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Interconnectedness, Relatedness of All Things in Creation

Draft. 15 June 2014.

It is part of the New View in Theology and Practice that all things in the created order are interconnected or related. The Nature of Creation: Is it static things? Is it dynamic happening? The New View sees the nature of creation as relatedness, meaningfulness and joy. In this version, relatedness is focused on. We are created to be related, to the rest of creation and to each other as human beings, and to God himself.

Questions arise:

Please feel free to skip to the implications, since they are more practical. Some of other pieces are more academic.

Is Interconnectedness found in Scripture?

Here are a few relevant Scriptures, which seem to show interconnectedness.

"[Yahweh] God said 'It is not good for the man to be along. I will make a helper suitable for him." Genesis 2:18

To Abram "I will bless you ... and you will be a blessing ..." Genesis 12:2

"Their descendants will be known among the nations, and and their offspring among the peoples" Isaiah 61:9

"... restore him gently ... carry each others' burdens ... share ... let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." Galatians 6

"There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery, they break all bounds and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying." Hosea 4:2-3, emphasis added.

"They sacrifice on the mountaintops and burn offering on the hills ... Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution and your daughters-in-law to adultery." Hosea 4:13

"Because you have depended on your own strength and on your many warriors, the roar of battle will rise against your people." Hosea 10:13

"They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind" Hosea 8:7

"The sins of the fathers will be visited on the children to the third and fourth generation." "The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge."

"Cast your bread on the waters, and it will return to you after many days."

The first few show a connectedness between people, the long one from Hosea 4 shows a connection between what people do and the health of the natural world, the next two show the connectedness between faith / attitude and the state of society, while the next few show a general connectedness. Some of these show good, some evil.

But do such Scriptures really show interconnectedness? Or might it be that they are all true merely because of God's law, as results of our obedience or disobedience? Might these verses merely indicate that a Sovereign Law-giver measures us against His law and then acts in the world to punish or reward for what we have done? For example, when Hosea said that the land mourns because of the sin of the people, might it be that when we break the law of God, then God does things in the natural world to punish us. This is a view that predominated in Scholastic Christianity, which likes to see supernatural action in the world, and such elevation of God's Law is one that still prevails in some Jewish thought to this day. That the repercussion could be via the action of God in response to how we act in relation to his laws is certainly a logical explanation, and possibly all the above verses and more could be explained that way, but such a view exhibits problems.

We can depict this view as follows:

All Entities linked only via God and His Law

One problem with such a view is that it makes God rather unjust, if He hurts others because of my sin. Because I sin, God makes my daughter turn to prostitution. I have long felt uneasy with the sins of the fathers being visited on the children to the third and fourth generation, feeling "Is God really just in that?" I know that Paul warns that we cannot question the justice of God, but in fact many people did so, including Abraham, Moses and Jeremiah, and God honoured their doing so.

Moreover, such a view seems rather forced as an explanation for some of the Scriptures above. God saying that it is not good to be alone does not seem to be anything about obedience to His law, but rather about the state of affairs in the way He created. Being known among the people is an interconnectedness of a kind that does not fit that.

It seems to me that such verses, and many more like them throughout Scripture, are indicative of interconnectedness within creation rather than solely via our relationship with God. I cannot yet point to 'proof texts' for this, but viewing the creation as interconnected brings new life, new dimensions, to passages of Scripture that were flat before. As we understand more what kind the interconnectedness is, and what its implications are, this might become clearer.

Interconnectedness, Relatedness is Not Relationships

Interconnectedness, relatedness takes on certain meanings. One is very general, namely that human beings are part of creation. In this very general way we are connected to all creation. But that is very amorphous, rather abstract, and does not have much effect.

The best way I see interconnectedness or relatedness is as dynamic and linked with response and responsibility, rather than as a static idea of relationships. That is, I see it as a state of affairs in which we exist, rather than entities that we can identify and perhaps name.

However, many would tend to see it as a set of relationships. This is rooted in Greek thought, which liked to consider things, entities, which are discrete and relatively static, or at least retain some essence throughout changes. They liked the idea that each thing is of a certain substance despite 'accidents' that change it. Such a view has pervaded Christian and Western thought for centuries. As a result, we might naturally slide in our thinking from relatedness to relationships. This view is depicted in the following figure, which shows people, trees, a house and path, and the thought of someone, all connected by a network of relationships.

