Anthropocentrism and Deep Incarnation

“The Spirit in me greets the Spirit in you, Halleluiah. God’s in us and we’re in God, Halleluiah.” — Hymn by Jim and Jeanne Strathdee

This post is an excerpt from “Creation Crucified: The Passion of the Earth,” which is Chapter 4 of my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation. This book makes the case that the crucifixion is ongoing as powers similar to the ones that crucified Jesus are at work today harming human lives and destroying creation, and that the resurrection is ongoing as people of every faith and philosophical conviction rise in courage in the struggle for a transformed world. The Multifaith Climate Cafe is hosting a Book Launch Event on Tuesday, June 14, at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, during which time I will speak about this chapter.

Western civilization, including Western Christianity, has been built upon an anthropocentric worldview that has enabled the plundering and despoiling of God’s world. An example for today comes from megachurch conservative pastor and bestselling author John McArthur. In a sermon refuting global warming and supporting the idea of stewardship for the purpose of extracting everything we can for use by human beings, he said, “God intended us to use this planet, to fill this planet for the benefit of man. Never was it intended to be a permanent planet. It is a disposable planet. Christians ought to know that.” 1

If we see the natural world as intended simply for human use and consumption, we lose sight of the interrelationships with the rest of creation that make us human and deny the spirit of God within us and within all. By discarding our privileged and outdated anthropocentric perspective, we may recognize creation’s intrinsic value and the presence of God in all parts of creation. One way of expressing this is through the concept of deep incarnation.

Many Scriptures point to the reality of an inner dimension of nature in which all creatures participate. Psalm 19:1 proclaims, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” Job said, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” (Job 12:7– 9). Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matt 10:29). These passages point to a God who is intimately present throughout creation, not solely to human beings, but to other-than-human beings as well.

Understanding God as immanent within creation is not the same as pantheism, for it also acknowledges the transcendent aspect of God. The spirit of God is deeply present throughout creation but is not confined within creation. In fact, it’s just the opposite, for “in [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This way of understanding the relationship between God and the physical universe has been called panentheism, which is differentiated from pantheism as follows: “In panentheism, the universal spirit is present everywhere, which at the same time ‘transcends’ all things created. While pantheism asserts that ‘all is God,’ panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe.” The Strathdee hymn quoted above that proclaims “God’s in us and we’re in God, Halleluiah” applies not only to us but to all parts of creation. This is a view of God as all in all, as Ground of Being, Ultimate Reality, Unfathomable Love, not exclusive to any religion. John Wesley referred to this “omnipresent” God as “the Soul of the universe.”2

The astounding claim of Christianity is that this God, who both transcends and is immanent within creation, was made known to us in a unique way in Jesus. “God was in Christ,” living a Spirit- infused life, suffering and dying at the hands of the powers, raised to new life by God. The Gospel of John refers to the concept of incarnation when it announces, “The Word became flesh [sarx in Greek] and lived among us” (John 1:14). This emphasizes the coming of God to us in human form in a way that we humans can comprehend. The revelation of Jesus Christ created a paradigm shift in our understanding of divine- human relationships by revealing the all- encompassing love and eternal presence of Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matt 1:23).

The concept of deep incarnation expands on this understanding to encompass all creation as the dwelling place of God. Elizabeth A. Johnson explains, “Deep incarnation understands John’s gospel to be saying that the sarx [flesh] that the Word of God became not only weds Jesus Christ to other human beings in the human species; it also reaches beyond us to join the incarnate one to the whole evolving biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which they are composed.”3 This idea corrects the misunderstanding that human beings are isolated individuals and reconnects us to the network of interrelationships that make us human. Not even Jesus was separate from the web of relationships that constitute human and all other life on planet earth, the very web that is being undone today.

The Word became not only human flesh but all flesh and dwelt not only among human beings but among all parts of creation not just since the time of Jesus of Nazareth but eternally, throughout all time and space. This expanded view reveals the presence of the universal Spirit in the depths of matter, the love that exists at the heart of the universe, the divine presence in all creation, and the love of God that even death cannot conquer. This idea that God is made flesh in myriad forms affirms the intrinsic value of creation as a dwelling place for God.

