Gaia vs. The World

Today, in the intense political aftermath of the USA inauguration, seems like a good time to blog about “The World.”

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Scripture tells us a lot about how we, as residents of the Heavenly Kingdom, relate to ‘the World.’ Particularly that we must reject it, not conform to it, and not trust it. For nonbelievers in particular, these passages seem to indicate that Christians therefore do not value the Natural World, the Earth. If that were true, this blog would have no purpose.

But of course it isn’t true. The New Testament language does not confuse one for the other, and is much more clear about the difference between World and Earth and why rejecting The World is actually essential to valuing the Earth. But, like other essential Biblical concepts (including Love), there’s a subtlety in the original language that is more easily overlooked after translation. What we often read in English language bibles as “The World” is actually several different words. Let’s start with a tour of Greek synonyms…

Gaia

Gaia is a Greek term (favored by New Age circles) that refers to the actual stuff you’re standing on. The dirt, the landscape, a country’s boundaries. Gaia is not really used in any particularly sentimental or spiritual way in the New Testament. It’s natural material. Gaia is not the stuff that Christians are taught to reject, at any point.

Aeon

When Paul teaches “Be not conformed to The World” (Romans 12:2) he is not saying anything about the Earth, but uses the word Aeon. Aeon is a time, but not seconds or hours. As in The Times, like “the times, they are a changin’.” The age we are in, the momentary trends, what’s popular and fashionable for a group of people. We say “Generation X” or “The Millennial Generation” but the Greeks might have said “Aeon X” or “Aeon Millennial.”  Aeon is ‘the world’ of culture a generation has created, the social structure of the moment. That’s why in the parable of the sower, Christ tells us that the seed choked out by the thorns represents the soul overcome by the “worries of this aeon” (Mat 13:22). Being worldly, in the sense of aeon, is tantamount to being trendy. Worldly-ness is living up to the expectations of the current aeon, instead of the expectations of God. Rejecting the aeon is not rejecting any material or natural thing– like Earth; it is only rejecting a social fashion.

Kosmos

Other biblical teachings to reject The World use a similar concept represented by the Greek word kosmos. Personally, I have a hard time hearing “cosmos” without imagining planets, stars, and asteroids, but kosmos is more general, indicating any kind of structure or order of many parts. That can be the structure/kosmos of the planets, or the structure/kosmos of society. When we speak of ‘cosmetics’ or ‘cosmopolitan,’ we mean ‘orderliness’ of beauty or city. In the New Testament, kosmos is most often used in the context of a social order that is structured in a way that is separate from God. That is why James teaches us not to be polluted by this kosmos (James 1:27), and that friendship with this kosmos is hostility toward God (4:4). Similarly Paul says the wisdom of this kosmos is foolishness (1 Corinthians 3:19).  Christ came into this kosmos,  and it is this kosmos that did not recognize Him (John 1:10). The Gospel of John tells us that God chose us out of the kosmos, and so the kosmos hates us. But what’s more, while John makes it clear that Christians are not of this kosmos (John 15:19), it is significant that we still are of the earth, the dust (Ecclesiastes 3:20).

This social kosmos is created by humans; this aeon is created by humans. As such, they are fallen orders and deeply flawed. We are meant to reject the world, not participate, not put trust this aeon’s culture or its princes and kings (Psalm 146:3), or presidents, for that matter.

Kitsi

But, on the other hand, the New Testament also teaches us about Kitsi. Kitsi is the Creation of God. It is all that He made, all inclusive–Earth and sky, fire and water, ants and trees, angels and humans, visible and invisible, mortal and immortal. We are not to reject what God has created, what God called “Good” (Genesis 1). The kitsi, and its clods of gaia, are right alongside us, praising God, anticipating His return and waiting to be freed (Romans 8:22). We do not trust in Creation, but see it and are reminded of the Creator (Romans 1:20, Psalm 146:3-6), and so Christians and Creation reach together toward God, singing His glory (Luke 19:40).

The question on many Christian’s hearts is– how do we live in the aeon but not be of the aeon? How do we vote our Christian conscience and steward our wealth in Godly ways? Those are very important questions. But my question, for this blog, is to explore how do we relate to the Kitsi? How does God bless all Creation, how do we lift it back up to Him in gratitude and communion, and how do we interact with kitsi in Godly ways?

While New Testament authors understood the difference between “The World” (aeon/kosmos) and “The Earth” (gaia/Kitsi), but we find in our modern society that human society and the natural environment are often put at political odds. How did this aeon get into such a political hubub about gaia? The political heat of gaia vs this current human society, comes down to the question of what responsibility does “the world” (aeon; governmental structures, human society, collective imagination) have toward “the earth” (gaia; this particular piece of Creation God looked at and called ‘Good’).

Some social philosophies say ‘the world’ is responsible only for worldly things—finances and economy, roads, cars, banks, and protection of individuals’ property, and that “nature” can be taken care of by green hobbyists, or else take care of itself. Environmentalists on the other hand think the current governmental order / kosmos is responsible also to steward Kitsi –natural resources, ecosystem health, thriving wild animal populations, etc., and that the government is equally responsible to protect common ecosystems as it is private property. But whatever your opinion about what level of responsibility ‘the world’ owes the Earth, the living Christian person owes the Earth the responsibility that God designated for us—to be Creation’s priest.

