This article is by the Rev Dr Ilaitia Tuwere in the Pacific Journal of Theology Ser. II, Issue 38, 2007. Pp. 27-38: Rev. Tuwere is a Lecturer in Theology at the School of Theology of the University of Auckland, based at the College of the Diocese of Polynesia in Meadowbank, Auckland, New Zealand. Rev. Dr. Tuwere is also the Chaplain of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces. He has written many articles for the Pacific Journal of Theology in the past years and published many books. His hobbies include gardening and watching sports.
I am both honoured and humbled by the invitation extended to me some weeks ago to come and present a paper in this Consultation on Theology and Conservation. And for that I must thank the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools (SPATS) — its President, General Secretary, members of the organising committee and all those behind the scene to make this event possible.
This consultation comes at the right time when the need to look into the present state of our common household of life is critical and urgent. I hold the view, and I assume all of us hold the view that there is only One Life. This one life we humans share with other creatures — birds and animals, fish and plants of different kinds in God’s created order. This created order can best be described as the ‘household of life’. For we live in the same ‘house’ (oikos) and members of the one household whose author and sustainer is God the Creator.
Before we move on, let me point out that the title of this paper has two distinct but closely related aspects. The first part: ”Belief in God as Creator” is the opening statement of the church’s creed, the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creed. The first book of the bible – the book of Genesis also begins with this good news in its first verse —”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. It is a faith-statement of the Christian church, not a scientific statement of how the world came into being. It addresses the why question —why the world came into being. This statement of faith of the Christian church is presented in the indicative mood.
The second part: “Called to make a difference in the household of life” is a call to Christian responsibility in the created order. This is presented in the imperative mood. Both parts essentially belong together. Belief in God, creator of heaven and earth cannot and must not become an end in itself. Or locked up in the creeds of the church with no relevance to creation and how we should live in it. Belief in God, Creator of heaven and earth is a call to make a difference at this point of time in history within our common household of life.
This paper focuses on Creation, a theology of creation or a Christian understanding of creation. What do we mean by this?A working definition of creation is appropriate at this point:
“By the term ‘creation’ we mean the entire universe in relation to God. It includes therefore both humanity and nature and the disciplines which study them, whether the natural or social sciences or the humanities. God remains free in relation to his creation. In his faithfulness he grants its continuity and permanence. God is always at work in creation, enters it in Jesus Christ and purposes to complete and perfect his communion with it. This cannot be deduced from a scientific view of nature but only from our knowledge of God in the history of Israel and through Jesus Christ. But it gives the work of science and technology a basis, meaning and direction.”
The definition above stresses that creation is a Trinitarian process. God the Father creates through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. The idea of the Trinity is the original model or pattern for understanding creation and its process. Trinity means communion, participation in one and the same life. It also means diversity, distinction, not to say separation. It is a model of justice which demonstrate the diversity and equality of the three persons. The human community is called to act on the analogy of this Trinitarian life and thus to realise justice, acknowledging the diversity and equality of all people. Confessing the diversity of the persons of the Trinity enables us to make also distinctions in the world and yet to maintain its unity.
All things therefore are:
- Created “of God”
- Formed “through God”
- And “exist in God”
Western church tradition has for so long stressed only the first aspect — created “of God” in order to distinguish God the Creator from the world as God’s creation and to emphasise God’s transcendence. Consequently it has robbed nature of its divine mystery and abandoned it to desacralisation through secularisation.
Belief in God as Creator
The Bible presents non-human creatures as inseparable companions of humanity in creation, reconciliation, and redemption. God declares each group of creatures as “good” and “very good” (Genesis 1:12 18, 21). Living creatures and the human being were both created on the sixth day. Humanity did not have a special day to himself. He shared the sixth day with other creatures indicating that both, humanity and other creatures find completion in each other. Not only humans but all creatures are able in some way to give glory to God their Creator.
They look to God their Creator for their daily sustenance and give him glory in their own way. “… the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number, both large and small…These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them they gather it up; when you open your hand they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face they are terrified…” (Psalm 104:24ff). If God takes delight in all the creatures, and if they are all called in their own distinctive way to give thanks to God, non-human creatures cannot be mere secondary figures in a Christian doctrine of creation.
