September 2023
Published in Faith and Ecology

One of the great German theologians of the twentieth century, Jürgen Moltmann (b. 1926), published a book in 2019 that neatly summarizes some key themes of his monumental work: The Spirit of Hope: Theology for a World in Peril. His 1965 (German edition) groundbreaking book had been on Christian hope: A Theology of Hope. Then among his numerous books, at least four are devoted to the Holy Spirit and creation.

This blog post follows the two-part one on “Learning from Indigenous Creation Theology.” I’m digging deeper on the issue of God’s good creation, but my main concern is about the divine role of the Holy Spirit in creation, as well as in human society and history.

Moltmann’s 2019 The Spirit of Hope (at age 95 he released another one, Resurrected to Eternal Life: On Dying and Rising) focuses on the multiple crises facing 21-century humanity and how Christians can respond. In this work published by the World Council of Churches (WCC), his second chapter deals with creation: “The Hope of the Earth: The Ecological Future of Modern Theology.” He begins the chapter with this thought:

 

“Today we stand at the end of the modern age and at what has to be the beginning of the ecological future of our world, if our world is to survive. . . . The modern age was determined by the human seizure of power over nature and its forces. These conquests and usurpations of nature have now come up against their limits. All the signs suggest that the climate of the earth is changing drastically as a result of human influence. The icecaps of the poles are melting, the water level is rising, islands are disappearing, droughts are on the increase, the deserts are spreading, and so forth. We know all that, be we are not acting according to what we know” (15).

 

Hence, we urgently need to rethink our traditional (and modern) theology. The Renaissance scholar Pico della Mirandola argued in his classic 1486 text On the Dignity of the Human Being that the world is subject to a predetermined body of laws and that humankind, at its center, is free to study it and exploit its riches. The Bible’s first chapter teaches that human hegemony over nature is justified by their creation in the image of God, but Francis Bacon turned that idea on its head: “human beings rule over nature proves that they are the image of God” (18). René Descartes added that humanity’s rational capacity legitimately reduces nature to mathematical and scientific exploration. This is because in modern theology, “the human being as God’s image is God’s deputy and representative on earth” (19).

Yet, retorts Moltmann, before we humans assume any such responsibilities, we must acknowledge that it’s the earth that cares for us, and not the other way around. Think about it: “The earth can live without us, but we cannot live without the earth” (16). What is more, “God did not breathe the divine Spirit into the human being alone, but into all God’s creatures” (19). The author of Psalm 104 asserts that it was “in wisdom” that God made all his creatures. They all depend on him “to give them food as they need it” (v. 27). Their very lives – literally, their “breath” is in his hands:

 

“When you supply [their food], they gather it.

You open your hand to feed them,

and they are richly supplied.

But if you turn away from them, they panic.

When you take away their breath,

they die and turn again to dust.

When you give them their breath

[or, “when you send your Spirit”]

life is created,

and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:28-30).

 

“Spirit” in Hebrew is ruah, meaning both breath (or wind) and spirit. Both translations of that phrase in the last verse are possible. Certainly, in the many places where in the Old Testament (or “Hebrew Bible”) you find references to the divine “spirit,” Christians see the Holy Spirit, while Jews or Muslims (rouh appears 21 times in the Qur’an, and 4 times with the adjective “holy”) simply see “God’s spirit” as part of who God is. The same could be said for Genesis 2 (often referred to as the second creation narrative): “Then God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person” (v. 7). This is similar to the Qur’an: “Then he moulded him; He breathed from His Spirit into him” (Q. 32:9; 15:29; 38:72). Also, three times we read that God breathed his Spirit into Mary’s womb, affirming Jesus’ virgin birth: “We breathed into her from Our Spirit and made her and her son a sign for all people” (Q. 21:91; see also Q. 19:17 and 66:12).

In Psalm 51, where David confesses to God his great sin of taking another man’s wife and having her husband killed, he confesses it and asks for God’s forgiveness. He goes on, “Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. . . . Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:7, 11). That is from a Christian translation, the New Living Translation. But the literal Hebrew has it as “don’t take your spirit of holiness from me” – the same idea, but of course, without any Trinitarian content.

