The Work of Redemption in All Creation

earthlifesaverWe humans are pretty self-centered. I’m not speaking primarily of us as individuals, though that is certainly the case for most people. No, I mean that we humans, as a race, a species, are pretty self-centered.

Oh, not all of us, but a substantial number of us think that humans are the pinnacle of creation, the central and most significant entities in the world.

This philosophy—I prefer to call it a worldview—is called anthropocentrism, and it is the belief that humans are the only species that have intrinsic value, a value that is higher than any other animals. (Plant life doesn’t even get in the discussion.)

For most people, whether they are people of faith or not, only human life is considered sacred. While none of us condone cruelty to animals, few of us are really bothered by the killing of animals. Their lives are not considered to be sacred.

We hunt, we fish, we swat houseflies and step on spiders, roaches and ants. Most of us eat the flesh of cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and turkeys without moral reflection.

I’m not making a moral judgment here—with the exception of hunting I do or have done every one of these things. (I’m not against hunting, I’ve just never done it.) I’m just making an observation—we regard human life as different than and superior to any other kind of life.

The theology of many Christians reflects this anthropocentrism. Creation wasn’t declared very good by God until humans were created, and after we were created there wasn’t anything left for God to do except to take a day off, as if he couldn’t top that one act of creation.

According to many readings, all the plants and animals were given so that we would have something to eat. That’s their purpose—food for the humans.

Our understanding of redemption is also anthropocentric. Humans sin, Jesus came to save the humans, God forgives the humans, and the humans get to live in Heaven with God when they die.

There are no animals in Heaven, because only humans have souls. Sorry, all you pet owners, all dogs don’t go to Heaven.

Now don’t get all riled up over that last statement, I wouldn’t be writing this if I thought that the Bible presented an anthropocentric vision of redemption.

As I’ve written elsewhere, God’s declaration of “very good” in Genesis 1 wasn’t directed solely at the humans but was directed at all of creation. Humans were last in creation not because we represented the pinnacle of creation, but because every garden needs a gardener and every gardener needs a garden.

And a garden can feed a gardener only to the extent to which a gardener feeds the garden.

If salvation seems to focus on humans its because we’re the ones who screwed up, and when a gardener screws up, the garden suffers. To fix the garden you have to fix the gardener. But make no mistake about it—the ultimate goal is not just to fix the gardener but the garden.

And that’s the biblical story. It begins with the creation of the world and everything in it, and it ends with the re-creation of the world and everything in it.

In the Bible, all life is sacred, not just human life. That’s why kosher Jews only eat meat in which the blood has been drained, “for the life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Leviticus 17:11 NRSV)

When ancient Israelites brought an animal to be sacrificed, whether it be a lamb, a dove, or a bull, that animal wasn’t seen as a throwaway whose life wasn’t sacred. It was a sacrifice because the life of the animal was sacred; it had intrinsic value, which is why it was a suitable gift to God. (Note the etymological relationship of the words sacred and sacrifice.)

That doesn’t mean that because animal life is sacred we shouldn’t eat animals. I understand and respect why some would refuse to eat meat for that reason, but in my opinion that’s a personal choice, not one that is incumbent upon all people.

It does mean that we should treat animals with respect and not cruelty, and that animals raised for food should be raised humanely and slaughtered humanely, out of respect if not reverence for the God-given life that is in them.

More to my point, however, is that Christians need to develop a broader view of redemption that is about more than just the future of the human race. It is about that, but in the context of something larger that God is doing—the restoration of all Creation.

The Bible begins with creation, and it concludes with new creation. God didn’t create the world to destroy it but to enjoy it; and the story of Scripture is that God doesn’t give up on any of his creation but is working toward its redemption, renewal, and restoration.

Jesus died not just to get humans into heaven but to set the world to rights and reunite heaven and earth. God created the world, and the promise of the rainbow is that he won’t destroy it just because humans sin and fill the earth with violence. Instead, he’ll fix the humans and restore the creation.

To be true to the biblical vision we need to replace an anthropocentric worldview with a creationcentric worldview.

Illustration from CanStockPhoto

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