The Force of Life

“Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection.”[1]

The Logos is the force of life. When John wrote the words, He through whom all things are made, he meant that the Logos is the mediator between the Creator and Life.

Yet, in remarkable blindness and arrogance of “tyrannical anthropocentrism,”[2] humans now and have for millennia considered themselves the masters of creation. For hundreds of thousands of years—a period lost in time, far beyond the power of human memory to recall—humans have fought the war of survival against other creatures, and slowly emerged victorious, in apparent control. Yet humans are themselves animals and have throughout recorded human history displayed the characteristics of what they disparagingly called brutes: savagery, instinctual competition, bloodlust, mercilessness—anything to survive. The battle to live results in the death of the other. Humans, like all animals, learned that to survive required the extermination of the enemy. The enemy could be large and ferocious, an individual creature that could alone fearlessly face many humans in conflict: such as a tiger, lion, shark, or bear. More often, the enemy was small, individually insignificant, yet collectively powerful, lethal: swarms of insects could cause greater destruction than a pride of lions or a pack of wolves. Death has always been the great equalizer. Nature does not appear to select one above another life: all life is equally at the mercy of the forces of nature, of disease, of predators, of conflict. A lion is equal to a human in the chance for survival. Matching the lion’s hunting prowess, guile of the predator, and strength, is the human’s prowess with tools, guile of the prey, and ability, through use of reason, to adapt to a given situation. Although different animals use tools in a rudimentary fashion, humans contrive tools to different challenges of survival, share tools in community, and manufacture sophisticated forms of technology. Long ago human tool users slowly tipped the balance of the equality of nature.

So began the reign of humans as the self-appointed masters of all creation. Humans hurt, injured, destroyed, tortured, all creatures, including other humans, to serve the particular interests of the individual or group. This mentality of domination is found in all human cultures, past and present. Humans learned from other humans how to use, control, exploit, overwhelm, destroy. Befitting the sense of superiority of the human over all other creatures, the power exercised was often spontaneous, frivolous, purposeless. Destruction was a by-product of dominance; death was a random act upon a perceived insignificant creature.

Creatures of the Earth have existed, according to this anthropocentric view, to serve humans in all matters of life and culture: food, work, entertainment, religion. Yet fundamental scriptures of the world’s philosophies and religions provide clear guidelines, which contradict self-congratulatory human power, on how humans should treat other creatures. The implication in the Old Testament book of Genesis, Chapter One, is that humans have the moral obligation to treat all things, all of existence, as good, to cherish, to embrace, to love, to preserve. In Genesis, Chapter Two, humans arrogantly disobey God, take the fruit from the tree of knowledge, and as a consequence suffer humiliation, pain, and death. Human arrogance, to determine our own destiny, to seek more knowledge than is good for us, than is consistent with the goodness of Creation, is wrong. But this lesson is of course the teaching of world philosophies: hubris is the key to self-destruction. Skeptical Greeks such as Aeschylus condemned hubris as inconsistent with the power of the divine. The wise laughed at the human pretension to know. The poet of Ecclesiastes argued that in much wisdom is much sorrow. In Plutarch’s “On the Use of Reason by ‘Irrational’ Animals,” he questioned whether human existence was more valuable than the existences of other creatures. Michel de Montaigne, the great skeptical mind of Renaissance Europe, who wrote witty, critical essays questioning human reason, wondered when he played with his cat, who was actually in control, he or the cat? In the Creator’s eyes, whose life is more important? Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers, though the scientific revolution was convincing humans of their ability to figure everything out, could not help but realize that human knowledge was dependent upon Elder Scripture, the wonderful works of the Creator—so that Cotton Mather pointed out that even the miracle of a simple fly contradicts the arguments of an atheist.