The same goes for the second verse of the Bible: “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). For Jews (and Muslims), God’s Spirit is symbolized by a wind and for all three Abrahamic traditions, and sometimes fire (think of John the Baptist: “[Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire). The next verse is fitting: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). There certainly was no Trinitarian intent by the human author (that would be an anachronism), but a Christian reading this understands “spirit” as the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, equal to the Father and Son and indivisible from them, though distinguishable from them by his particular function.

For Christians, trying to discern the identity and role of the Holy Spirit from the biblical texts, and much more, is the branch of theology called “pneumatology” (“pneuma” being the Greek equivalent to ruah in Hebrew). Moltmann has explored the Trinity in a number of his books, but more than any other peer, he has particularly focused on the Holy Spirit, notably in his 1991 book, The Spirit of Life, which he released in anticipation of the seventh Assembly of the WCC in Canberra, Australia, that year under the theme, “Come, Holy Spirit, renew the whole creation.”

In The Spirit of Hope, he offers this comment on the above quote from Psalm 104: “We can deduce from this that if the character of human beings as image of God is due to the Holy Spirit which dwells in them, then all created beings in which God’s Spirit dwells are God’s image and much be respected accordingly” (19). Then he adds, “At all events, human beings are so closely connected with nature that they share in the same distress and in their common hope for redemption. Men and women will not be redeemed from transience and death from this earth, but together with the earth” (19). He then quotes the Apostle Paul:

 

“But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering” (Romans 8:19-23, NLT).

 

In Moltmann’s words, “The Spirit who is now present is the beginning of the new creation, in which death will be no more, for it is the Spirit of Jesus’ resurrection and the comprehensive presence of the risen one.” He then makes an important nod to the Orthodox church tradition: “Orthodox theology has expressed this in the hope not only for the deification of humanity but for the deification of the cosmos too” (20).

For Moltmann, then, we should all be working together, people of all nations, Christians with people of other faiths and no faith, to mitigate the worst of climate change, but also to redress the many injustices of the past and those still being committed today. Peace only comes when justice is addressed. That said, we know that none of this will be achieved before the return of Christ when all – humanity and the whole world – will be renewed:

 

“The divine Spirit who indwells all things is the present bridge between creation in the beginning and the kingdom of glory. For that reason, the essential thing at present is to perceive in all things, and in all the complexes [sic] and interactions of life, the driving forces of God’s Spirit, and to sense in our own hearts the yearning of the Spirit for the eternal life of the future world” (29).

 

The Holy Spirit works in individuals and human society for greater justice and peace

The Indian Jesuit theologian Samuel Rayan (1920-2019) has been a dear companion to me in this book project. His 1978 book, The Holy Spirit: Heart of the Gospel and Christian Hope (sadly, out of print) is a good complement to Tinker’s book on American Indian Liberation. Commenting on the second verse in the Bible, Rayan writes, “The whole of creation took place under the presidency of the hovering Spirit of God. When God’s Spirit brooded over the waters, chaos changed into cosmos” (2-3).

What is cosmos? It is “something ordered, beautiful” and it’s what the Spirit brings: “The Spirit can likewise effect this change in human hearts. The confusion, the chaos, the lack of beauty in our hearts can be transformed into a world of order, beauty, and peace.” On the heels of the flood that overwhelmed the world, killing all the life in its path, God the Spirit renewed the earth through the animals and plants in Noah’s Ark, for the Spirit brings life. He also works through human history.

For Rayan, the Holy Spirit is involved in every new movement for the good, and supremely for the work of redemption through Jesus Christ. As he is baptized by John, the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus in the form of a dove: “As he emerged from the waters, heaven was torn open before him and God accepted him; You are my Son” (7). The Spirit then sent him into the desert to be tempted and tested; “in the power of the Spirit he returned to Galilee; in the power of the Spirit he went to the synagogue at Nazareth,” where he read from the prophet Isaiah:

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

For he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,

that the blind will see,

that the oppressed will be set free,

and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1, NLT).

 

Rayan explains, “From the moment of the baptism the Spirit took charge of the ministry of Jesus, of his life, of his world. What Jesus spoke thereafter was what the Father revealed to him and communicated to him through and in the Spirit. The deeds he did were henceforth regulated, determined, made meaningful through the Spirit. The wonders he worked, the signs, the miracles, all were done in and through the Spirit, and it was the Spirit that revealed their divine meaning to the disciples (John 16:13)” (8). Then at Pentecost, as Jesus had promised his disciples before his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit came with great power on the first group of Christians assembled for prayer in Jerusalem. The coming of the Spirit “meant total nonconformity to everything that was opposed to the will of God and the willingness to pay for this nonconformity. . . . After Pentecost, the disciples were willing to pay the price because they were strengthened and illuminated by a new Power, the power of the Spirit” (8-9).