The earth belongs to God, not to humans (Psalm 24:1).Jesus delights in the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28-29) and says that God provides for the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26). When human beings are created in the image of God on the sixth day and given the command to have “dominion”over the earth, it carries responsibility of caring for the whole of creation. It is a dominion to image God in creation, to care and protect and not to dominate and abuse. This relationship between humans and creation should be governed by covenantal love. Animals and the earth are to have regular rest and to enjoy a Jubilee year in which all slaves are to be free and the land to be left fallow (Leviticus 25:8-12). The central biblical message, the command of God to humanity to have dominion calls for respect, love, care for God’s creation. This is a call to exercise wise guardianship rather than a licence for exploitation. Jesus’ death on the cross turns upside down every view of dominion and sovereignty (Mark 10:42-44).
Important Themes of Creation
- Christian faith affirms the radical otherness, transcendence and lordship of God. God is “creator” and everything that constitutes the world are “creatures”. This theme underlines the fact that there is a significant difference between God and the world, creator and creation. They are not the same, God creates “out of nothing” (creation ex nihilo). “Nothing” indicates that God alone is the source of all that exists. It has no reference to something that was already there in the beginning out of which the world was created. To speak of God as the Creator is to speak of a generous God who pours out his love and purpose to share life-in-communion. This is freely and consistently exhibited in his act of creation. God is eternally inclined to create, to give and share life with his creation.
- The world as a whole and all things individually are radically dependent on God. When we confess in our faith-statement that God is Creator and that we are creatures, we are acknowledging that we are finite, contingent or subject to chance, radically dependent beings. This is closely related to the Christian awareness of salvation in Christ by grace alone. We are created and justified by grace alone. God the Creator, the triune God, is the liberating God who wills community in freedom.
- In spite of all its limitation, the finitude of creation, it remains good. God pronounces it ‘good’ in the beginning. This declaration is a rejection or denial that some aspect or sphere of what God has created is inherently evil.
- Dualistic views such as, the spiritual is good, the physical is bad; the masculine is good, the feminine is evil; white is good and black is evil; humans beings are good, land and sea are evil. Over against such forms of dualism, Christian faith declares that all that God has created is good. To deny this in any form is not only unchristian but dangerous and destructive.
- The declaration that creation is good is the seed-bed of respect and admiration for all created beings. It is to say that God values all creatures whether or not we consider them useful. We are not saying, because creation is good, therefore it is “perfect.” Growth and challenges, risks to be taken are part and parcel of creaturely existence as intended by God the Creator. Creation is not an event that happened once upon a time back in the past, it is ongoing. God continues to create, sustain and redeem his creation.
- Coexistence is the basic form of life in this universe, the coexistence and interdependence of all created beings. This means that we are human only in relation to God and to one another. ‘We can only have what we share’ says Bonhoeffer from another angle. This relationality extends beyond the circle of human life. Human beings exist with animals, with the soil, sun, water, and all forms of life that they produce. In Fiji, this life-in-communion with the rest of other creatures is expressed through our totems, normally a trilogy of ika (fish), representing the sea or river; kau (tree), representing dry land and manumanu (bird), representing the atmosphere. This needs to be redefined and re-described in the present. God is Creator of a world whose inhabitants are intrinsically and profoundly interdependent. This structure of existence-in community reflects God’s own eternal life in the communion of the God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This interconnectedness of life is a mark of the universe we now live in.
- Creation from the beginning has a destiny, a purpose. And it has an appointed goal towards which it moves. It is not value-neutral as some would have us believe. It has value and purpose designed by God the Creator. There is no creation ‘in the beginning’ without its future orientation or eschatological vision. As creation moves toward its appointed goal, God continues to act as its creator and preserver. The question is: how can we work with God the Creator here and now in his continuing work of creation and preservation?
False Assumptions and Ideas
There are several false assumptions and ideas associated with the doctrine of creation that must be disclosed and challenged. I raise with you the following, and invite you to consider how they relate to the case of the vonu or sea-turtle that has been a ‘hot issue’ in the news lately.
- Human Being as the Measure of all things.