Things linked by a network of relationships

We might ask "What are the relationships among things in creation?" I do not think it is appropriate nor helpful to try to understand relatedness in terms of relationships. For the following reasons:

Interconnectedness is Dynamic, Law-like

Instead, I see interconnectedness as dynamic, wide, multifarious. Relatedness may be expressed as repercussions, or the potential for repercussions - a kind of causal relationship by which what we do results in other happenings. Or as a state of affairs in which we live and exist (e.g. it not being good to be alone). To think of relationships is a reification, inspired by a Greek way of thinking, rather than the reality itself.

How does this dynamic kind of interconnectedness work? One way is to see God's Law, not as something imposed from above but as something underneath that "upholds creation with his word of power". Such law enables us to function and itself can include some interconnectedness with others. As we function in line with the various kinds of law that uphold creation, repercussions occur. Take the simple example of the physical law of equal and opposite reactions to force. When I swing a bat, the operation of this law leads to a repercussion on the ball (as long as I don't miss!). Likewise, the social law of politeness means that if I act in a rude way, the other person will be upset.

This view may be depicted as follows:

Everything interconnected dynamically by responding to laws-of-creation

Many Mosaic laws state or imply such repercussions. "Honour your parents, so that things will go well with you" is explicit. In "Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do no murder" the repercussion on others is implicit in the verb: disloyalty, loss of property and loss of life. This is the kind of interconnectedness that I see throughout the Scripture that pervades creation. Many of the verses above indicate relatedness of this kind.

Note: This view finds strong echoes in the 'Philosophy of the Law Idea' pioneered by the late Herman Dooyeweerd, so it can be addressed philosophically as well as theologically.

Where It Fits In Theology

Briefly, interconnectedness fits in theology as one of five major ideas, alongside Reality Rejoicing, Role of Humankind, Rich Redemption and Representing God. Notice there is no 'Fall' there. Fall is seen as a secondary, not primary, thing, a result of the interconnectedness, relatedness. This enables us to escape the negative problem of the Fall being a good thing in God's Plan, and allows God's Plan to be understood as wholly good. See Fall below.


IMPLICATIONS

The rest, below, has been extracted from Five R's, its 'Relatedness' section, to create this separate page. It will be rewritten later to suit it being a separate page about Interconnectedness.

Relatedness as Agape Love and Interdependency

Elsewhere, we have emphasised radah-as-love: that humanity's role is to bless the rest of creation so that it experiences something of the character of God as we do so. But we are not autonomous sources of blessing (only God is that). Rather, we also are part of creation and, as such, we are dependent on the rest of creation. In this sense we find the rest of creation to be a resource for our living and we also derive enjoyment from it.

We may indeed enjoy the rest of creation, and use it as resource for living, but that is secondary and not primary. God's plan is this: Primarily, we serve and bless the rest of creation, and then in return it responds and blesses us. Shepherds look after sheep, but, having done so, they can use wool, milk and even meat. God's plan is for a 'virtuous circle', in which as we bless the rest of creation, we are blessed in turn - and the whole results in blessing and praise to God. The apostle, Paul, understood this.

Jim Skillen puts it this way: Each creature has honour of being what it is, and each creature is hospitable to others. He finds this in the order of the days of creation: light and dark are hospitable to land, which is hospitable to plants, which are hospitable to sea creatures and land animals and these are hospitable to humans. Everything in all creation is there, not for its own sake, but for the sake of all others - and this is most true of humans.

We can understand this better if we recognise that the central rule of creation is interconnectedness, relatedness. Everything relates to everything else. There are food chains. There are networks of causality. There are cycles of blessing. There are relationships of responsibility. Nothing stands alone, nothing stands apart from others and especially not above it. All is dependent on all else. All refers beyond itself. And, ultimately, the whole cosmos refers beyond itself to God, and the interconnectedness we find in the cosmos is an echo of the love of God. Love is always relating and referring beyond itself. Note 4.