But notice how he widens the scope of the Spirit’s action – way beyond the confines of the church: “The Spirit is associated with all great beginnings. He is the Initiator of fresh developments and the Leader of new movements. He is alive at every turning point in the march of life on earth. He is the Creator Spirit” (9). This is not traditional theology. Even the Orthodox, who have given the Spirit the greatest role and attention, would not venture to say, like Rayan does, that sociopolitical movements that have led to liberation for the oppressed, like those led by Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States, had in their sails the wind of God’s Spirit.

Rayan challenges us to listen to the Spirit as we contemplate current events, partly because God’s Good News, inevitably, has political implications:

 

“Coming to our own times we should ask if the Spirit is not at work in the many movements that characterize our world today. In this century how many lands that were once in the grip of colonial powers have striven for independence. The first great struggle, the struggle of India, has been followed by the collapse of practically the entire colonial system. Where is the God of Exodus and the Spirit of freedom at work?” (131).

 

At the same time, he is not naïve. We need discernment and reflect about the extent to which a movement reflects “the values for which Jesus lived.” Those values include “human dignity, greatness, freedom, wholeness.” But human life is always tainted by sin: “In this earthly life of ours the brightest light has a touch of darkness; our greatest holiness is somehow touched with selfishness” (133).

My interest in bringing the Holy Spirit into this project of human flourishing and global governance started in 2019 when I was struck with the outpouring of political protests, often very risky, in places as diverse as Hong Kong, Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, France, Chile, and elsewhere too. What drives people into the streets, sometimes at great personal cost? I did write a blog post about this, right as the pandemic shut down the world as we knew it. I explained the many different issues involved in each case, and though I didn’t mention anything about God’s Spirit, it was certainly on my mind. Any movement that strives towards greater “humanization,” as Rayan puts it, is a call to bring about justice for the downtrodden and dignity to the oppressed. It is also a cry of the heart, a prayer deep inside the human soul, perhaps even unconsciously, for the coming of a New Earth where justice, peace, and love will reign supreme in God’s presence.

 

Liberation theology with an evangelical flavor

Rayan’s book was published in 1978. Six years later, thirty-seven evangelical missiologists (theologians specialized in mission theology) from the Global South came together in Tlayacapan, Mexico, to sharpen their understanding of what God was doing in the world and how he was calling his people to be involved. Their conference published a Declaration at its closing, but not in English. Noted Honduran missiologist C. René Padilla contributed the last chapter to a 2016 edited book, The Spirit over the Earth: Pneumatology in the Majority World. Commenting on Latin American pneumatology in particular, Padilla notes that it seeks to uncover the practical ways the Holy Spirit guides his people in their everyday challenges, and “especially in the context of poverty and oppression” (165). Whereas Western Protestant pneumatology limits its focus on the church and personal salvation and sanctification, the perspective is much broader in Latin America. If the sphere of the Spirit’s action is confined to the church, then social issues are worldly matters Christians need not worry about. But he disagrees: “If, on the contrary, the intermediary God is present in creation and history, all issues that affect human beings, regardless of race, sex, or socioeconomic status in the present world, become a matter of Christian concern” (169). He then offers an English translation of a passage in the Tlayacapan Declaration:

 

“The Spirit’s creative work can be seen in all the spheres of life – social, political, economic, cultural, biological, and religious. It can be seen in anything that awakens sensitivity to the needs of people – a sensitivity that builds more just and peaceful communities and societies and that makes possible for people to live with more freedom to make responsible choices for the sake of a more abundant life” (169).

 

It goes on to explain that the mission of the church includes joining the work of the Holy Spirit who is promoting, among other things, environmental sustainability and the kind of activism we would label today “global governance”:

 

“It can be seen in anything that leads people to sacrifice on behalf of the common good and for the ecological wellbeing of the Earth; to opt for the poor, the ostracized, and the oppressed, by living in solidarity with them for the sake of their uplift and liberation; and to build love relationships and institutions that reflect the values of the Kingdom of God. These are ‘life sacraments’ that glorify God and are made possible only by the power of the Holy Spirit (169-170).