As increasing knowledge in the physical and life sciences began to move more people away from the old ideas about human hubris and dependency upon Providence, there continued to be thinkers and writers who challenged the rising arrogance of humanity. Living at a time during which human activities were having such an impact on nature as to bring about the extinction of animal species, the English naturalist Thomas Nuttall wondered in his many books why humans believed they had the right to discontinue the lives of any beings of the “feathered race.” His view is echoed today by Pope Francis, who writes: “We read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of the air that ‘not one of them is forgotten before God’. . . . How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?” A profound and religious American Indian writer, Alexander Posey, wondered if the simple beauty of a flower such as a daffodil was less significant than human actions and concerns. In the wake of the expansion of human power worldwide, the naturalist John Muir wandered about the coasts and mountains of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska, empathizing to such a degree with all God’s creatures as to see beauty and significance—and the right to live—even in those creatures that humans feared most, such as the rattlesnake.

Even so, the 20th and 21st centuries have seen humans reveling in their superiority over other creatures, mass-producing slaughter of countless individuals of countless species, disregarding the teachings of centuries that warned that such hubris could have disastrous consequences. One scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, discovered this when he watched his creation, a plutonium atomic bomb, explode with the apparent force of the sun on a summer day in 1945. He could not help but conclude that he had become death, the destroyer.

Human power has increased yearly since 1945 with predictable consequences in terms of environmental change and the wholesale destruction of life, both human and other creatures. But if humans are advanced over other creatures, as we think, should not then humans act in such a way that human civilization means something besides the exercise of human power? Civilization should have something to do with taking the lead among all creatures to preserve and protect life: humans must turn back to the old philosophies, the old ways, of respecting life, recalling those thinkers who have advocated the idea that all life is to be respected and protected, and live in harmony with each other, and all other creatures.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” Jesus’s comments in Mark differ from those in Matthew, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” Mark uses the Greek word, “ktisis,” literally meaning “creature” or “creation.” Mark uses the word on several occasions, always meaning creation, implying the beginning as described in Genesis chapter one. The word can mean as well all things or beings, the whole or a part, the many and the one. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, 1, 20, uses the word to imply the creation as a historical whole, from the beginning to the end, including the present. In the Epistle to the Colossians, 1, 23, Paul refers to the Gospel being proclaimed to “all creation under heaven” in the same manner as Mark.

In Hebrews: 4, 13, the word ktisis refers to creature: “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” This passage enlightens us as to what Jesus meant by the creation, which includes all creatures. Likewise, in Revelation, 5, 13, John’s vision includes “every creature” in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the seas, singing “to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever.” In Luke, 19, 40, Jesus tells the Pharisees that even if humans at the excitement of the Son of Man coming were silenced, “the stones will cry out,” an explicit reference to the idea that “through him all things were made” includes more than just living things.

 But how does one preach to all creatures, to the whole creation? In the Great Commission to his disciples and followers Jesus commanded them to care for all of God’s creatures, even bringing the Good News of God’s love to all members of God’s Creation. The ability to love each individual form of life in the Creation is what Jesus had in mind in preaching the gospel to the whole creation.

The ancients, at the time when the Gospel accounts were written, thought of the creation as involving a physical as well as a spiritual component. Philosophers expressed this as the chain of being. The chain involved the spiritual levels of incorporeal beings as well as physical levels of corporeal beings. There was a sense of a rank, an orderly hierarchy of existence that would never change. There was no sense, as in later centuries, of movement, of evolving, of change from one level to another. Change occurred within time, from birth to death, but not in and among the different levels of life. If the Creation, ktisis, therefore includes all beings in a hierarchical arrangement, then Jesus’s words, His commission, is meant to reach all beings, all creation, from first to last, from top to bottom.

The Great Commission, then, outlined in Mark, calls upon humans to embrace all creation, not just other humans, in the love of God, which encompasses the entire creation, not just humanity—only when humans realize that we are part of something greater than ourselves rather than the means as well as the end, will we be able to turn back the clock on environmental destruction and ecological chaos, to fully preach to the Creation God’s message of Love.

[1] Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter on Humans and God’s Creation, Laudatum Si, On Care for Our Common Home.

[2] Ibid.

About theamericanplutarch

Writer, thinker, historian.
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