Made for Self-Giving Love of Creation: Implications of Kenosis and Imago Dei for Natural Theodicy and Christian Ecological Ethics

By Albert, Carolyn | Currents in Theology and Mission, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Made for Self-Giving Love of Creation: Implications of Kenosis and Imago Dei for Natural Theodicy and Christian Ecological Ethics


Albert, Carolyn, Currents in Theology and Mission


Introduction

My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the humming-bird--

Equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still not half perfect? Let me

keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all over and over, how it is that we live forever.

--"Messenger," by Mary Oliver (2)

Discerning the essence of Christian vocation has long led theologians on a path of ever-unfolding questions: questions about the nature of humanity, the nature of God, the nature of creation as a whole, and die relationships among them all. It is a daunting endeavor. Poet Mary Oliver states the task of being human with elegant simplicity by naming a center around which all other questions about our calling can be framed. "My work is loving the world," she says. She treats the sunflower, clam, and delphinium as friends in rejoicing, companions on life's journey, whom she can cell "over and over, how it is/that we live forever."

Yet, in this era of ecological consciousness, of recognition that humanity lives as a part of an astonishingly complex and profoundly suffering system of unfolding life, Christians face anew the question of how to understand God and eternal life in light of pain and evil, suffered not only by humans hut by non-human creation, as well. To come to an understanding of humanity's role in alleviating that suffering, the careful theologian must also consider how humanity's role relates to God's role--which leads to considerations of God's power and love.

This paper will attempt to integrate reflection on divine power and love in relation to all of creation with considerations of how humans participate uniquely in that power and love by virtue of being made in God's image. In light of these reflections, it will then attempt to address die following questions: What is the appropriate human response to the suffering of creation? Does it vary depending on whether or not the suffering is caused by humans or is a natural part of the ecological system?

I propose that humanity does have a particular role in the redemption of the suffering of creation, one that can be most clearly understood through pairing the concepts of kenosis and the imago dei. I argue that, just as God's act of creation is one of self-limiting, self-emptying love for the sake of the freedom and flourishing of all creation, so should humanity's love of creation be kenotic, participating in God's image by this manner of loving so that creation might be freed for flourishing.

The Problem of Suffering Creation

To propose that humanity bears some responsibility to alleviate or redeem suffering in non-human creation, it is important to identify two primary categories of suffering in creation. I he first and most obvious form of suffering in creation is that caused by human action--the loss of habitat due to deforestation, the extinctions that are resulting and will result from anthropogenic global climate change, the death and damage caused by watersheds polluted industrial waste, etc. The other category of suffering is that which is an intrinsic part the very system of evolution. Patterns of predation and other innocent suffering resultant from the processes of natural selection are the most prominent examples of this kind of suffering.

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