This will be the topic of my next blog post: exploring God’s direct command to us regarding His Kitsi. We’ll switch from Greek to Hebrew, to talk about the book of Genesis and the what and why of His command to Avad and Shamar the Earth.

In the meantime, I offer you this line from Catholic poet GK Chesterton, which gives me great comfort in times when the world (aeon) is making me crazy:

 

…’neath no world terror’s wing,

apples forget to grow on apple trees.

– G.K. Chesterton, Ecclesiastes

 

So, amid the chaos of the current political kosmos, I insist on earth-based Christian practices and prayers even more. I will do my best to love my neighbors, whether or not I like them or their politics, and while I am caught up in the kosmetic wars of this aeon all around me, I will relentlessly participate in God’s original call to humans– to Shamar the Earth. For today, I’ll be outside mulching my apple trees.

 

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Heart and Soil

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“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”… “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”      Luke 8:5-15 NIV

 

Christ gives us the very soil beneath our feet as an image of our own hearts. Next time you scrape mud off your boots, let it (as St Basil said) remind you of God and His lessons to us. Is this soil hard or soft? Rocky and dry? Fertile? Could it grow a mustard seed? Would it produce good fruit? And is your heart like it, able to grow in faith from God’s word? Continue reading

Covenant with the Earth

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As we are the priests of creation, holding the middle ground between earth and Heaven, the extent to which we fulfill our vocation has a rippling effect on the rest of nature. God has designed an ecology in which we are all creatures inextricably connected and interdependent, both biologically and spiritually. And according to our unique vocation as humans, we are the ones who administer and manage this interconnectedness, for good or evil. It is we who force creation to groan in its corruption, or give it voice in heavenly praise of God. When we sin, creation suffers. When we are reconciled to God, we take creation with us.

This can be seen from the very beginning, as the consequence for our first disobedience extends beyond ourselves: “cursed is the ground, because of you.”  (Genesis 3:17). Creation continues to be subjected to our moral consequences as time goes on. Because of human evil alone, the ground does not yield to our work (Genesis 4:12), the plants wither (Jeremiah 12:11), the sky refuses to provide rain for us (1 Kings 17), and the animals disappear (Jeremiah 12:4). “How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished.” (Jeremiah 12:4) The very nature of nature is changed, because of us.

Paul refers to the original curse from Genesis: “the whole of creation has been groaning together” (Romans 8) since Adam’s sin. Yet, there is hope because it is also waiting with “eager longing” for redemption and Christ’s return. We are the reason the whole of creation is subjected to suffering and curse, but because we are the priests of creation we are also the medium through which it can be redeemed.

Noah demonstrates our liability for both creation’s suffering and its redemption in Genesis 9. Because of man’s wickedness and corruption, God sends a flood that is indiscriminately destructive. More than just those wicked men will be drowned; many other living creatures will be swept away with them. God chooses to save Noah and his family because they are righteous, but expects that they, in turn, fulfill their vocation by taking, and saving, all the animals alongside themselves. God wishes to save all creatures from the consequences of humankind’s wickedness.  His method to do this is by way of righteous, priestly humans.

After the flood, God makes a covenant, but not just with Noah. God’s promise is to “every beast, with all the earth”.  His covenant is equally for the ants and the sheep, giraffes and slugs, as it is for humans. That demonstrates a great esteem for the creatures, that we should imitate. What’s more, we are shown that  our spiritual redemption and our biological survival is connected with the survival of the whole Earth, by God’s design.

While we have been promised no all-destructive flood in the future, it is very easy to see how human wickedness causes other forms of environmental degradation that threaten us. The extinction of species, the destruction of forests, and the dumping of cancer-causing chemicals into our water and food, are the result of our selfish waste, overconsumption and greedy pursuit for ever-increasing levels of convenience and comfort. We are creating both physical and spiritual pollution through our self-indulgence. By far the greatest threat we’ve brought upon ourselves is the global climate change that is causing severe drought and desertification. God will not flood us, but our sins are parching the world.

And yet, while our immorality unleashes systemic corruption throughout all creation, so our return to God, our repentance and renewed hearts, heals the whole ecosphere. God tells Solomon the remedy for drought and pestilence in the earth: “If my people humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin, and heal their land.” (2 chronicles 7:12) The land, and God’s creatures in it, is an extension of our own hearts. The current state of our world, of pollution and ecological collapse, says much about our hearts.

The fulfillment of our vocation as priest of creation (shamar) is essential to healing all God’s creation. Many Christians are praying for creation (prayers will be posted soon), or engaging in environmental restoration. When we purify polluted rivers, restore forests and watersheds, grow healthy food, and reduce our consumption through ascesis and fasting, we are restoring the earth, replenishing it, even bringing it salvation. We are protecting our neighbors from the harm that comes from climate-related disasters, and other species from extinction. In short, we are building an ark. But not just for ourselves– on behalf of all and for all.

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