 

Padilla marvels that these African, Asian, and Latin American Christian theologians mentioned “the ecological wellbeing of the Earth” at a time when evangelicals generally ignored such issues. And yet those concerns have only become more acute, to the point that “the very survival of Planet Earth is under threat” (170). First, he quotes from Pope Francis’ first encyclical (2015), Laudate Si: On Care for Our Common Home (see my blog post on it, part I and part II). Then he cites Anglican missiologist John V. Taylor who delivered the Cadbury Lectures at the University of Birmingham in 1967. Taylor later reworked those lectures into a book, The Go-Between God. This excerpt of that book Padilla offers is a nice conclusion to this post. Taylor is reminding us that part of our collective mission is to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead in caring for creation – both listening and responding to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,” as Pope Francis put it:

 

“The Spirit of God is ever at work in nature, in history and in human living, and wherever there is a flagging or corruption or self-destruction of God’s handiwork, he is present to renew and energize and create once again. Whenever faith in the Holy Spirit is strong, creation and redemption are seen as one continuous process” (171).

Published in Faith and Ecology

In the first half of this post, I introduced Native American theologian George E. “Tink” Tinker and used some of the material in his book, American Indian Liberation, to offer us a double reality check: first, the horrors committed by the colonial masters in the Americas, starting with Columbus and stretching the United States’ genocide of the Native populations in the name of Manifest Destiny. The History channel offers a helpful page on this shameful past: “Broken Treaties with Native American Tribes: A Timeline.” From the Revolutionary War and the aftermath of the Civil War (1778-1871), the U.S. government and Indian nations signed 368 treaties. All were broken.

The second reality check is that the 3-4 million who identify as members of indigenous nations are the poorest and most vulnerable demographic in the USA. Tinker wrote that “we are damaged goods,” still reeling psychologically, socially, economically and spiritually from their colonizer’s abuse in all these areas. Add to that the church’s complicity in the oppression of the Indian peoples and the destruction of their way of life. Christian leaders have (consciously or unconsciously) subscribed to a heretical doctrine of White supremacy and colonialism. Christians in the pews, knowingly or not, have imbibed the settler worldview of their White culture. When President Andrew Jackson pushed through Congress the Indian Removal Act of 1928 which set in motion the horrific suffering of hundreds of thousands of tribal peoples during the Trail of Tears, where there any churches that spoke out against it? Very few did. But too, when Christian engaged in missionizing Indian reservations, with all the best intentions in the world, they often contributed to the breakdown of these Native’s cultural safeguards and their psychosocial equilibrium by preaching a Jesus that looked too much like them. Here is how Tinker puts it:

 

“We live with the ongoing stigma of defeated peoples who have endured genocide, the intentional dismantling of cultural values, forced confinement on less desirable lands called ‘reservations, intentionally nurtured dependency on the federal government, and conversion by missionaries who imposed a new culture on us as readily as they preached the gospel” (42).

 

The Clash of Worldviews

Tinker elucidates the contrast between “euro-western” culture (which informed much of Christian theology over the centuries, and especially since the Protestant Reformation) and the indigenous cultures. For him, there are “four fundamental, deep structure cultural differences between Indian people and the cultures that derive from european traditions” (7):

 

1. Indigenous traditions are spatially rooted, as opposed to Western ones which are temporarily rooted; “history and temporality reign supreme in the euro-west, where time is money and ‘development,’ or progress, is the goal” (7). The worldview of indigenous peoples revolves around their land and all its components, whether living or inanimate (not a word in the Indian vocabulary).

2. Whereas euro-westerners prioritize the individual and his or her rights, Native peoples are “communitarian by nature.” He explains, “Thus, for instance, [for Indians] spiritual involvement in the ceremonial life of a community is typically engaged in ‘for the sake of the people’ and not for the sake of individual salvation or personal spiritual benefit. This continues to create deep anxiety and rifts in the minds and hearts of Native Americans who have embraced Christianity, for example, and if you add the heavy burden of the church’s past complicity in the suffering of their people, you begin to understand why many Native Christians are leaving behind their Christian faith and devoting their spiritual energies to the ceremonial life and rituals of their Native tradition (though many practice both simultaneously).

