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Politics of Scripture

When was the Last Time You Got Lost?

An intertextual reading of Genesis 12 and Psalm 121 demonstrates that, while our faithful relationship with God may be initiated by our willful act of leaving, our ongoing life journey can be sustained by our attention to nature’s ontological testimony of God’s unequal sovereignty. Just as the Hebrew pilgrims were given strength to live out their faith through ecological awareness and mindfulness, let us emulate this life of pilgrimage and boldly leave our anthropocentric lifestyles.

12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

12:4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Genesis 12:1–4

In the age of smartphones, it is highly unlikely for someone to lose one’s directions without eventually finding the way. We currently live in a world where we have easy access to global information via a small electronic device on our hands. Even if you happen to take the wrong turn while driving, a smartphone navigation service immediately directs you to the next best alternative route. Though it is still under development, the Tesla model is near to perfect in autopilot assistance; whoever is behind its wheel would likely never get lost while driving. This shows only one small aspect of the growing human technology. Each year, this high-tech industry is only getting cleverer. With the assistance of technological advancement, we are becoming more self-sufficient by the year. It seems as if we can control almost everything.

The season of Lent is a countercultural practice of living against our present human ethos of scientific “sovereignty.” Every Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday, which derives its name from the placing of ashes on the foreheads of participants. By doing so, we, as “humans” (ʾādām), remember our finite nature, which was made out of “humus” (ʾădāmâ, Genesis 2:7). Ash Wednesday is a reminder to us all of our earthly origin. For this reason, the Lenten attitude of humility challenges us to practice a life of dependence and interconnectedness. Such a countercultural practice questions a culture of self-sufficiency and a consequential anthropocentric worldview.

Along the lines of this overall Lenten focus, the scriptural trajectory of this week further informs Christian believers of our transient origin. This rationale for self-effacement is found within the pilgrimage experience of Abram. In Genesis 12, we hear how Abram initially encounters God. God calls Abram to “leave” the commonplace into the unknown (verse 1a). God calls Abram to leave his country, people, and family (verse 1b). In Hebrew, God’s affirmative voice is more explicit as it appears in an imperative form, “you must leave” (in Hebrew, lek-lǝkā).Reading this pericope from a structural perspective, the motif of leaving is emphasized as it constructs an envelope couplet through repetition: God orders Abram to leave (verse 1), so he leaves (verse 4a).

Upon reflecting on this, we learn that the Christian faith begins with surrendering one’s comfort and control before God. Just as Abram’s journey with God is often compared with the life of faith (Hebrews 11), we can acknowledge that an act of leaving seems to be an essential constituent of our faith. Abram is endangered with losing his rights, resources, and power by being far away from his home. As Abram departs to the place where God will provide, all he can do is trust God’s provision and providence. In brief, this pilgrimage experience strengthens his faith. The Lenten rationale and practice symbolize this model of faith. By denying the desire for sovereign control, Lent invites us into uncharted territory to help us build faith all over again.  

This pilgrimage rhetoric continues in the next scriptural reading, Psalm 121. This time, however, we encounter an important shift: an ecological turn. Psalm 121 is one of the pilgrimage songs in the canonical Psalter. As the Levitical singers frequently go on a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem, they would practice this hymnic ritual to request God’s protection (verses 3, 4, 7, and 8). In the midst of their seemingly perilous journey, they perceive God’s manifestation in the Cosmos. As a consequence, the sojourners envision firm hope in divine companionship throughout their journey. By looking at “the high mountains” (verse 1), the singers recognize the creative power of God, “who made heaven and earth” (verse 2). Just as the Sun and moon (verse 6) unceasingly maintain the created order/shalom, God’s faithfulness and steadfast grace within nature become the ongoing sources of faith for these pilgrims. In observing and reflecting on God’s creation, their ecological mindset empowers the participants to sense God’s omnipresence.

Through this intertextual reading of Genesis 12 and Psalm 121, we can arrive at this conclusion: while our faithful relationship with God may be initiated by our willful act of leaving, our ongoing life journey can be sustained by our attention to nature’s ontological testimony of God’s unequal sovereignty. Just as the Hebrew pilgrims were given strength to live out their faith through ecological awareness and mindfulness, let us emulate this life of “pilgrimage” and boldly “leave” our anthropocentric lifestyles. While spending less time in cyber space (e.g., the internet, digitalized data, and social media platforms) to receive information might be counter-efficient, we need to spend more time reflecting on our earthly and transient nature before God. We will then be able to make room for a cosmocentric outlook, which will welcome us into a world of God’s creative and sustaining wonder.

Another challenge that we can draw from this message of “leaving” and “venturing” on a pilgrimage of faith is looking after our natural world that God has entrusted us with since the beginning of creation. Just as the Hebrew pilgrims were able to experience God through engaging the natural order of the cosmos, we can encounter God through building personal ties to our homeland, the Earth. It is true that our world is in danger of the consequences of climate changes. Many scientists describe the future of our world in twenty, fifty years with a gloomy tone. In an era where changing climates are a constant threat to the future of our planet, we need to recover ways that we can reconnect with our environment and nature, which have the very imprint of God’s image in their existence.

How then can we implement this Lenten practice with an eco-focus? First, let us “leave” from our unconsciously anthropocentric daily activities which are harmful to other members of the creation community. To suggest a start, we can make an effort to reduce the intake of any diet with a strong carbon footprint. Greenhouse gases are generated by growing, processing, transporting, storing, cooking, and disposing of food. Purchasing local groceries is a way to decrease greenhouse emissions as well. What about using public transportation systems? We probably will not be able to stop global warming from continuing altogether, but we can slow down its lethal impact by conscious decisions to alter and depart from our own commonplace.

Second, let us “learn” from our surrounding environment. If we take time to notice the trees, streams, animals, clouds, air, to name a few, we might become even more aware of how to better love our co-inhabitants. In this sense of creation kinship, recycling will seem less of a chore and littering, more a serious crime. This ecological pilgrimage may serve as a vehicle for reducing the poisonous impact we have on ecosystems and natural resources. As we become connected to the land, this us-earth interdependence will help us save energy, water, and appreciate the benefits of an eco-friendly lifestyle.

While our conscious decisions to depart from our familiar practices may cause us momentary discomfort and inconvenience, we can at least know that we are positively affecting the future of our children and their children.

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