Something new popped out of the Genesis story of Noah when I reread it. When Noah and all the animals had come out of the ark after the flood, God said two things to which I had never paid much attention.
First, God declared the lifeblood of all creatures to be holy, and God would hold accountable those who shed it. He didn’t mean bloody noses. He meant killing each other. Yes, God gave humans the right to kill animals for food, but not to consume their life blood, which was holy. How are we doing with that? Not well. We have a multitude of customs, folklore, laws and a long history to justify killing each other. Just war, justifiable homicide, stand your ground, revenge as justice: there isn’t a way to justify killing one another that we haven’t thought of codified, romanticized, or celebrated.
True, later scripture records the history of killings, and laws, said to be divinely given, justifying some forms of it. They’re flimsy excuses for our inability and unwillingness to live up to the standard God set in the beginning: humans do not have a God given right to kill each other. We are a violent species, and always have been, so I suppose we could blame God for setting a standard that ‘his’ creatures don’t have the capacity to meet. On the other hand, God gave humans the ability to make moral choices, and set before them a standard to grow into. As Christians, we know life is so precious that In Christ Jesus we are redeemed from death itself. If, as John’s gospel proclaims, God so loved the world…, then we must pause and reflect on the truth that even the most courageous, heroic and patriotic act that results in another’s death is a sign of our failure. The least we can do is stop the obvious. Get rid of stand your ground laws. Repeal the death penalty. Stop funding proxy wars. Retrain police. Enact reasonable gun regulation. What about abortion? I’m not going down that one issue rabbit hole. I’ve written on it at length in the past. For now let’s stick with the ease with which we justify killing each other as fully formed human beings.
Second, God made a covenant not with Noah only, but with every animal that was on the ark, with all flesh that is on the earth, and with the earth itself. What was the covenant about? That God would not curse the earth on account of human failure to live up to God’s moral standards. God did curse the earth earlier in the origin stories. When Adam and Eve got kicked out of Eden, God didn’t curse them, he cursed the serpent and the earth. This time was different. God said he would not curse the earth for the failings of humanity. Go forth, multiply, and try to behave yourselves, God said, I imagine with a sigh, because Noah and his sons only got as far as the next page before messing up.
God’s covenant with all living things and the earth itself is a protective, loving covenant: a covenant of care for the well being of all things in whom the source of life is holy. What does that suggest about our responsibility toward the use of it? It’s a problem. As a nation, we have a four hundred year tradition of honoring the rights of individuals to do what they want with their private property. Although the tradition holds that those rights don’t extend to spilling over into the rights of others to enjoy their private property, we value rights over obligations to the greater good, and we subordinate the rights of the community to those of the individual. It creates conditions that work against God’s covenant with the earth and all things living. That covenant requires us to put stewardship of creation ahead of individual rights over private property. It doesn’t eliminate those rights. It simply puts them in their proper place, which is not on top or in the lead.
Stop killing each other. Take care of the earth and its creatures. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Millennia of violence against one another, and selfish abuse of property, form too much of our legacy. Yet, what if? What if we remembered the holiness of life and God’s covenant with the earth and all living creatures that renew origin story of God’s people? What if we remembered the new commandment that ends the narrative to love one another as Jesus loves us that ends the narrative of his earthly ministry; what if we remembered them as the guides for our Christian voices in the public debate? How would that change what we say and do?