3. For indigenous peoples, everything in the natural or created world is organically related. Whereas euro-western people see themselves as distinct and above the natural world – and therefore free to exploit it as they choose, in Indian cultures people “live and experience themselves as part of creation” (8). Think of Disney’s film, The Lion King, and the theme song, “Circle of life.” Their wider community includes “animals (four-legged), birds, and all the living, moving things (including rocks, hills, trees, rivers, and so on), along with all the other sorts of two-leggeds (e.g., bears, humans of different colors) in the world” (9).

4. Native peoples have “a firm sense of group filial attachment to particular places that comes with a responsibility to relate to the land in those places with responsibility” (9). That is why the eviction of Native Americans from their tribal lands remains so traumatic to them. Another consequence of that tribal attachment is that land ownership itself, whether individual or even group ownership, is completely foreign to their worldview.

 

What Native Americans can teach us

Tinker is right: “Perhaps the most precious gift that American Indians have to share with amer-europeans is our perspective on the interrelatedness of all creation and our deep sense of relationship to the land in particular. . . . Just as there is no category of the inanimate, there can be no conception of anything in the created world that does not share in the sacredness infused in the act of creation” (10). Creation is the theological bedrock of indigenous communities and the circle is the commanding metaphor: “Our prayers are most often said with the community assembled in the form of a circle” (48). It is as if the circle represents the tribe’s connection to other tribes and to all humans, and then to all the universe in creation. Hierarchy is absent from this worldview. Chiefs are chosen by consensus and they are called to embody the collective will of the tribe. Kings and kingdoms are puzzling concepts to them. Put otherwise, the indigenous worldview is egalitarian – their relatives are animals and all elements of the physical world created by God, or the Great Spirit, or some similar conception, depending on the tribe. They also believe in many spirits associated with all manifestations of creation; hence, the overarching concern in this theology of creation is the call to harmony and balance.

This idea is so important that all tribes believe that in order to respect “the established boundaries,” specific ceremonies must be performed if any act of violence is necessary (like killing an animal for food or cutting down a tree for building a sweat lodge). Tinker explains, “Acts of violence against any relative disrupt the balance and are inexcusable.” The same applies to war:

 

“Likewise, most tribes engaged in elaborate ceremonies before going to war with another tribe. Even one’s enemies must be respected. No killing was to be random. A tribe’s survival or territorial integrity might be at risk. Nevertheless, maintaining balance, respect for all one’s relatives, meant that four to twelve days of ceremony might be necessary before battle could be engaged” (55).

 

Along with respect, the American Indian would add “reciprocity” to the central dynamic of our human interaction with the land and all its creature. Just as “prayers and the offering of tobacco are reciprocal acts of giving something back to the earth and to all of creation in order to maintain balance,” the Osages and other plains Indian peoples performed specific ceremonies before engaging in a hunt and the killing of buffaloes. Indeed, they “lived a close sibling relationship with the buffalo.” These ceremonies, then, were seen as “necessary to restore life to the buffalo nation” (40). Tragically, he asks, “what do we return to the earth when we clear-cut a forest or gouge out a strip mine leaving miles upon miles of earth totally bare?”

Yet if our Christian theology truly started with God creating the heavens and the earth as in the early church’s ecumenical creeds (e.g., the Nicene Creed), then we would also realize that all human beings are equally sacred by virtue of creation. So the question comes, “Where is the reciprocity, the maintaining of cosmic balance, with respect to those who are suffering varieties of oppression in our modern world? Blacks in southern Africa, non-Jews in Palestine, Tamils in Sri Lanka, or tribal people in Latin America?” (41).

 

Liberation theology is a Third-World thing

Even though the Vatican has condemned the Marxist-inspired “liberation theology” distilled in the writings and activism of Latin American theologians like Gustavo Gutiérrez and others, official Catholic social doctrine teaches that God’s “preferential option for the poor” is central to the gospel. Reading the words of Jesus and following him through the four written gospels makes that abundantly clear. But is this what Tinker is referring to in his title: American Indian Liberation? In fact, he is not. That phrasing, he insists, “is nearly meaningless language for Indians” (136). To identify “the poor” in that way is to refer to a modern socioeconomic structure in which different classes compete for power in a capitalist economic system. It also presumes an individualistic view of personhood. By contrast, affirms Tinker, “Indian people want affirmation . . . as national communities with discrete cultures, discrete languages, discrete value systems, and our own governments and territories” (136). Human rights are still relevant, but in a different way. Indigenous peoples have been recognized as the “Fourth World,” and the landmark United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly in 2007.

