Monday, 5 October 2009

Be fruitful

be fruitful ripe red berries on shrub

God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful…” (Genesis 1:28)

The first sign of blessing then is fruitfulness. Surely this stands by itself rather than being a mere adjunct to what follows: “and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over…” Is fruitfulness something more than human reproductive fecundity coupled with a quasi imperialist self-understanding of dominance and right? Is this key text a dualist charter for the despoilation of the planet, and has it fatally separated our species from the very ecosystems which nurture and sustain us? 

The growth of both eco-theology and feminist theology from the 1980’s onwards has encouraged a creatively revisionist re-engagement with texts such as this. We have seen how easily mis-readings of Genesis 1:28 lead to unsustainable and damaging outlooks and behaviours. Reading ‘be fruitful and multiply…’ as an imperative begs a prior question, one which the previous verse addresses: So God created humankind in his image (Genesis 1:27). Our concept of fruitfulness and of our place within the natural world is shaped and informed by our understanding of God. Get this wrong and what follows will be, and has been, disastrously wrong too. The ‘rape of the earth’ is a phrase used with good reason. Male, dominant, exclusive, power-centred and controlling paradigms produce a very different relationship to the earth which is our home than do feminist, collective, inclusive, empowering and invitational ones. We are to be to each other and the planet as God is to us. If our image of God is an abusive one, what follows will be cast in the same mould. If our image of God is a loving one, we will arrive at a completely different appreciation of what being fruitful means.

Jesus puts it like this “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34) This is all about being fruitful as those made in the image of God. So it is about giving freely of and from oneself for the benefit of others. It is about sharing and not keeping. This mutuality and inter-dependency of God’s kingdom is at the heart of discipleship. Fruit is offered beyond ourselves, from deep within ourselves. We nourish and sustain each other. We are called to bring forth fruit – to be creative and bring fresh hope to birth– just as God does. We are to be a blessing.  Being made in the image of God is a call to a life of radical, sacrificial love.  Wherever we see the fruitfulness of love, we glimpse God at work.

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