This is a view that sees the world as existing primarily to serve the needs and desires of human kind. It is also known as anthropocentrism. Many standard talks of the doctrine of creation give primary, if not exclusive attention to the creation of human beings. This view is quite common and widespread in our communities here in the South Pacific. This has been bolstered in no small measure over the years by the rising trends of globalisation and the market economy. The human being becomes the principal player in our common household of life. Other things created by God are not taken seriously. Feuerbach, a German philosopher of the Enlightenment period — 18th and 19th century said: “Nature, the world, has no value, no interest for Christians. The Christian thinks only of himself and the salvation of his soul.” 2 This opinion is accompanied by the view that animals and other creatures are there for the sole use of human beings which is the utilitarian idea.
- The Power of Domination
Closely related to the problem of placing humankind as the measure of all things is the power of domination. At the heart of the ecological crisis is the misuse of power that finds expression in some form of modern science and technology. Knowledge is power according to Francis Bacon and the task of science is to force nature to give up its secrets.3 The goal of science has too often been seen as the subjection of nature to human will rather than working together with nature for the common good for both. In Bacon’s view, nature is related to humanity as slave to master. “The restoration of human sovereignty over the world through science and technology was to make the human being once again God’s image on earth.”4
Theology has also contributed in part to this understanding of human power in relation to the environment. As Migliore points out “when God is seen as overwhelming power and humanity is seen as the image of God summoned to exercise divinely given “dominion”5 over the earth, theology becomes a powerful contributor to the modern conquest of nature”. Is this the right understanding of divine power that theology holds? And is humanity righdy understood as the master ofnature rather than its protector and responsible steward? A review of theology’s understanding of divine power is called for here.
- The consumer mentality
“I consume therefore I am” is the philosophy and logic of present-day modernity, an expansion of Descartes’ dictum — “I know therefore I am”. The market economy is driven by the desire to consume and possess and is a chief contributor to the present ecological crisis. Relationships right across our common household of life are turned into commodities. These inevitably give rise to widespread poverty and marginalisation. And poverty here is not only to do with humans; it also has to do with plants, forests, animals, birds and fish of all kinds. They are the new poor in the present trend of so called development. The ecological crisis is basically a spiritual crisis and the recovery of our faith in God the Creator and for this reason respect for the whole of God’s creation is a matter of great urgency.
- The case of the Vonu (sea-turtle)
How is this anthropocentric view related to the plight of sea-turtles here in Fiji and around the region. This has been in the news in the last few weeks and attracted wide attention. Scientists are already saying that some turtle species are on the brink of extinction due to thoughtless human activity, and a belief that there is an endless supply out there in the sea, constantly appearing when the need arises. Scientific evidence disproves this belief and the alarming reality is that if nothing is done now, these creatures could disappear for ever.6
Man-made threats to the life of sea-turtles include the use of various fishing methods. Long line fishing which can go up to 145 km. (90 miles) long, baited with as many as 8,000 hooks each has been blamed as one of the causes of accidental sea-turtle deaths. As air-breathing reptiles, sea-turtles must surface to breathe. When caught in a fisherman’s net, they are unable to go to the surface to breathe. Along with fisheries, tourism is a key foreign exchange earner in many developing island states. Regional marine officer with the WWF South Pacific Programme, Penina Solomona says: “In some cases tourism is taking precedence over conservation and as a consequence, turtle nesting and feeding grounds are wiped out. At the current rate of decline, there will definitely be a point in time when turtles will no longer exist”7
Sea-turtles are prized for their meat in the islands around the Pacific. They also occupy a significant place in our cultures and traditions. In Fiji, it is commonly known as ‘Vonu’. On Occasions, it is described as ikabula (the fish that lives or living fish), indicating that vonu essentially is not a fish as such but reptile that lives both on land and sea. It is included with other magiti (food) or iyau (property) considered as vakaturaga (chiefly) —magiti kei na iyau vakaturaga, vakavanua. I had been informed that in Macuata (particularly villages on the NW coast of Vanualevu and outer islands like Kia and Mali) are known for their prized sea-turtles, especially the vonud in a (green turtle).On an important occasion such as the last Methodist conference held in the chiefly village of Naduri, it was to be expected that vonu or ikabula would feature prominently among sea-food provided by the people of Macuata to conference delegates from different parts of Fiji.
Through the Tui Macuata (high chief of Macuata), the vanua asked the Methodist church well in advance to host this last conference. Needless to say, preparation at all levels was carried out according to tradition and proper Fijian etiquette followed. O ira nagonedau (fishermen) made sure that sea-food including vonu was on the table. Details about this turtle saga are unknown to me but the ministry for fisheries made the admission that all this confusion and lampooning in the news media was the result of a breakdown of communication on their part by not providing qoliqoli owners (fishery owners) on time the information they should know But as one letter to the Fiji Times pointed out, “turtles killed for the Methodist church conference cannot be brought back to life but the outcry has helped spread the message to save this endangered species”.8
- What can We Do Together?
