Friday, January 8, 2016

The world is for human persons

Today being the eighth day of the year, it is time for a meditation on the eighth psalm, which addresses the majesty of God's creation and especially the human person's special place within it. The psalm begins with an expression of wonder at the grandeur of God's creation:

O Lord, our Sovereign,
  how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The wondrous qualities of the created order speak to the majesty and greatness of God, its Creator. If we can be so amazed and marvel at the mysterious of existence in our world, how much more, then, ought we to marvel at the Intelligence that brought everything into existence! Indeed, Dumitru Stăniloae argues in Teologia Dogmatică Ortodoxă, vol. 1, that the rationality and intelligibility of the cosmos speaks to its origin in an Infinite Intelligence which brings it into existence.

The world has been created intelligible, so that it can be known and understood. On the other hand, this intelligibility of the world would be itself meaningless unless there were a creature capable of understanding it and coming to know it -- which is humanity. As Stăniloae argues, this (as well as other facts) demonstrate that the world has been created for the sake of humanity. The psalmist agrees with this judgment:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

It is the majesty of God, echoed in the magnificence of his created order, that makes humanity's special position so impressive. The human person is just a little bit lower than God himself -- humanity is made in the image and likeness of God, after all, a distinction no other creature can claim -- and has dominion and rule over everything else. Stăniloae describes it thus: the world was created for the human creature, and not the other way around; the world, consequently, has to be humanized, appropriated to human purposes, rather than the human person being assimilated into the world.

Is the humanization of the world a bad thing? Not per se: after all, human beings are created to care for the earth, not to suck it dry. Stăniloae notes that the human person, being a part of the world, cannot exist apart from it. The human person needs the world in order to exist herself. This means that we cannot simply destroy the earth, depleting it of its resources. That is not the purpose or goal of God's creating us or giving us dominion over the earth. Rather, our rule over the earth ought to demonstrate and manifest that same benevolence and goodness which God himself showed in the creation -- making everything in its proper place, seeing that everything is good, and commanding only that living creatures go forth, multiply, and flourish.

The earth was made for human creatures, but the human creature cannot exist apart from the earth. Consequently, we have to take care of it. The worries about climate change and pollution are hardly the hobby horses of "libruls" whose concerns and commitments are misguided or misdirected. Rather it is grounded in the fact that God has created the human person to have dominion over the world. This dominion is not a foolish and abusive one, as all the poor kings of Israel reigned in their time, but one that imitates the benevolent, caring, humble reign of God and Christ: a reign that is willing to sacrifice itself out of concern for the good of its subjects.

Only if human beings care for the earth and actualize this potential for humanization in a good way can the psalmist really say: O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! A scorched and destroyed and depleted earth, no longer hospitable to the humans for whom it was created, and that through their own fault, does not speak at all of God's majesty.

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