For God So Loved the World
Malcolm Guite drawing on John 3:16-17, for a forthcoming poetry collection Parable and Paradox.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
The Greek in John 3:16 is glorious:
16 ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον ωστε τον υιον τον μονογενη εδωκεν ινα πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη αποληται αλλ εχη ζωην αιωνιον
The Word for ‘Loved’ in that verse is ‘egapesen’ that means ‘Agape’ Love, the highest and fullest and most selfless love, but best of all the word for ‘The World’ is ‘Ton Cosmon‘ -the whole cosmos!
The whole round world, in Greek the total cosmos.
Is all encompassed in this loving word;
Not just the righteous, right on, and religious,
But every one of whom you’ve ever heard,
And all the throng you don’t know or ignore,
For everyone is precious in his sight,
Chosen and cherished, loved, redeemed before
The circling cosmos ever saw the light.
He set us in the world that we might flourish
That His beloved world might live through us
We chose instead that all of this should perish
And turned his every blessing to a curse.
And now he gives himself, as Life and Light
That we might choose in Him to set things right.
In the beginning the Word, the Word was made flesh.
Early religions respected Mother Earth. We still see this today with Amazonian Indians.
Mehinaku attribute spirits to everything in the natural world around them, living things, inanimate objects, stones, streams, mountains. The spirits are to be respected, granted due reverence. Mehinaku blame white people for what is happening to their world.
Carla Stang discusses the relationship Mehinaku have with the natural world in her essay Rampant Rainbows and the Blackened Sun in Dark Mountain 6.
Then along came Christianity, granting Man dominion over everything that lay before him.
Genesis 1:28 (revised King James):
And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’
Francis Bacon De Augementos Scientiarum (1623):
You have but to follow and as it were hound nature in her wanderings, and you will be able, when you like, to lead and drive her afterwards to the same place again.
Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating into those holes and corners, when the inquisition of truth is his whole object.
Rev William Derham, Physico-Theology (1713):
We can, if need be, ransack the whole globe, penetrate into the bowels of the earth, descend to the bottom of the deep, travel to the furthest regions of the world, to acquire wealth.
At least that is the traditional view.
Not all Christians took this view
In The Way of Wyrd Anglo-Saxon man recognised that he and the world around him were part of a complex web of life. The early Celtic Christians saw the interweaving of their religion and the natural world. Celtic music, then and now interwove the spiritual and the natural world, harmonious, natural rhythms.
The early scholars St Ephrem the Syrian, St Dionysius the Areopagite, St Maximus the Confessor, Hildegard von Bingen all recognised the complex web of life and the oneness of Creation.
St Ephrem the Syrian (306-373) in a hymn wrote:
As the water surrounds the fish and feels it,
So also do all natures feel God,
He is diffused through the air,
And with thy breath enters into thy midst.
He is mingled with the light,
And enters, when thou seest, into thy eyes.
He is mingled with thy spirit,
And examines thee from within, as to what thou art,
In thy soul He dwells …
St Ephrem the Syrian recognised that God permeates everything, we cannot separate God from his Creation. Therefore if we exploit His Creation, then we are exploiting and abusing Him. St Ephrem the Syrian also introduces the concept of oneness, familiar to Hindus and Buddhists.
No work stains a man who is pure, who is in harmony, who is master of his life, whose soul is one with the soul of all.
St Dionysius the Areopagite (circa 500) defined hierarchy (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy):
We have a venerable sacred tradition which asserts that every hierarchy is the complete expression of the sacred elements comprised within it. It is the perfect total of all its sacred constituents. Our own hierarchy is therefore said to embrace every every one of its sacred constituents.
William Blake’s ‘infinity in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour.’
The hierarchy of St Dionysius the Areopagite is not the rigid authoritarian pyramid command structure as implemented by the Catholic Church and Big Business, it is a network concept where the interlinking of the parts forms the whole, and the whole creates the environment for the parts. Each component part contributes to the maintaining of the stability of the whole, as organs exist within an organism and cannot exist without, unlike Modern Man who is determined like Samson to bring the temple crashing down.
But why would God wish Man to abuse his creation? Would he not appoint Man as the guardian or custodian of his creation?
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), Abbess of the convents at Bingen and Rupertsberg (which she established), was a philosopher, mystic, visionary, artist, poet, writer of treatises on theology, natural history, medicine, and composer of beautiful, haunting music. Describing herself as a ‘feather on the breath of God’, much of her work was derived from divine inspiration and visions. She saw that as God created all life, then all life must be permeated with His divine spirit.
Oh fire of the Holy Spirit,
life of the life of every creature,
holy are you in giving life to forms …
Oh boldest path,
penetrating into all places,
in the heights, on earth,
and in every abyss,
you bring and bind together
From you clouds flow, air flies,
Rocks have their humours,
Rivers spring forth from the waters
And earth wears her green vigour
Hildegard von Bingen saw that Creation existed before Man, that it could survive without Man, that Man needed Creation in order to survive, and that the only purpose of Man’s appearance in Creation was to glorify God’s work and to act as His steward. God had to give Man reason in order to enable him to admire God’s work and to act as His steward, but Man then used his reason to decide that he was wiser than God and could improve upon His handiwork.
Malcolm Guite is Parish Priest, musician and poet.
He has released Dancing Through the Fire. But why insult people and release through CDBaby, a few seconds lofi samples? Why not release on bandcamp?