Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Mission and the Groaning of Creation

Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Mission and the Groaning of Creation

Article excerpt

Christian understanding of humankind's place in the universe is rooted in the Hebrew Genesis story. Created "in the image of God," the mother and father of the human race are instructed to "fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over ... every living thing that moves upon the earth" (Gen. 1:27-28). Two chapters later, their ill-used curiosity leads to judgment and a world filled with imperfection and death. Their progeny's assiduous obedience to the first injunction may be judged by the nearly seven billion humans who now inhabit the planet. As to the exercise of "dominion," never has the earth been more subdued than in the twenty-first century. Human domination has traumatized the fragile ecosystem, extinguishing species on a scale and at a rate unprecedented.

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When Paul observed that "the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now" (Rom. 8:22), he was not forecasting destruction of the planet by smugly hegemonic "Christian" civilizations that would emerge centuries later, in part because of his success as a missionary. It was the physics and chemistry of post-Enlightenment science that enabled Western societies to exponentially amplify both their domination and its effects, with disastrously irreversible consequences. The science and technology that gave us bright lights, high-speed travel, creature comforts, and an ever-increasing array and volume of possessions turn out to have unwittingly locked us into a Faustian bargain. The gospel of plenty, carried obediently to the uttermost parts of the earth by its emissaries, is at last being appropriated by the vast populations of the non-Western world. Too late, those of us who have been its chief beneficiaries and advocates now realize that this "good news" could doom the planet.

Westerners, including missionaries, have been self-consciously certain of the superiority of their way of life, evident in their material accoutrements and in the powerful armies and economies of their nations. Missionaries--replete with incontrovertible material evidence--innocently thought that adoption of Christianity would have a "civilizing" effect on converted peoples, transforming the inner e1an of societies and launching them on a developmental trajectory that would one day enable them to consume like us. Alas, so it has proved to be! And now, caught up in a way of life from which there seems to be no voluntary escape, we find ourselves complicit in human-induced climate change, with its concomitant degradation of habitat and destruction of species. According to current estimates by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, of the 40,177 species assessed, 784 are extinct, while another 16,119 are threatened with extinction (see www. …

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