It’s always nice when you have an ‘A-ha’ moment in your thinking (particularly for me because I don’t have them very often…), and I had one of those just a few days ago.
I was thinking through a couple of talks I was due to give that were based around the three-fold relational schema I often use when talking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and how caring for the wider natural world is an essential part of that. To put it very succinctly (because that’s not the point of this post), I see human beings as having been created for relationships: with God, with each other, and with the wider creation; that the Fall broke those relationships, and that Jesus came to restore them on every level (ie his life, death and resurrection was about more than reconciling human beings to God, as important as that is). We are called to join in this Gospel of reconciliation in our own lives, as individuals and as churches, to work for the restoration of relationships – peace – on all levels.
(That really is very succinct: I can spend an hour or two unpacking that paragraph; working through the biblical material and looking at its practical implications!)
Anyway, the point is that I see these relationships as stemming from the fact that we have been created by, and we reflect, a God who has relationships at his heart ie who is a Trinity.
Human beings, therefore, are fundamentally relational: we don’t exist in splendid independent isolation from what and who is around us, we find our identity through the relationships that make up our lives – with God, with others, and with the natural world – and when any of those are missing or disordered then our personhood/our humanity suffers.
As I was reflecting on this I was struck by how this relates more broadly than to humans alone, because the fact is that the whole natural world is built on relationships. We are used to calling them ecosystems and so miss what they reveal to us, but theologically they are simply relationships.
Think about it: everywhere you look, everything you see (and don’t see) is in relationship with something else. There is not a single thing that exists in this world that is not linked to something else. Our whole world is permeated with, and predicated upon, ecosystems: thousands and thousands of them, interlinking and weaving in and out of each other.
And I suddenly thought, ‘A-ha, of course!’. Of course we live in a world where nothing is on its own and everything is in relation to other things. This world exists because the Trinitarian God, who has relationships at the core of who he is, has poured himself out and created something that expresses himself. Of course, then, this world is made up of ecosystems, because it reflects a God who is utterly relational.