Just a quick footnote here. Article 26:1 of that Declaration states, “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.” Let me inject a small note of hope here. The U.S. government’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation just posted a lengthy article, “Announcement of US Support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Rights.” When the said UN Declaration was presented to the General Assembly in September 2007, the United States was not one of the 143 nations to sign it. President Obama changed that in 2010. The article explains,

 

“U.S. support for the Declaration goes hand in hand with the U.S. commitment to address the consequences of a history in which, as President Obama recognized, ‘few have been marginalized and ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans – our First Americans. That commitment is reflected in the many policies and programs that are being implemented by U.S. agencies in response to concerns raised by Native Americans, including poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, health care gaps, violent crime and discrimination.”

 

The article documents a number of discussions, decisions and the earmarking of several billion dollars in land acquisition and other measures to improve the lives of Native Americans. Our current Secretary of the Interior is a Native woman, Deb Haaland, and more work is being done in this area. [Read also about how the State of Minnesota just decided to return a state park to a small tribe adjacent to it – a first in the U.S., partly because of its Indian burial site and mostly because of a massacre perpetrated there in 1862]

 

Tinker’s creation theology

If liberation theology is a “Third World thing,” in Tinker’s writing it becomes a “Fourth World thing.” The key difference resides in the way one interprets the central theme of Jesus’ teaching – the kingdom of God and how one relates it to social justice and peacebuilding. Western theology (and liberation theology too, to a large extent) understands the concept in terms of temporality: Jesus announces that in his person the kingdom of God has “drawn near,” that his death and resurrection will open up a new age in which his disciples will spread the Good News (or, the gospel) to all nations, tribes and cultures of the world. At the end of that era of the church, Jesus will return to earth and all humans of all ages will be resurrected; then God will pronounce his final judgment, which will then lead to the renewal of all things – the appearance of a completely renewed creation.

Right after the judgment, the Apostle John writes,

 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband …

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb [the crucified and risen Jesus] are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day, because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:1-4; 22-27).

 

But notice that it isn’t just about people. Other elements of creation are present:

 

“Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2, from the New Living Translation).

 

This eschatological (i.e., relative to the end time) narrative is full of symbolism. Tinker, using only broad strokes emphasizes the following. First, the perfectly harmonious and balanced creation was there from the start in Genesis 1 and 2, but only as potential. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and evil, chaos, and death entered God’s good creation. As Paul writes to the Roman believers,

 

“Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:20-22).

 

You can see how this fits nicely into his Indigenous worldview. Yes, there is a time arc that stretches from creation to the cross and resurrection of Jesus and finally to the New Heavens and the New Earth where all creation is made new. Tinker doesn’t deny the time dimension; he just chooses to emphasize the spatial dimension over it. In that “New Jerusalem,” God’s rule is supreme and unhindered. Even the nations of the earth come together in harmony and they put their wealth and honor at the service of the common good.

Finally, if the settler communities of our world repent, turn around and see themselves as truly and organically part of God’s good creation, then “we will begin to participate actively not in the exploitation of the earth but in the establishment of balance and harmony. Our participation in the balance and harmony of all creation will then most naturally include other individuals and communities of human beings. And justice and then genuine peace will flow out of our concern for one another and all creation” (56).

But what is missing here? God’s Spirit is missing – God present in the world and his power in the human heart and soul and in human communities everywhere to move forward this healing, reconciling process. Perhaps this is because in the Native American worldview “God” is more often seen as the Great Spirit, an impersonal life-force pulsing through everything. Every facet of creation – animals, trees, rocks, rivers and plants – are all imbued with spirits. They are alive in that sense. And Paul talks about all creation “groaning” and writhing in pain, looking forward to the full redemption which is still to come. There is a lot in contemporary Christian theology, particularly from the Majority World (of what we used to call the Third World), that addresses this theme of creation, justice and peace through the agency of God’s Spirit.

Addressing that glaring gap in Tinker’s creation theology, then, will be the theme of my next blog post. Pneumatology (that part of theology that focuses on the Holy Spirit) is a central theme in my book project.