Our place in Creation


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Our place in Creation
By Bobby Neal Winters

We are a species of hairless chimpanzees living on a rock in space and protected by a thin layer of atmosphere. We have big brains with which to learn, but everything we do learn leads us to see how tenuous and fragile it all is. Something called the greenhouse effect keeps us from freezing, yet if the there is too much of a greenhouse effect would turn our rock in space into a desert.

There is a thin shell of ozone in our atmosphere that protects us from ultraviolet gases, but almost as soon as we discovered its existence, we learn that our pollution was destroying it.

Add to that the discovery that there are planet killing asteroids that are circling the sun and periodically slam into the earth causing major extinctions to the point that life has to start over almost from scratch.

Fear doesn’t seem to be an inappropriate response to any of this. We are fragile creatures and powerless to protect ourselves against any of this. We cower and quake for fear of the future because we are able to believe that we are powerful enough to destroy the world powerless to prevent its destruction.

Does anyone besides me find that to be just a bit irrational?

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I do believe we are trusted with the stewardship and care of our planet. Justification for that point of view comes from the Book of Genesis. We should treat God’s creation with respect. Recycle, don’t waste resources, don’t litter, and don’t buy one of those huge SUVs, especially not the ugly ones.

However, keep in mind that man has only been around in any form for about the last two million years. For the few billion the world was around before our species of hairless chimpanzee came on the scene, the world got along just fine. It took a few punches from the asteroids, but it bounced back. Life wants to exist.

But we do live in fear because we are alienated from Creation. If services were to break down where food could no longer be delivered to the local grocery store, most of us would simply die. We would wake up in the morning not knowing what to do as we have lost our spot in nature.

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Of the two million years that man has been around with varying degrees of hair, he’s only been recognizably like us for about 50 thousand years and he’s only been writing things down for less than a fifth of that. Since almost the very beginning, however, he’s had a sense that something was wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is captured in the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall from Eden. Something is wrong. Once things were OK between us and God, and now that is no longer the case.

Once we didn’t have to work for our food because it was just hanging from the trees and all we had to do was pull it down and eat it. This wasn’t good enough and we did something that spoiled the deal, and now we have to work to get food from an earth than only gives it to us grudgingly.

I like to read the travel writer Tim Cahill. One of his essays is about visiting a tribe that hadn’t had much contact with the outside world. They were naked but happy. They subsisted on a diet of roots that were plentiful but utterly tasteless. One of Cahill’s party shared rice with one of the tribesman who found this new dish so full of flavor that he wept with pleasure.

Soon thereafter civilization came in, and the tribe’s people began wearing t-shirts. Cahill regrets whatever part he may have played in this tribes fall from innocence.

I wonder if the author of Genesis had encountered people such as those in this tribe and extrapolated that all mankind had once lived in such an innocent state in harmony with creation. The tribesman wakes up every morning knowing what to do with his life.

Perhaps this state was Eden.

Having said that let me make clear that I am not romanticizing the lot of primitive peoples. These people have no medical care, no dental insurance, and their lives are very short. They are happy because this is the only world they know. You are born, you take a mate, you have a child, you grow old (mid-thirties), and you die, all in harmony with God’s creation.

Given this interpretation, I don’t know many of us who wouldn’t slither over to Eve and say “Take this apple.”

I don’t mean to be profane, far from it. Those of us who’ve been parents have always wondered exactly what God was thinking when he carefully pointed out the one tree he didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat from out of the thousands available. Shear probability would have protected them. If he didn’t want to rely on that, bringing the angel with the sword of fire to keep them away from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil like he did later with the Tree of Life would have done the trick.

One might speculate that God had other things in mind for us than Eden.

Regardless of this, the Christian viewpoint is that God has something better in mind for us than what we have now. The Book of Revelations says there will be a New Jerusalem where we will live again in God’s direct presence and in harmony with him. We will no longer be barred from the Tree of Life. And God will light the city, which I interpret to mean we will get up in the morning and know what to do. Just like the primitives Tim Cahill met did.

One question has to be asked. If we saw this for ourselves, up close and personal, would we want it? Would we reject it as most of us would reject the opportunity to live like savages with bad teeth that die from old age in their mid-thirties?

Maybe there is a process required for the human race to go through as a group before we recognize God’s wisdom.

That seems to be true for us as individuals as well.

(Bobby Winters is a Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. He writes a weekly newspaper column and is a Certified Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church.)<o:p></o:p>