Thursday, November 27, 2008

Not Dominion But Rebellion -– and Restoration

I introduced Oikonomia to the blogsphere to promote reflection upon the nature of human responsibility to exercise dominion over the Earth and to exercise stewardship of the material resources, time, and talents we have received from our Creator.

We began by exalting YAHWEH as the “Greatest Subject” (August 1, 2008) for He is the King of all creation. Yet, surprisingly, the “Greatest Subject” chose to “subject” all of creation to the dominion of humankind as noted in our August 11 entry. God invited mankind to exercise dominion and thus be living examples of how God would rule over creation. We quoted Psalm 8 in this blog entry which calls us to contemplate the wondrous fact that the God of heaven would elevate humankind to the position of exercising dominion over His glorious creation:

What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet Psalm 8:4-6

In the August 29 and September 19 entries, we considered the importance of recognizing categories as one of the basic principles of biblical dominion – i.e. “Dominion 101.” Sadly, humankind failed the course when Adam and Eve failed to follow God’s command not to take and eat from one category among the trees of the Garden of Eden – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3). Suddenly aware of their nakedness and seeking to hide from the One with Whom they had walked and talked in the Garden, they sought to hide by camouflaging themselves with coverings of plant leaves.

Since mankind’s original “fall” in the Garden, there has been the “confusion of categories.” When we are out of fellowship with God, our view of God is diminished as stated in Romans 1:21 – they did not honor Him as God or give thanks. And often, our view of ourselves may be exalted in pride – professing to be wise they became fools (Rom 1:22) . Together, these sins tend to blur the distinctions between God and mankind; and between mankind and the other creatures. This is the “confusion of categories” that is actually promoted by pantheism (see entries for Aug. 29 and Sept. 19). In the Sept. 19 entry, we noted that proper exercise of dominion “requires that humans be humans, taking responsibility for dominion as God intended it– being image-bearers of the Almighty God and Glorious King of all creation.” We asked how this can be accomplished. The answer in part is that we must begin in humility and confession of sin. Then seek God’s wisdom and provision to be the servant kings He wants us to be:

Prayer: Lord, I can relate to Adam and Eve’s alienation from You through my own sin. Immediately, I see myself as defiled and degraded and not as one crowned with glory and majesty who can rule over the works of Your hands. Forgive me for rationalizing my own sin, sometimes blaming You, my Creator; sometimes blaming others, or looking for reasons to accuse them or find fault in them. Instead, help me own up to my own sin, for I have sinned against You. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7). Then, You will delight in righteous sacrifices (v. 19a) on this glorious Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dominion 101 - Spheres of Responsibility

As the United States national election approaches, it is appropriate to share some thoughts on how the “dominion mandate” of Genesis 1 involves human responsibility in the context of societal structures that God has ordained on planet Earth. Christians are called to be salt and light in each of three spheres of responsibility (family, church, and government) that God has ordained to preserve the life of all creatures on Earth. Dominion as seen in this context is an outworking of the obedient submission to God with the result that family, church, government, and ultimately God’s creation can flourish (see Romans 13).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis for his uncompromising stand as a Christian pastor, wrote much about human responsibility in these three spheres. Consider the following excerpt from the "Religion and Ethics" website*

"Bonhoeffer may be our contemporary after all, but in a rather different way than some have proposed. He saw, behind the specifics of the Nazi threat, a more general problem in modern life with which we live, too. Defeating the Nazis didn't solve the problem. Defeating the Soviets didn't either.

Bonhoeffer's response to the question of how we are to avoid this slide into the abyss has little to do with creating a church that will simply be a refuge from the world around us. It's much more a matter of addressing the world in each of the essential structures God has provided for the preservation of human life. This is an idea that goes back to Luther – the three "orders" of church, government, and family. Later theologians expanded the list and called them "orders of creation." Bonhoeffer preferred "orders of preservation" in his early theological lectures. In the ETHICS he calls them the "Divine Mandates." They are the specific places where we are able to hear the command of God. In ETHICS his list varies some, but he includes church, family, work, and government, sometimes culture, sometimes maybe even friendship.

Those trained in Catholic moral theology will hear in Bonhoeffer's language about mandates an echo -- sometimes a rather faint echo, to be sure -- of the natural law idea missing from historic German Protestantism. His Protestant colleagues who heard the echo weren't sure at all that it was a good idea, but Bonhoeffer realized that you can't get along without some version of it. Responsible action means being responsible in those specific places where life is shaped for the whole society. You can't just be responsible by yourself, and you can't be responsible just by being the church. As Bonhoeffer said when he was a leader in the Confessing Church, "Let the church be the church." But in the ETHICS he sees that we have to add, "But let family, government, and work be themselves, too."

As a parishioner it is my role to be a testimony of the Word of God to my fellow parishioners and to support the ministry of the church through prayer and acts of encouragement and service. But it is also my role to be politically informed and to vote in support of candidates that uphold biblical principles (sanctity of life, protection of the sanctity of marriage, exercise of individual freedom and industry, etc.). It follows that, in this 2008 election, we are about to choose between two imperfect candidates– yet, only one presidential candidate stands for the above principles of sanctity of life and the institution of biblical marriage and family. In sharp contrast, the other candidate has stated the following in the Illinois senate: [If we make it illegal to save babies who survive botched abortions,] "We're saying they are persons entitled to the kinds of protections provided to a child, a 9-month child delivered to term. I mean, it would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child."**

Of late, the 2008 campaign has been mostly about “the economy.” May this time of decision be a time of deeper contemplation upon the ethical values that are the essential, biblical foundation of our society. These values such as the sanctity of human life and the sacredness of all of creation are essential for the continuance of human life and its flourishing. We demonstrate the importance of these values as we exercise dominion within the “economies” God has ordained– family, church, government, and ultimately the “Economy” God sustains in partnership with our dominion over planet Earth.

* Bonhoeffer for the Twenty-first Century an essay by Robin W. Lovin, Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University.
**Illinois Federation for Right to Life News