Let us look at what this entails - including looking at what Christians call The Fall. Or jump directly to Rich Redemption - Romans 8 revisited.

What Our Blessing of Creation Entails

What does our blessing of the rest of creation involve? Should we, for example, eschew all technology and aim for a 'natural' world and 'primitive' human living? Such a view might be possibly within this 'New View' (and it is not so appalling as Western thinking might suggest, when we remove the effects of the fall), but it sits uncomfortably here and with the whole story of Scripture. I believe it is much, much more likely that it is God's intention that we 'open up' all the diverse aspects of the creation, developing them to their full potential and glory, for God's delight, their joy and ours.

Part of this is technology. We are to fashion and control according to some purpose, rather than let things happen. (For example, rampant plants like Rhododendron should be controlled for the sake of other 'weaker' species.) For example, we can discover and employ the properties of timber, iron, silicon, and so on. But I believe the type of technological development God had envisaged would be different from ours - controlled, patient, at peace with the creation (see fruit of the Holy Spirit) - and especially that part of the fruit which is being patient with the speed and way in which creation works rather than using technology as an excuse for being impatient with it.

Part of this is economics. We are to frugally and skilfully manage, respecting, accepting and creatively working within the limitations of resource we encounter. Very different from current economics, based on removing limitations, on maximization of owner value, on production and consumption.

Part of this is poetry and music. And rest. Notice how the climax of the creation story at the start of Genesis is not human beings but rest [thanks to Jim Skillen for pointing this out].

And so on. I find Dooyeweerd's aspects provide a useful insight into the diversity of creation and how it may be properly opened up.

In Westminster Abbey is Poet's Corner, where famous poets are buried. I used to think this was blasphemy because many of these poets had not been true followers of Jesus Christ and did not die "in the Lord". But today, though my opinion of them has changed little, I no longer see it blasphemy, because even these people have opened up something in the Creation Order and thus contributed to fulfilling humankind's commission. This relates to our discussion of the contribution of the non-believer.

What God Hates

Everything in creation bringing blessing to another is an echo of love. The opposite of love is not hatred but selfishness, self-seeking and pride on the one hand and idolatry on the other. Selfishness, self-seeking and pride elevates me above others. Idolatry elevates another thing above others. Scripture tells us that God hates both pride and idolatry, but how do we understand his hatred of them?

In other views, we try to understand it in terms of God's authority: selfishness, pride and idolatry usurp God's authority. While this is logical, and there is obvious truth in this, this understanding on its own contradicts itself, in that it suggests a God who is himself 'selfish'. While Christians, Jews, Muslims and others might just accept that, many find it difficult to stomach.

Under the New View this problem is lessened. If we see both pride and idolatry, not as resisting God's authority but as denying our interconnectedness - denying or ignoring, for example, our responsibility to others, our ability to bless others, our causal effects on others, etc. - then we can see how damaging these can be to others. Since God loves all he has made, this hurts him. This enables us to bring God's love and justice together.

Justice as Love

We are used to thinking of justice as somehow opposed to love. We find it difficult to understand how God can hate the sin and love the sinner. This may be because we forget interconnectedness within creation, and think that the only eternally significant relationship we have is with God himself. If this were so, then I cannot understand how God can punish me when he loves me. (I might believe-it-by-faith, but I do not understand it.) The only way I can understand it is by way of God having a standard that I should keep up to. But this makes a tension between God's 'righteous' standard and his love. So Christianity, Judaism and Islam (and others) have always found it hard to reconcile the two, usually giving one or other the priority. God's love, we think, is in spite of his justice, and vice versa.

But now consider that all is interconnected. Suppose I do something that harms other things. Because God loves those other things, he is sad, and perhaps even angry with me. And so he punishes me, perhaps as retribution but certainly as a warning to stop what I am doing that harms the others. God's justice is because he loves others as well as me. There is no now tension between God's justice and his love.

Because God loves he is just, not in spite of it.

This is the New View of the relationship between God's love and his justice, wrath and so on. The wrath of God is derivative, not original, secondary not primary. We no longer have to deny one to uphold the other.

