Creation as Liberating Act
I recently read Mercy Oduyoye’s classic work Hearing and Knowing. It is one of the best introductions to theology that I have ever read and I was especially drawn to her exploration of creation as liberating act. Oduyoye explores the way God responds to broken situations in the world by creating (or birthing) something new in their midst. For example, God so loved the world even in its brokenness that God sent Jesus into that very brokenness. By being in the midst of that suffering, Jesus suffered with the community and through that brought healing to the brokenness as he worked to make all things new. The call to be new creations, defined by shalom instead of brokenness, came out of the being withness of community.
Oduyoye then illustrates how the community can live into the power that creating something in order to find liberation offers. She writes –
Among the Igbo of Nigeria, to be creative is to turn the power of evil, sin, and suffering into the power of love. When things are not going well in a community, in order to restore harmony and mutuality of existence, an African community requires artists to camp together, to work together to heal the society by their sacrifice. The creativity of the artists is the sacrifice required for righting wrongs in the community. The artists fashion a model of a whole community and all that they have in a house, and the house and its artifacts are left as a sacrifice, which will renew the community. … The artist symbolically recreates the clan in its pristine state through artifacts and the result is salutary for the real clan. It becomes once again a wholesome people in a wholesome community. (p.92-93)
Jesus willingly entered into a community of suffering in order to create with them a way to be liberated from that suffering. Yet that vision of shalom was not imposed from the outside upon people against their will. It involved solidarity, creativity, and sacrifice. Jesus was with the community, suffering with them. Creativity was required in order for the community to envision the liberation into a better world that becoming new creations would bring. And it required not only the selfless sacrifice of Jesus, but the sacrifice of the old patterns of brokenness in favor of the new vision on the part of the community. Like the Igbo in Nigeria, those open to creative re-envisioning had to live in community together and make sacrifices in order to bring about the healing that is needed.
I love this idea that it is sacrificial creativity within community that brings healing and shalom. All too often healing is reduced to simply an economic transaction or state of intellectual assent. If a person just believes or thinks a certain way, or follows the right set of rules, or refrains from certain actions then they will magically find liberation. Even if others continue to suffer in brokenness, they can still be assured of personally possessing the key to freedom. While these systems are easy to impose upon others and also make it easy to blame individuals for the continued brokenness in the world, they miss the point of something truly new being created. If as the Bible claims, God is working to make all things new, unless one is seeing new healed and liberated communities emerging from where there was once suffering and brokenness, then God’s work there is not yet done (and sometimes has barely even begun).
As Oduyoye comments “God actually searches for us and suffers until the community is complete… Salvation for an elite who have no responsibility to the community at large is contrary to the meaning of the Christ-event” (p.96). The liberation is not simply something for the few to opt into intellectually. Full healing and liberation occur amidst community and involve both sacrifice and creatively imagining a better world. Jesus created an entire alternative way of being in the world he termed the Kingdom of God – a way to live differently than the systems of suffering and oppression the world offered. Rejecting the ways of the world in favor of this new way of being requires one to sacrifice the privileges and entitlements the world offers in exchange for the liberation and shalom of the whole community. It is easy to be told what to do in order to secure one’s personal safety and comfort. It is a lot harder to stand in solidarity with the suffering of the community and do the creative and sacrificial work of together envisioning something new. Yet, as Oduyoye reminds us, God’s plan for liberation was to send Jesus to do just that.