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Dominion Over Creation and Climate Change

 

Out of the mouths of babes comes either curiosity and wonder or doubt and defiance. On either extreme the truth that emerges is always a question: “Why?”

1  O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2  Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. 3  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 4  what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? 5  Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. 6  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, 7  all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8  the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9  O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

I practice Lectio Divina with the Psalms. I sat with Psalm 8 for about three weeks, for when I read it I thought, “Well this is obvious. It’s about climate change.” But nothing is obvious in the Old Testament. At the same time nothing is as black and white as the Psalms, with enemies against the psalmist and a God of favor who, though called upon and lamented, never does quite show up. Climate change is complicated. In the west, we all benefit from its causes as it creates enemies and warriors in a raging debate. Gods, whether material or spiritual, blamed or called upon, are attributed to all combatants. The very earth we inherit threatens us. Nothing in climate change, or in Psalm 8, is obvious.

God gives humans dominion over the earth and its creatures. The dictionary defines dominion: The right of absolute possession and use; ownership.

What form does this ownership take? As a gift to humans of which they should be mindful, as God is mindful of us? Or as a total possession for which we, a little lower than God, can do with as we see fit? And what of the bulwark to silence the enemy? The bulwark that springs from the mouths of babes? If God has given us dominion over the work of His fingers and we are a little lower than God, is it our calling to pass these works intact to the babes who come after us? If not, in what shape shall we pass them?

We see these babes, our children, as a little lower than us, ever fractionally lower than God, until the gift of the work of God’s fingers, our dominion, is only ours, no longer held in common, manipulated and worked upon as we see fit. We take what is left of our children’s future until the bulwark against our enemies bursts. Out of the mouths of babes springs only one word. “Why?”

To every challenge of “why?” our science can ascertain a response, and our humanities, no matter how hard they try, must honestly reply, “I don’t know.” Regardless of the answer put forward that answer must end with “but…” For we are slightly lower than God, and if our science and our humanities can imply that what we know of God, or even what God has told us, is wrong, then what of us? For the question “why?” followed by the answer, “this, but…” is the true act of creation. In this creation, in this inquisition, we find truth. Over this creation we have dominion, until we pass it along to our children who set foot upon it, as we did, and ask once again, “why?”

God is always questioned, disproved, re-asserted. In his image shouldn’t we be the same? For like God we live a myth, in creation, ever-changing, defined by technology, buffeted by consequences.

Out of the mouths of babes comes either curiosity and wonder or doubt and defiance. On either extreme the truth that emerges is always a question: “Why?” Our answers shape the world and shape the children. The Psalm states that humans have dominion over the earth and all that lives upon it and in its seas. But which humans? We of unquestioned lives and success point to material wealth and health for all unequalled in human history, and to human rights generations past would have dared not dream. For this the climate changes.

We have shaped the world over which we have dominion. We have changed it. It is better, perhaps. Perhaps not, for the climate is changing and the material wealth, health and human rights of so many may be at risk due to the same changes that improved them, once, so much. Climate change, like faith in God, is an issue so complicated and full of contradictions that most people just give up. We are a little lower than God. We must look up and push on into a future full of the promise of creation, or who knows who will answer, “this, but…” to the “why?” posed by generations to which we give birth, and from whom we mortgage dominion.

We who have inherited the work of God’s hands, for it is not given to the meek in scripture until God Himself changes, relinquish it reluctantly and persist. We grasp. We promise. The ideas and activities that trapped us in a world we handle carelessly will surely free us from that same world. Entrepreneurs will create the solutions to the havoc wrought by their forebearers. The same impulse, the curiosity and wonder, the doubt and defiance, that got us into this mess will get us out of it. But we are a little lower than God and have built a world that does not reward, nor even encourage, the long game.

Our time is short, our solutions mid-term at best, and our gift to the babes we birth is the deferment of the question “why?” The psalmist repeatedly asks this of God, and even God has no answer to evade the fact that we suffer. And suffering is our creation.

Though to emerge from the cage of inevitable doubt we must find community, we each suffer alone. Some of us cry out to God for guidance and comfort, others for miracles and proof. But a little lower than God, we each create suffering for ourselves as well as for those who cry out to us, a cry that requires us to take responsibility for the good and the bad we leave. We are a little lower than God, and even of that we are barely capable. Like Peter, denial is our legacy, and oh, how we spread the Word. The only solution is to relinquish dominion to the babes who set the bulwark, consider them a little lower than us, ever fractionally lower than and further away from God, and rely on them to bail us out, forgive us, stand in awe of us, reject us, ask “why?”, answer, “this, but…”, and create a world of their own, blind to the consequences, set in motion, eternal everlasting but for their breath, their focus lost in reverie, their despair, our ancient truth.

We are a little lower than God, and yet we try to be so much more.

 

George Hofmann is the author of Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife, their daughter and two poorly behaved dogs where he writes a weekly commentary on the Psalms from an inquisitive, ecumenical perspective on the blog “The Psalms Meditations Project.”

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