Williams: a vision of the world and the humans in it free from possession

The evening Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, delivered a lecture entitled “Renewing the Face of the Earth: Human Responsibility and the Environment.”

An excerpt:

To understand that we and our environment are alike in the hands of God, so that neither can be possessed absolutely, is to see that the mysteriousness of the interior life of another person and the uncontrollable difference and resistance of the material world are connected. Both demand that we do not regard relationships centred upon us, upon our individual or group agendas, as the determining factor in how we approach persons or things. If, as this whole section of Leviticus assumes, God’s people are called to reflect what God is like, to make God’s holiness visible, then just or good action is action which reflects God’s purpose of liberating persons and environment from possession and the exploitation that comes from it – liberating them in order that their ‘primary and defining relation’ may be realised. Just action, towards people and environment, is letting created reality, both human and non-human, stand before God unhindered by attempts to control and dominate.

And then there is this,

There is no guarantee that the world we live in will ‘tolerate’ us indefinitely if we prove ourselves unable to live within its constraints.

Is this – as some would claim – a failure to trust God, who has promised faithfulness to what he has made? I think that to suggest that God might intervene to protect us from the corporate folly of our practices is as unchristian and unbiblical as to suggest that he protects us from the results of our individual folly or sin. This is not a creation in which there are no real risks; our faith has always held that the inexhaustible love of God cannot compel justice or virtue; we are capable of doing immeasurable damage to ourselves as individuals, and it seems clear that we have the same terrible freedom as a human race. God’s faithfulness stands, assuring us that even in the most appalling disaster love will not let us go; but it will not be a safety net that guarantees a happy ending in this world. Any religious language that implies this is making a nonsense of the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament and the urgency of the preaching of Jesus.

But to say this is also to be reminded of the fact that intelligence is given to us; we are capable of changing our situation – and, as A.S.Byatt’s character puts it, using our intelligence to limit the ruinous effect of our intelligence.

The boy can write. Read it all.

His lecture was the latest of the Ebor Lectures on Theology and Public Life at York St. John University: “The Ebor Lectures are a response to the growing need for theology to interact with public issues of contemporary society.”

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