Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
• Genesis 1:26-28 (NRSV)
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
• Psalm 8:3-8 (NRSV)
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
• Luke 7:18-23 (NRSV)
As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus…
• Hebrews 2:8-9 (NRSV)
• • •
I have come to think that one of the main questions we need to ask when trying to understand the true nature of the gospel message is: What was the vocation that Adam and Eve failed to live up to, but that Jesus fulfilled?
Also, through the help of teachers like N.T. Wright, whose new book we will begin to talk about this week, I have come realize more fully how the life and ministry of Jesus is important.
In my evangelical life, the focus was almost always on Jesus’ death (plus some on his resurrection). We didn’t spend much time studying the four Gospels, and when we did I usually found teaching about why Jesus traveled around Palestine teaching and healing to be vague and rather insubstantial.
This led, I believe, to an impoverished gospel.
Jesus came as “the last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45). One thing I take this to mean is that Jesus came to fulfill the vocation which Adam failed to fulfill.
Humans were created, Genesis tells us, to live in God’s blessing as his image in the world (his temple), his priestly representatives who were to extend his blessing throughout the world. As we have seen in our study of John Walton’s books and in other posts, God made the world a “good” (ordered) place, a cosmic temple in which he would dwell with humans and give them gifts of life and wisdom to “rule” the world. Because the work of creation was incomplete and chaos (forces of non-order and to some extent, disorder) was also present within creation, God called humans to “subdue” the world as part of their priestly calling.
The Jewish teaching of tikkun olam emphasizes this as well. The Ari taught:
At the beginning of time, God’s presence filled the universe. When God decided to bring the world into being, to make room for creation, He contracted Himself by drawing in His breath, forming a dark mass. Then God said, Let there be light (Gen. 1:3) and ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with primordial light.
God sent forth the ten vessels like a fleet of ships, each carrying its cargo of light. But the vessels—too fragile to contain such powerful Divine light—broke open, scattering the holy sparks everywhere.
Had these vessels arrived intact, the world would have been perfect. Instead, God created people to seek out and gather the hidden sparks, wherever we can find them. Once this task is completed, the broken vessels will be restored and the world will be repaired.
In an intriguing piece at his blog, Ron Rolheiser contemplates how this original vocation of human beings fits with the understanding of biological evolution. He discusses how “the survival of the fittest” is only one part of evolution’s story.
As Rolheiser puts it, nature itself is not “interested” in becoming a one-dimensional place where only the “strong” exist. Everywhere we see evidence of an advantageous complexity that is only possible when the “strong” and the “weak” and everything in between coexist in various kinds of harmonies and partnerships. However, nature by itself shows a “cruelty,” an entropy that also works against such harmonization. It is the task of humans, the most evolved of creatures, says Rolheiser, to assist nature by doing what nature cannot always do for herself: ensure the survival and flourishing of the weak. To use John Walton’s terminology, in partnership with God humans continue the task of bringing order to chaos and of redeeming disorder so that it becomes ordered anew.
When God created human beings at the beginning of time, God charged them with the responsibility of “dominion”, of ruling over nature. What’s contained in that mandate is not an order or permission to dominate over nature and use nature in whatever fashion we desire. The mandate is rather that of “watching over”, of tending the garden, of being wise stewards, and of helping nature do things that, in its unconscious state, it cannot do, namely, protect and nurture the weak….
Now think of Jesus:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. (Matthew 4:23-24, NRSV)
What was Jesus doing here but bringing order to non-order and disorder? Bringing wholeness and shalom in place of chaos? He was fulfilling the vocation God had originally bestowed upon human beings at creation. Here is Jesus, the new Adam, ruling over his world in love, subduing the strong forces that were feeding on the weak and poor and restoring them in God’s blessing.
We also know that Jesus worked miracles in nature, showing power over the forces of chaos and non-order (Matt 8:23-27). We read that he not only healed bodily infirmities but also pronounced forgiveness of sins, redeeming people from the disorder of personal, moral, and spiritual alienation (Matt 9:2-8). In all this, Jesus was doing more than just “showing he was God” (the answer we used to get when we asked why all this was important). Yes, he was presenting himself to Israel as her Messiah, demonstrating that he was Emmanuel, God who had come to be with them to save them from exile. But there was more to that simple explanation than meets the eye.
Jesus was pointing to what God intended human life and life in this creation to be about: shalom— wholeness, peace, dignity, harmony, restored relationships. A world made right. With each healing, exorcism, pronouncement of cleansing, restoration of wholeness, and with each teaching that stimulated hope and imagination and wonder, Jesus brought a few pixels on the screen of this world into focus so that one could see life for what it was meant to be. A few more sparks were gathered. A few more of the weak were protected and nurtured. A few more cells in the body of the universe became healthy again. Non-order became ordered. Disorder was demolished and replaced by an embrace.
One can almost hear the words, “And God saw that it was good,” after each act of tikkun olam Jesus performed.
Jesus was acting as Adam and Eve and all humans were meant to act from the beginning, extending God’s blessing to the chaotic little corners of his community.
Of course, by the time Jesus came, disorder had spread and developed in countless ways so that it became part and parcel of the very fabric of life and creation. “The whole world [was lying] under the power of the evil one” (1John 5:19).
In order to break the absolute dominion of death by which the evil one held us enslaved, Jesus took death upon himself. I like the way one of our commenters put it: “In his complete identification with us in death, the lowest point to which one can go, as God he disarmed death. He had to ‘get into’ death in order to smash it from the inside out.” On the cross Jesus faced the forces of chaos and disorder and absorbed all their dark power. As Alan Lewis said, “God has begun to conquer death not by omnipotent annihilation of the enemy but through submission to its clutches.”
In his triumphant resurrection, then, Jesus became the firstborn of the new creation, representative of a new humanity and a new creation. The evidence of that “newness” in our lives and in our world is often scanty, we must admit. Just as Jesus’ ministry was small and obscure, localized in a way that few appreciated it, even so people today who become new in him by grace through faith begin gathering sparks little by little, finding the lost here and there, comforting that lonely one, protecting the weak who are off the radar, and advocating for those hungering and thirsting for justice, whose voices are rarely heard.
As new “Adams and Eves” in Christ we are called to take up the original vocation God gave to humans. We do this not through spectacular, public triumph, but rather by trusting in God’s wisdom and not our own. We are to exercise “dominion” by laying down our lives as Jesus did, subduing chaos and planting seeds as small as mustard seeds that will one day produce harvests of righteousness because God’s life, love, and blessing are in them.