  1. Paul Braterman, “God Intended It as a Disposable Planet: Meet the US Pastor Preaching Climate Change Denial,” The Conversation, October 12, 2020, https:// theconversation .com/ god -intended -it -as -a -disposable -planet -meet -the -us -pastor -preaching -climate -change -denial -147712.
  2. Wesley, Sermon 23, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon,” 1:516– 17.
  3. Elizabeth A. Johnson, Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2018), 186.

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Seasonal Thoughts on Climate Justice

Progressive Christian Social Action

Seasonal Thoughts on Climate Justice

This post was published as A Seasonal Reflection on Climate Justice in the Grass Valley Union on December 19, 2020.

During this season, Christmas carols feature angels singing “peace on earth, goodwill to men” (meaning all) and choruses proclaiming, “Let heaven and nature sing.” These words express the universality of the divine intention for good, the hopeful spirit of the season, and humanity’s yearning for peace, goodwill, and the abundance of life on earth.

As part of the Union’s regular series on climate change, my article is appearing when people of the world’s many spiritual traditions celebrate hope as light breaks through the winter darkness and days begin to lengthen. These varied traditions offer comfort and renewal, even as we face an overwhelming surge of pandemic-related tragedies and needs. With so many other concerns, it’s hard to think about climate change, but rising global temperatures and intensifying weather-related disasters do not pause for the coronavirus and will bring ever-increasing harm if we ignore them. Climate change is violence against people and against the natural world. Our challenge is to achieve climate justice: justice for our human family, especially those most impacted and threatened by our changing climate, intergenerational justice for children and future generations, and justice for the earth that sustains us all.

It will take people of all religious, spiritual, and philosophical perspectives, working together, to bring about a world of climate justice. Yet instead of the unity we need to address today’s challenges, there is an extreme political and social divide. How can we effectively address climate change in this “climate” of division? Perhaps this season of goodwill can inspire us to reach out beyond the boundaries that separate us and build bridges that unite.

Especially concerning to me are divisions within my own faith tradition, Christianity. But the Christmas story foretells the good news of the compassionate, wise, inclusive, egalitarian, nonviolent Jesus of Nazareth, who challenged the Powers that be and was executed for doing so, and whose Spirit still animates those who seek to follow him. Even today, many pray and work for God’s compassionate will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven,” that is, for a world of peace, goodwill, and abundant life. For some, this includes a yearning for climate justice.

Many people look to the New Year and to the Biden Administration for strong climate action. Some hope to gain bipartisan Congressional support by proposing modest initiatives. But a modest approach would not ensure that the United States does its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a scale that would help limit global temperatures to 1.5℃ (2.7℉) above pre-industrial temperatures, the internationally agreed-upon upper limit to prevent runaway climate change.

The only proposed legislation so far that would set annual, science-based emissions reduction targets while also addressing systemic injustice is the Green New Deal. Highlights include guaranteed living-wage jobs and a “just transition” for both workers and frontline communities. As the world has acknowledged since 1992, when the foundational climate treaty was signed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (which I attended in Rio de Janeiro as part of the United Methodist delegation), the only way to effectively address climate change is to also tackle issues of social, economic, and environmental justice. This would increase goodwill among nations and reduce the violence of climate change.

President-elect Joe Biden has his work cut out for him. Restoring agencies, programs, and competent staff will be a huge task. Restoring international relations is another challenge. Biden is right in saying that rejoining the Paris Climate Accords is important but not enough. Building a world of climate justice will require a strong, diverse, and well-organized global movement that can exert power to demand justice for both people and the earth. Only “people power” will be able to move public officials here and elsewhere to take the strong and coordinated actions necessary to protect those most vulnerable to the ravages of pandemic, poverty, injustices, and climate change and to create a world of inclusion, equity, ecological healing, and peace. Fortunately, this movement for global justice is well underway; it is strong and growing. Its slogan is “Another world is possible.”

During this season, our songs, prayers, decorations, candle-lighting, charitable giving, feasting, exchanging gifts, and other rituals demonstrate and point to hope for the world. As we celebrate the dawning of light, may our varied spiritual traditions inspire us to join together in unity, not just to address climate change as an isolated issue but to work for climate justice and a world of peace, goodwill, and abundant life.

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Her other blog postings about climate change can be found here.