Paul Marshall defines justice as 'right relationships among all things in the created order' - linking justice with relationships. Righteousness is also linked with relationships: indeed, righteousness and justice are the same thing.

The Fall

Interconnectedness also helps us understand the Fall, in Genesis 3, and the significance of the 'curse' that God seemed to inflict when the human beings disobeyed him - pain in childbearing, thorns, weeds and thistles making agriculture difficult, and so on.

The standard view seems to portray God as a petty official who, peeved that his creatures did what he told them not to, instituted various curses and pains by way of punishment, retribution or even, if we are honest, revenge.

But I no longer see it so. Rather, I see these things as a natural outcome of what we have done, because of the interconnectedness inherent in creation.

Thus the so-called 'curses' are not. They are merely God telling us examples of how creation, with which we are interconnected, will work against us if we take to ourselves the right to determine what seems good and evil. He cited three examples - in obstetrics, in food production and in family relationships. Our wrong actions break the cycle of joy and blessing that we mentioned above. No! God is no petty, peeved official. He is still love.

The problem is that we have chosen to see the world in a certain way: to take to ourselves the right to determine what is good and evil, and this is a deep orientation of heart, not just a matter of thinking or doing. (See longer piece on 'The Fall'.) Because we have done so, we are blinkered and keep on with self-justification. To overcome this requires repentance, not just deductions, discourse or determination, because all three of these are themselves distorted.

Some dislike the theology of sin and its attendant theology of atonement. But, once we have stopped trying to make points, and begin to see ourselves as we are, we know we are warped inside, trapped in the warp, and separated from God our source of Life and Joy. All we do, even the best, is tarnished by selfishness, pride, arrogance, self-will, rejection of others. Sin is not only there, but is noetic.

See a longer discussion of sin, evil, dysfunction.

(But, some might say, has not nature been 'put out of joint'? See below.)

Indirect Impacts

The New View helps us understand the importance of indirect impacts of what we do. Under older views, only direct impacts seem to be considered. We focus on individual responsibility to God and it is all too easy to assume that that is all we need be concerned with.

We make much of those verses that say that God will make all things right. And yet, much of the evil in the world comes about indirectly rather than directly. We are used to direct repercussions of what we do. But because of interconnectedness, what we do sets of a chain of repercussions. I use someone spitefully or unjustly, they get hurt and irritable, they go home and snap at their family, who in turn feel hurt and snap at each other, and a row breaks out, and one of the children goes round to their friends in a bad and cynical mood and causes trouble there, and so on.

In environmental issues, it is the indirect rather than direct impacts that are harmful. For example, I drive my car, and the emissions contribute to climate change, which causes storms that destroy the homes and livelihood of thousands in central Africa.

One very important indirect impact comes not from our actions but from our world view - the taken-for-granted assumptions about how the world is, what's important, what's wrong and what's right. Our world view affects they way we live and work, and what we put effort into and what we let go by, which in turn emanates in our actions, which in turn have impact. The Biblical world view involves proper radah, and would lead us to use our car less and do the 'inconvenient' thing of walking or cycling more (but with increased health!). But most of us Western Christians have a world view like that of the worldly consumerist, and don't bother. My world view - whatever it is - emanates in a myriad of small life decisions that have an impact, whether direct or indirect. That is why world view is so important, and why Rom. 12:2 tells us it is God's plan to transform us by changing the way we see things.

"The fathers will not be punished for the children, nor the children for the fathers; everyone will be punished for his own sin." God punishes those who commit sin - but the sin we commit has multiple indirect repercussions. And they stand against and accuse us in the court of God's judgement, as evidence to what our sin really is: "affluence, arrogance and unconcern for the poor" [Ezekiel 16:49] in our hearts and attitudes.

God's 'Bias to the Poor'

This view, incidentally, helps us understand why it is that God has a 'bias to the poor', why the Living God has constantly revealed himself as a defender of the powerless. Under older views, especially those of a libertarian nature, it is very difficult to allow that God has any bias to the poor because any such bias is deemed unfair. Some would go so far as to suggest poverty and powerlessness is their own fault.

