Given the ecological challenges now facing humanity, how should we be redefining our relationship to ourselves and to our planet? That is the question beginning to haunt us.
Jesus gives us an answer in the Gospel of Thomas found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945.
During his time ecology (the relationship between organisms and their environment) was not a part of the thought process. God was up there, an imperfect earth and all on it was down here. It was not always like that. Before his time in the Late Pleistocene it was different. We can see this in the earlier form of thought in cave paintings such as those at Lascaux in southern France; also in the nature veneration and worship of the American indigenous peoples. The changeover began about 6000 BCE at the start of the Bronze Iron Agricultural Age. With that change, the earth and God became separate. We became separate. By the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the earlier understanding had been abrogated.
Most of those today with Abrahamic “God Belief” live under this same abrogative presumption. Most others on our planet also see themselves as being “separate” from any form of pre 6000 BCE cosmic multi dimensionality.
Many Progressive Christians consider the exclusion of the Gospel of Thomas from the Canon of the fourth century church to have been a grave mistake. That gospel gives insight into a different way humans are to think of The Kingdom of God, the earth as well as the meaning of Jesus himself. Here are five sayings from that Gospel dealing with this.
(3) The Kingdom is in inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize who you are.
(17) I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind.
(51) What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it.
(77) I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.
(113) His disciples said to him; When will the kingdom come? Jesus replied; it will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, look, here or Look, there! Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.
In these we find a hint of the Late Pleistocene; an understanding of our relationship to the physical world that is missing from established Orthodoxy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Also, being challenged is current a-theistic post Enlightenment reductive thought. In total; we can say that our entire current mind-frame is being challenged. Jesus is telling us that The Kingdom of God is inside of us and outside of us. He is telling us that The Kingdom of God has already come. (Not later by way of Apocalypse) To further contrast the materiality of perspective then as well as today, he says Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.
One of the canonical gospels that led the early church away from this thought process was the Gospel of John. John tells us that to save ourselves all we have to do is to believe in Jesus as our personal savior. That understanding has been the bedrock of Christian orthodoxy through the ages.
The contrarian Gospel of Thomas introduces what is called Gnosis. (Knowing oneself) It tells us that we save ourselves not by “by believing in Jesus” but by going through an inner search.
Many scholars say the reason the Gospel of Thomas was excluded in the fourth century from the Canon by the Bishops and declared heretical is that it substituted Gnosis for declaration of faith. If one could find salvation simply by “belief,” the process is simplified. The rigors of inner gnostic search become unnecessary. It should be noted though that the idea of inner search nevertheless continued to hold through church history ‑ until the thirteenth century when Pope Innocent III (1160 or 1161 – 1216) said it was (Catharism as then called) a moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Church. He launched a bloody extermination of those who practiced it and it came to an end.
The following quotation from Elaine Pagels’ book; Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas supports this Johannine conflict.
“I was amazed when I went back to the Gospel of John after reading Thomas, for Thomas and John clearly draw upon similar language and images, and both, apparently, begin with similar secret teaching. But John takes this teaching to mean something so different that I wondered whether John could have written his Gospel to refute what Thomas teaches…. I was finally convinced that this is what happened.”
The Gospel of Thomas takes on enormous importance as we try to understand our relationship to this planet and the cosmos. It speaks to life and non-life, the material and the non-material. It has application for the serious ecological problems facing us today.
As we sort through all of this, we must remember that the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas were originally set in writing shortly after the death of Jesus; also that they were likely originally in Aramaic, then in Coptic and then in the 20th century translated into English. So the phraseology was specific to the early first century period. Suffice it to say; those expressions such as The Kingdom of God in our modern age would have a broadened meaning such as; “cosmic dimension,” “other dimension,” “divine intelligence,” “implicate order” and “creative power.”
The words of Jesus were first century words having a value that spoke to those around him at that time and in that era, and can only speak to us today when expanded into our own vocabulary. This is of utmost importance in giving modern definition to the Gospel of Thomas. When he says that The Kingdom is in inside of you, and it is outside of you he is telling us today that our minds and our bodies, as well as the physical world surrounding them are a part of an all-encompassing cosmic dimension.
There are profound ecological implications here for humanity. Clearly we as humans today have not entered this state of understanding, or very few of us have.
