wondered if being created in God’s image would be me more accurately portrayed as a highly relational reality, based on God’s constant sustaining. God breathed his breath into Adam, but if God were to leave, what would become of Adam? Any thoughts?
Yes, I think the image of God is unquestionably a relational reality and that God is constantly upholding and sustaining his creation. If God were to “leave”—whether on the cosmic or individual level—we would be no more. In the meantime, while the drama of God’s story plays out, God preserves and sustains all that is. Maybe what I’m referring to is nothing more than the distinction between general and specific providence.
Absolutely, that’s where I felt you were going. And I think there is a distinction there, otherwise I’d get into theological murky waters that couldn’t be backed up with scripture. It’s fun to think about how comprehensive his general providence is, and it’s a very helpful starting point for spiritual conversations. Also that’s why I really enjoyed your article. Keep up the good stuff.
I just re-read it for fun, and have this question: Can we really do all those things you claim? “Introduce novelty into the cosmos.” Apart from God, I don’t believe we ever can. That’s why I think even the non-believing artist in creating something beautiful, is tapping into something outside himself, or something given, not something innately human (defining human as a separate entity – though I believe true humanness is found in connectivity to Creator). Western thinking that places too much value on autonomy has fuddled my thinking and often scrambled my theology :).
Yes, I think so. I think this is part of what the command in Genesis to “be fruitful” entails. Go out and be creative, productive, inventive. Of course, we don’t do this “apart from God” because our very ability to participate in these things is given to us by God, as you say with your reference to the artists “tapping into something outside himself.” Our creativity is parasitic on the Creator in whose image we are made.
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