As already indicated, humanity shares Life with other creatures in our common household of life. What we need to cultivate together is a consciousness of the delicate web of life and respect for the existence and value of other creatures. This respect for life can be drawn from ancient legends and myths of the South Pacific.9 You would agree with me that in the course of missionary history in this part of the world, this relationship between humans and other creatures has been deliberately pushed aside as either secondary or downright evil. We need to revisit these ancient views of life and explore their integrity and what they may mean today. This respect is seeing other forms of life as having value in and for themselves and not entirely dependent for human purposes.
In the case of the vonu in Macuata, different claims and counter claims have been made publicly as well as in private. These claims include the general claim of culture and tradition, the claim of qoliqoli owners, the legal claim of government, the claim of the church, and the claim of the sea-turtle, the endangered species. Since all are connected to this one delicate web of life, the claim of the weakest member of our common household must take precedence over the others.The claim of the vonu must become paramount. As already indicated this is not an isolated claim, disconnected from life within our common vuvale (household) but is essentially related to the whole. Its denial is the denial of the entire household of life.
There is the need for Faith and Science to work closely together now and into the future in this crucial area of Conservation in the ecosystem. Faith should not attempt to explain the processes of the world in place of science. And science should not attempt to explain the values of the world in place of faith. Science provides us with facts, data, insights into physical reality and social relations. The biblical message gives us insights into the depths of our human sin and the possibility of our repentance and hope. It tells us about our relationship with God and neighbour and calls us to love and social justice.
The idea of animals and the earth to have regular rest and to enjoy a Jubilee year in which all slaves are to be free and the land to be left fallow as found in the book of Leviticus is an important message today. Our ancestors were not ignorant of this view for land to be left fallow and allowed rest. They practiced this in their faming life. There is a special term for this in different parts of Fiji, for example, voavoa in parts of Vanualevu and danudanu in some districts on the Western side of Vitilevu. This is consistent with the idea of a five year moratorium (2004-2008) on sea-turtles now in place in Fiji. Churches should give strong support to this sort of moratorium.
The image of life as a ‘garden’ is an old one in Fiji and I am sure also in other islands in the Pacific. I concluded by book on Vanua10 with the invitation — “Called to become God’s Garden-Community.” I think it is a good and useful model. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are always engaged in the garden from the beginning of time to the end of time. God’s saving work is to transform jungle and desert into a garden full of justice, freedom and love. Man and woman are called to become co-gardeners with God. The vision of wholeness in this garden as introduced by the prophet Isaiah (11:1-9) must be allowed to claim our imagination and enhance our zeal — “Then the wolf will live alongside the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion will browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear will graze side by side; their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat hay like the ox. The infant will play by the cobra’s den, and the young child will lay his hand on the viper’s nest.”
The garden is not merely an external reality. It is in God. As the garden is the source of life (Genesis 2:9; 3:3), it must surely be in this Trinitarian God. He who destroys the garden earns the stern judgment of the Gardener.
- Faith and Science in an Unjust World: Report of the WCC Conference on Faith, Science & the Future. Edited by Paul Albretch. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1980, pp. 32f
- Feuerbach, L. The Essence of Christianity. New York: Harper & Row, 1957, p. 287
- Migliore, D.L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. 2nd ed.. Michigan: Grand Rapids, WB. Eerdmans Pub. Co. 1991, p. 95.
- Moltmann Jürgen. Science and Wisdom. London: SCM Press, 2003, p. 48
- Op. cit. p. 95.
- Thursday, 20 September 2007
- “Pacific turtles gone in Decade” by Alex Kirby. BBC News Online correspondent. Thursday 26 February, 2004
- Thursday, September 20,2007
- See my “A Were-kalou Response to Epistemology” in Dreadlocks Vaka Vuku (Special Issue: Proceedings of the Pacific Epistemologies Conference. Faculty of Arts & Law, Suva: University of the South pacific), 2006.
- Vanua: Towards a Fijian Theology of Place. Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific & Auckland: St. Johns College, 2002