But if we acknowledge the relatedness of all in creation, and especially indirect impacts, then frequently poverty and powerlessness come about indirectly because of what we do, even though we don't intend it. The very world view we hold becomes inscribed into the society or environment we create around us, into its very structures. If that world view is idolatrous or distorted, then so will our society, environment and structures.

Even the best-willed person can do things that, unwittingly, create detrimental conditions for others - whether those others are human, animal or anything else in creation that 'groans' (see below).

God recognises this and helps those who are affected in such ways. But he does not simply step in on every occasion to right wrong, for two reasons. One is that he has given humankind responsibility and wants us to develop that and learn to employ it. The other is that this life is not the Real nor Final Life; that is to come (for most of us beyond death).

Real Life - Eternal Life

Jesus revealed the reality of 'eternal life'. This is not endless sailing about on clouds with harps, worshipping God, but something much more tangible. It is better thought of as our Real Life, which is "hid with Christ in God", and is given or opened up to us after our death. This life is a kind of training ground for the Real Life. (I would call it Next Life, but that has echoes of reincarnation that I want to avoid. But I also want to avoid connotations that this will be 'heaven' or 'spiritual' in the sense commonly thought, because I believe it will be much more earthy and tangible that than, only without evil and sin.) Things there will be much more Real than things here.

Jesus clearly spoke about the Real (Next) Life when he:

We can see how this all chimes in with our notion of Radah as managing the rest of creation for its own blessing. Paul seemed to understand this well when he said on a number of occasions that the rest of creation would be resurrected and given new shape along with human beings.

(Note: I have placed this issue, not under the theme of Redemption below, but under the theme of Relatedness partly because it follows naturally from discussing the Fall and the Poor and the clearing up of problems that befall us, partly to emphasise its continuity with the present regime, and partly to avoid any suggestion that Real Life is either some kind of contingency plan by God made necessary by the Fall or on the other hand that our current regime is somehow inferior in God's plan. Both this life and Real Life were part of God's plan from the start, with or without the Fall. See Paul Marshall's book Heaven is Not My Home.)

(cf. PDL Day 4, Day 5, Day 64)

Heaven

Heaven is seen, by most Christendom, as the place where those acceptable to God go after death, and conversely Hell is where the evil people go. Heaven is loosely seen as our destiny, our ultimate 'home'. It is seen as what will replace Earth after the end of time.

That is not how the Bible sees it. Most of the Bible sees heaven as the realm where celestial beings live, such as angels, the realm that is 'not Earth' and is 'above' Earth, both physically, morally, etc. Possibly because of the influence of Greek thinking, this was seen as the 'spiritual' realm as opposed to the material realm of earth.

Because, the Jews and other reasoned, God is not physical, God must be spiritual, and must therefore be 'in heaven'. The Bible; however, sees God as Creator of both heaven and earth, rather than being 'in heaven'; indeed Solomon knew that even "the heaven of heavens" cannot contain God. So heaven is not to be seen as 'God's home'.

This New View tries to understand heaven in the way the Bible shows it, as the realm of the celestial beings, as that part of creation that is not Earth. Heaven is probably governed by laws different from those we experience, including different physical laws.

The destiny of those acceptable to God is not heaven but a renewed Earth. Heaven is Not My Home wrote Paul Marshall, and Heaven It's Not the End of the World wrote David Lawrence.

Notes

Note 4. Philosophically, referring beyond self is what Dooyeweerd meant by 'Meaning'. But we are used to thinking of independent entities rather than meaning, of self-actualization rather than self-giving, of emancipation rather than interconnectedness.

References

Jim Skillen gave a talk at CPC2011 on 'Four patterns of creation's meaning', which are:

This is very like this New View. He will soon publish a book on this.

Lawrence, D. Heaven, It's Not The End of the World. Scripture Union.

Marshall, P. Heaven is Not My Home.


This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us.

The first few sections of this page were stimulated by a challenge put out by Dr. Eric Enloe and Dr. Nick Lantinga of Handong Global University, to be clearer about the Biblical basis for interconnectedness, to whom thanks are due.

Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden to latest date below, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext. Number of visitors to these pages: Counter.

Created: 15 June 2014, from rrrr.html; its creation was stimulated by Eric Enloe and Nick Lantinga as mentioned above.

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