I've recently been reading "Virtue Reborn" by Tom Wright, which talks quite a bit about humanity's twin calling to be "rulers" and "priests". This starts in the garden of Eden, but is messed up when Adam rebels against God. The baton is then handed on to Israel, with whom God has a special relationship in the Old Testament, then taken on and fulfilled by Jesus - our great High Priest who is also the Messiah who comes to rule over God's new Kingdom. Finally, in the New Testament, Christ's followers are commissioned as a "royal priesthood" and in Revelation we are told that ultimately they will "reign on the earth".
Zizioulas has helped deepen my understanding of the "priestly" side of our calling, specifically with regard to creation. Here is my attempt to summarise the main points that stood out to me, intermingled with some thoughts from Tom Wright, as well as a few observations of my own:
- Humans are part of creation. Contemporary scientific theory says we evolved from apes. Genesis 2 says we were made "from the dust of the ground". To my mind these are 2 different ways of saying the same thing (although I think the evolution "metaphor" actually says it better) - we are an indivisible part of the natural world.
- In some way nevertheless, humans seem to transcend nature. In particular we have:
- Rationality - the capacity to understand and make sense of our environment, to create order and to construct meaning.
- Creativity - the desire and ability to create new "realities" by reflecting and refashioning what is there, but in our own unique style.
- Just as we are mortal, so also the world is finite - one day, like us, it is going to die (and at the moment, we seem to be speeding up the process!).
- The Bible however, holds out the hope of resurrection - a re-embodied life after death - for us (through Jesus) and also for creation (see Romans 8:19-21, 2 Peter 3:13).
- The only way creation can attain immortality is by being united with its creator - the immortal God (this is what Revelation 21 is all about).
- Humans are in a unique position to bring about this unity - as part of creation we represent it before God (in the same way that the Old Testament priests represented Israel before God in the Temple), but because of our transcendent nature (or because, as it says in Genesis, we are made in God's image) we are able to reach out to God in a way that the rest of creation can't.
- Human beings are therefore tasked with a dual role:
- To reign over creation - to reflect God to it by our wise stewardship (this is part of what being in God's image is all about).
- To act as priests - intermediaries between God and creation - thus bringing creation into full relationship with God and enabling it to fulfil its destiny.
- We have messed up this calling, by trying to be like God ourselves (this was the temptation offered by the serpent when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit). Because of this we try to lord it over creation, imagining ourselves to be its masters, instead of ruling it wisely for its own benefit and on God's behalf.
- Consequently, creation is cut off from God and doomed to decay and destruction. Also though, we cut ourselves off from creation, as we imagine ourselves to be like God - separate and independent masters of it, instead of dependent on it for our very being.
- God saved the day by sending Jesus, who "undid" mankind's rebellion through His obedient, self-sacrificial death on the cross and consequently became the first man to be resurrected to eternal life. Through His sacrifice, it is now possible for us and God - and ultimately creation and God - to be fully reconciled.
To me, this seems to have massive implications. Here are a few that spring to mind:
- First of all, part of the fairly recent appeal of New Age and Pagan spirituality is its' sense of connectedness with the earth. Many people see this as a powerful antidote to the sense of estrangement they feel from the natural world, especially since the Industrial Revolution. Traditional Christianity seems to have had little to offer in this respect, but the perspective above addresses this quite powerfully.
- Christians usually seem to assume that God's salvation plan is just about human beings. Yes, we should look after creation, because God made it and He asked us to, but it isn't really a central part of our faith. The above perspective puts things the other way around though - God's plan was to save the whole of creation and He made us as part of His plan to achieve that! Yes, He could have left us out of the equation, but He wanted a creation He could relate to and which would willingly submit to His loving rule. Creation can't do this without us - we are its representatives and only we have the capacity to enter into willing relationship with God.
- Our pursuit of technology shows a constant desire to transcend nature and break away from its constraints. Creativity and innovation are part of our God-given nature, but we tend to do this recklessly and destructively, forgetting that we are part of the natural world and dependent on it for everything we do. This comes from our desire to be like God and an unwillingness to accept our "creature" status.
- To care for the world is to fulfil our calling - or at least a fairly central part of it. It isn't just a side-line - it's preparation for, and an anticipation of, our future destiny! We are part of creation and in relationship with it. God's plan isn't to rescue us from it one day, it's to save the whole of creation and us with it, and to bring heaven and earth - us and Himself - together in perfect unity!