An important condition to this understanding needs be noted: Jesus said that for some it will be painful. We see this in the following three sayings:
(2) When he finds, he will become troubled.
(58) Blessed is the man who has suffered and has found life.
(69) Blessed are they who have been persecuted within themselves. It is they who have truly come to know the father.
To begin to understand the significance of the Nag Hammadi discovery and its Gospel of Thomas as a way to approach our ecological problems in the twenty-first century we must understand the meaning of Jesus’ call for inner struggle. When Jesus said: When he finds, he will become troubled, he was referring to the abandonment of false gods worshiped, i.e., materialism, power, one’s ego, etc., gods that remove a person from the experience of being at one with the dimension to which Jesus refers as The Kingdom of God.
The words when he finds refers to finding The Kingdom of God not in some distant place in the sky, but within ourselves and all that is around us. It should be noted that this same search is often found in some of the mystical eastern religions as well as in some forms of ascetic Abrahamic belief. The individual is transported into an inner/outer dimension. The earthly physical “self” is abandoned as is the materiality of the earth.
Jesus makes it very clear that for many it will not be easy to become at one with this Kingdom of God … spread out upon the earth…. He says: Blessed is the man who has suffered and has found life and Blessed are they who have been persecuted within themselves.
Jesus was asking us to join in and be a part of another dimensionality. Given the materialistic and hedonistic society in which we live, it becomes obvious, as it was at the time of Jesus, that the pain for many will be harsh. So Jesus uses the words: When he finds, he will become troubled.
These words do not sit well in our modern 21st century secular society. The very idea of becoming troubled brings discomfiture. We see this in the response among many now being made aware of needed lifestyle changes in order to avert ecological disaster. Any form of material change in their lives that would force them to face recognition of ecological planetary reality is avoided.
An unforgiving planet, however, is demanding that we come face to face with this he will become troubled admonition of Jesus. Can you and I change? Can human society change? How? Again, we return to the Gospel of Thomas. Jesus is telling us that we cannot find The Kingdom of God until we have cast aside everything in this world that is taking us away from the “other dimensional” purpose of our lives as he is defining it. He is saying only then can we experience The Kingdom of God … spread out upon the earth.
I now ask you to take a huge visual leap; to imagine yourself as having turned away from those self-generated destructive forces that are destroying our planet. Imagine that a critical mass of the public has also turned with you. World political power has entered into agreement of a new societal paradigm. All of humanity has gone through an inner search and experienced the pain associated with that search. People have turned their backs on the false Gods of consumerism, egoism, greed and avarice that were distracting them. The world human population has been reduced to an earth sustainable population number enabling it to live in perfect union with The Kingdom of God … spread out upon the earth. The air is pure. The oceans are pure. Species extinction has been arrested. Human evolution into higher and higher forms is taking its course. In the words of Jesus to Thomas, we have found what is inside of us and what is outside of us. Suddenly human society has come to realize; we spent thousands of years looking for The Kingdom of God up in the heavens and it was not there at all. It was all along as Jesus told us inside of you, and it is outside of you. All Abrahamic ascension myths come to their end. “Heaven” and “Paradise” are no longer up in the sky. God is no longer “up there.” Armageddon turns out to be no more than the result of Freudian self-destructive psychosis. The meaning of the words “Holy Spirit” as Jesus originally defined them begins to make sense. We are at one here on Planet Earth with the eternal and the eternal is at one with us.
Can humanity live in consonance with this “Nature,” this planet earth as Jesus described it? Can the above scenario come to pass? Not without greater acceptance as to Jesus’ way to achieve it. Many would prefer to place the blame on a cosmic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Others are too hedonistic to care. Others are just too stupid to understand. Others are – and understandably so ‑ too desperate to be concerned.
Jesus identified the problem. We need to be troubled. And we had better start soon. A 2012 World Bank report stated that without quick action to curb CO2 emissions, global warming is likely to add 4 degrees Centigrade (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit) during the 21st century which is dangerously close to the temperature that initiated the Permian-Triassic extinction event 252 million years ago when 96% of all marine species and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrates were wiped out. The report pointed out that the cause of the warming will be an accelerated increase in the emission of Methane Hydrates from the Arctic.
Is this our end? Again to quote from the Gospel of Thomas.
(70) That which you have will save you if you bring it forth from yourselves. That which you do not have within you will kill you if you do not have it within you.