There must be a profound shift in the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and our relationship to creation.
During the COP26 gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, I interviewed Grace Ji-Sun Kim, a conference attendee and contributing writer to Spirituality & Health Magazine. Rev. Kim spoke about the necessity for spiritual as well as political action in service to climate action.
I agree. Part of that spiritual action requires a profound shift in the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and our relationship to creation. Sticking to the Bible Kim and I both love, I suggest what we need is to shift our story from Genesis 1:26;28 to Genesis 2:7;15.
In Genesis 1:26 humans are created almost as an afterthought. The earth is flourishing with flora and fauna, the sky and the seas are teeming with life, and everything is, as God says, “good.” Then God creates humanity to “fill the earth and dominate it; to rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). While Torah comments on the totality of creation saying, “it was very good,” no specific claim of “good” is mentioned regarding the creation of people. Why? Because people are, in this story, extraneous to the wellbeing of creation. Everything was doing just fine without us. The only role people are given in this story is to subdue and dominate an already good, vibrant, and thriving world. Sadly, this we have done to the point of destroying everything that was good, vibrant, and thriving.
A very different story is told in Genesis 2 where the earth is barren. Creation is lifeless, the Bible tells us, because creation lacked water and humans (Genesis 2:5). God causes a mist to arise from and irrigate the earth (adamah in Hebrew) and then takes some of that earth and forms the earthling (adam) (Genesis 2:6-7). God then plants a garden in Eden and places the earthling in the garden to serve it and to protect it (Genesis 2:15). The word “serve” in this story (avodah in Hebrew), a word that also carries the meaning “to work” and “to worship.” The earthling’s work is to serve the earth as an act of worship, an act of reverence.
I cannot imagine two more diverse views of humanity’s role vis-à-vis the natural world: We are here either to subdue and dominate, to exploit and extract, or we are here to serve, protect, and even worship. We cannot do both.
People live by stories, and people die for stories, and people kill for stories. Indeed, as the facts of climate change make abundantly clear, people are willing to kill themselves for stories. As long as we attach ourselves to stories of domination and exploitation, nothing of substance will change regarding the way we live on this planet. If change is to happen, we must abandon Genesis 1 and embrace Genesis 2.
Sadly, I don’t see any of this happening at conferences like COP26.
Listen to Grace Ji-Sun Kim discuss her time at COP26, her new book, and much more on the Spirituality & Health Podcast.