I am currently re-reading a book by Matthew Fox entitled Original Blessing – A Primer in Creation Spirituality. The book starts with two basic questions:
- In our quest for wisdom and survival, does the human race require a new religious paradigm?
- Does the creation-centered spiritual tradition offer such a paradigm?
Matthew Fox’s answer to these questions is a yes. His premise is that Western ideologies are based upon the religious concepts that can be seen in Christianity with the emphasis on the fall and redemption exclusively. On the back of the book is a summarization by Fox:
Gandhi complained of a “Christianity without Christ.” To recover the four paths and the twenty-six themes treated in this book would be to recover a spiritual tradition that Jesus himself lived and would be at home in. It would be a basic step in living the Good News that Jesus lived and died for. It would inaugurate a truly ecumenical era in which global problems might be addressed from the wisdom of global religions and from all four states of humanity’s development. For we all share creation in common. And we share responsibility for that creation. Therefore, we are all called to re-create. And I can think of no better place to begin this re-creation than with religion itself.
To a point I do agree with Fox and his writings. The church spends way too much time on a cyclic process of the fall and then the redemption. The problem is that the church stops there and does not continue or complete the process of what it is to be a true disciple of Jesus. They are good at pointing out that humanity is responsible for its state of affairs – broken and corrupt – through self-inflicted wounds. The church is also very good at pointing out that Jesus paid the incredible price of and for redemption so that we could once again assume a position with God. That price of redemption according to the church is the perpetuation of the fall/redemption cycle of humanity being constantly and continually unworthy of any of it. The price of redemption is constantly held over your head so that you constantly owe God something in return. This negates the concept of it being a willing and free gift given without need of payback in our terms. We are constant debtors and thus never really redeemed to full participation. We never really resume our original role as co-creators entrusted to redeem the rest of creation not just humanity.
This can be seen in the theme of Romans 8 where by all the captives are set free – not just humanity but the whole of creation who has actively awaited the coming of the son of man who then empowered the sons of man to set the captives free. This is the true liberation theology. Man through his corruption made it possible for the creation to become corrupted. It is now through Jesus (the original son of man) that we (the adopted sons of man) have the ability, capability, and authority to put creation back into its original order, purpose and function. However with the current religious thought this becomes impossible because none of us can progress since we are constantly unworthy.
With this view of religion we never get to Pentecost but are stuck at the cross. We never get past it even if we celebrate the resurrection. We return quickly to the foot of the cross and dwell there having again been reminded how terrible and unworthy we are. This is not to say that we should not go through repentance but rather once we have turned away from our own death and destruction, that we become full inheritors of the kingdom. This can be seen and is demonstrated through the parable of what we call the Prodigal Son. The son is fully restored once he turns from the life of corruption. Furthermore the son believes himself to be unworthy to ever to become a full member of the household. The father will have none of this and fully restores the position of the son in spite of not being fully cleaned up. The son is whisked away to rejoin the family with a banquet in honor of his return from being corrupted. The caveat of the tale is the response of the older son who tries to put condition on the father’s love. This is what the church would have us become. There we are powerless to do anything more than to cry through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. We never get to the position of a relationship with God which was the purpose of the original position of the first of humanity.
Fox begins his discourse with a realignment of the word wisdom. In western culture wisdom has come to mean an accumulation of knowledge, the ability to understand things that most people cannot, and/or the knowledge of what is proper or reasonable. Fox however brings a different approach to the meaning of the word wisdom. He prefers a definition he attributes to the Native American tradition which means: that the people may live. This is not a new concept. If anything it goes along with the mission statement of Jesus found in John 10:10 that Jesus came so that we may have life more abundantly. This is not a meaning by which the individual merely survives but rather it fills out the meaning of life. The implications that Fox asserts are beauty, freedom of choice, giving birth, discipline and celebration. The implication is that this is not just for a particular set of individuals but for all of creation without regard to station or gender. It has to do with the love of life, loving others and the rights of others to have that same love and dignity.
The church has a tendency to dismiss the initial condition of humanity. It does so in its form of teaching especially in its handling of Genesis 1 to 2:3. They quickly gloss over the entirety of it. They miss the point of establishing what humanity was supposed to look like in relation to the rest of creation, the responsibilities that it entailed and the initial and intended relationship of God, humanity and all of creation. The church rushes to the site of the fall to bolster its worldview of a fallen and corrupt humanity who is no longer worthy of the price of redemption but who nonetheless receives it from a god set on punishing humanity even through the redemptive process.
The purpose of redemption is restorative in bringing humanity back to its original order, purpose and function as outlined in Genesis 1 through 2:3. It was the original blessing that we are to be returned to if we accept the gift. The gift was bought at a tremendous price yes but it was done out of love without consideration of extracting a tariff, charge, or repayment. It was given freely in as much as we need to accept it freely.
You cannot buy your redemption from God. God is not a televangelist asking for a donation in order to receive something in kind. It must be accepted without condition as it was given without condition. God’s love is unconditional. It is given equally. God may love the sinner and hate the sin but that does not put a price tag upon the freely given redemptive act. It would then not be a gift. It is now and will continue to be a gift. To further prove this God then gives those who accept the gift of redemption the power and authority to act as a representative of God’s unconditional love.
So why is it that the church continues in a fashion that is not concurrent with the teachings of Jesus? Because the church has lost its original concept of restorative action and empowerment of the individual in relationship and interdependency for one that primarily functions as a power structure. The church needs to return to its roots as a hospital, a teaching source and a maker of disciples who proclaim the good news.
The concept of Jesus redemptive action is taken up in Isaiah 61. It is not just the declaration of purpose where the Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus but it is a statement of liberation from affliction, captivity, and imprisonment. It is a proclamation that God has returned to full relationship taking up retribution for the offense and comforting all those who mourn the loss of that relationship. It is a restorative act of humanity and the places of the earth not only in the present moment but also for the generations to come in everlasting covenant with them.
We move further into the liberation of all things with the promise of the day of the Lord as revealed in Joel 2. The Spirit will poured out on all people and full restoration of all that has been taken and corrupted. This is the liberation of all of creation with humanity being restored as the ones who will put things back into order, purpose and function.
We are the ones to restore what we have corrupted – body, mind, and spirit – through the work, life, death and resurrection of Jesus fully empowered by God to do so by the indwelling of the Spirit in every believer. We are the ones to set the captives free which is all of creation not just humanity. Not to do so completely is to deny the original order, purpose, and function that man has been redeemed to. We cannot just stop at the cross but must move onto Pentecost because there is where we have been empowered to bring about the fullness of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.