How are you spending your summer vacation? Often we seek out some beautiful place that seems closer to nature than our usual round of 'buying and spending.' I, for my part, and after dutifully reviewing my Spanish verbs, have been watching the political conventions and passing a day in a rain national park in Costa Rica. Hearing both promises about 'winners' and fears for survival in the first, and worries about ecological crisis in the second, and watching an intense neighborhood of contending fauna and flora in the third, together raise the question of a christian understanding of the natural order, one of the most perplexing theological questions of the modern age.
In a more positive mood, we can affirm the sense of beauty and order found in nature. This sense has been related to an intimation of the existence of the Creator throughout Christian thought. Part of that order, the differentiation of male and female and the resulting fecundity, are declared 'good' by God for the human. These are not left behind in the stewardship bestowed on us in Genesis 1.
What hasn't been traditionally found in our faith is a yearning for unification with that force, either as order or as chaos. To be sure such yearning is indeed a deep human sense, but it is called 'paganism.' We moderns have been characterized by both the intimation and the yearning, and the trouble we have telling one from the others.
Even a single morning's guided tour through the jungle reminds us that nature is one long protein chain of ingesting and being ingested. We know this to be true, but have a hard time assessing it. Konrad Lorenz once said the lion stalking his prey has the same relation to it which we have to our corn flakes. He is not angry, not even aggressive in a human sense.
We have, as I say, a hard time making sense of this. We are part of this order, we ingestors of protein. We alternately are repelled by it, or celebrate this fact, as we imagine ourselves as spirits or lions. Neither is helpful or accurate. We can neither climb to angelhood nor descend to an animalhood devoid of conscience, Plato and Ayn Rand notwithstanding. The conundrum all this puts us in is itself a sign of original sin, as is the kind of extended cruelty to our own species others rarely show. Even trying to be 'animal' proves we aren't simply that, creatures though we be.
My point is simply this: being ensouled mammals, at once answerable to and alienated from God, is complicated. As such we cannot make sense of ourselves with a single one of the claims I have here listed. We need them all together, and in their own kind of 'ecology,' held together by the master story of the bible, summed-up for us in the creed. Trying to make sense of ourselves without all this will end up as a distortion, whether it makes of us creators or angels or predators or furies, for on our own we lapse into our own false optimisms and pessimisms.
...and enjoy that sunset over the water!