God Covenants With All Creation

God Covenants With All Creation September 9, 2019
Charles Willson Peale: Noah and his ark / WikimediaCommons

The greatness of God transcends the human imagination. While God reveals himself to us, especially through the incarnation of the Logos, what we receive and understand of God’s self-revelation is far less than what God is in himself, for God is incomprehensible to us. We understand him in a humanistic way with all the limitations of such understanding implied.

Thanks to the incarnation, thanks to God becoming human, consubstantial with the rest of humanity, there certainly is a special connection between God and us. Humanity possesses special insight into God because God found a way to reveal himself through the image and likeness of God found within human nature.  This does not mean God only reveals himself through the incarnation. God has many ways to interact with his creation, and he can and will have ways he reveals himself to all sentient beings. When we examine this closely, it can become difficult to know who has a greater knowledge of God. Angels have an understanding of God which differs from humanity, and in some ways, their understanding must be “greater” than our own due to their greater intellectual nature. Yet, because God became human and not an angel, there are things God shares with us which angels do not and cannot properly understand, and in those ways it is possible to say our understanding becomes greater than that of angels. The truth of the matter is that God not only has a relationship with angels and humans, but with all of his creation, and to each he reveals himself in a way in which they can understand, sometimes uniquely to them. All sentient beings have their own special apprehension of God which other beings cannot and will not have. Even though some beings will have a greater potential to understand God than others, this does not mean they cannot and will not have some special relation with God which gives them some particular apprehension concerning God greater than what others in that particular way of knowing God.

Our theological reflection tends to be human centered, based upon our human intellect as well as on the kind of revelation given to us in the incarnation. This is as it should be, because we are human. But if we take great care in examining what we have been given, what God has revealed to us, we should be able to ascertain some of God’s providential care, not just for humanity, but for the whole of creation, including and especially every other sentient being which he has granted a share in his existence.

Angelus Silesius, in his experience of God, was able to hear the voice of God in all things, as all things come out of and participate in the Logos (as logoi of the Logos):

Creatures are but the voice of the Eternal Word:
It sings and sounds its self, in sweetness and in dread.[1]

For this reason, the frog, in his croaking, is as beautiful to God as the lark’s song:

The croaking of a frog to God appears as fair
As does the lark’s sweet trill, which upward soars in air.[2]

The earth reflects the glory of God. The Logos reveals himself not only in the incarnation, but in creation, as all things reflect him through the logos of their own being.  When a dog barks at night, or when a mouse squeaks, they share in the communicative aspect of the Logos; if we reflect upon what we hear, we should be able to discern at least some of the beauty and harmony behind their vocalizations, and if we can do that, then hopefully we can begin to be like Silesius and begin to sense God’s glory being revealed in and through the sounds they make.

God has no problem discerning the noble beauty of his whole creation; he cares for his creation; indeed, he loves it, giving it his grace so that all within it can find what it needs in order to attain their greatest good.

Even if people are not spiritually attuned, and so they cannot detect the presence of God in and through his creation, seeing the reflection of his providential glory in all things, they should be able to note that God has indicated to us that his providential care is for all his creatures and not just humanity. Scripture tells us that when God makes covenants with humanity, at least in some of those covenants, God includes much more than humanity in his promises. Perhaps no better example of this can be found than the way the story of Noah indicates he made his covenant with every creature, and not just Noah:

 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you,  and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.  I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9:8-11 RSV).

Likewise, in the prophets, God declares that the peace which he is to bring to the world is not just for humanity, but for the rest of animal creation as well:

And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety (Hos. 2:18 RSV).

The promises of God, the covenants of God, includes but also transcends humanity. Indeed, we are told that God not only makes these covenants, but gives signs to us which indicates his perpetual memory of these covenants, indicating that they shall never be broken by him:

When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.  When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth (Gen. 9:14-16 RSV).

The rainbow, which obviously is established through natural principles, nonetheless, follows those principles in such a way that it will always be created when the causes for their creation are found. Whenever we see a rainbow, we should reflect on how God has connected the whole of the earth in his loving benevolence. Just as the colors come together to form one rainbow, so the diverse varieties of life on the earth (and in the rest of creation) come together with their gradations of being as one whole. Together, they receive from God the bounty of his covenant with them.  Indeed, as Hosea suggests, God’s covenant with them should bring everything together as companions on a common path to God, overcoming any conflict they might have had before: “I shall cause those formerly scheming against them and hostile to them to opt for friendship with them.”[3]

Covenants, especially in the ancient world, often included stipulations and expectations:

The basis of entering a covenant as a commitment to a moral discipline is so that the obligation to the ideal that emanates from the highest level of morality shall become deeply fixed in the nature of heart and soul and there will be no need for admonitions and precautionary measures to assure one’s conformity. It will become a fixed sensibility as is, for instance, in the revulsion of murder and similar offenses in the heart of upright persons. When a person reaches this state in all his values he rejoices in God and trust always in His mercy. [4]

Jewish theological tradition considered the covenant made with Noah as being universal, that is, it was meant for the whole of humanity; the covenant with Moses on Sinai was special, and not for everyone, so that those who were not a part of the covenant with Moses were not to be disgraced or abused if they followed the general dictates established with Noah. But, if it was a covenant with the rest of creation, perhaps, though we are not told, each form of life was likewise given its own expectation, its own rules of being, which allowed them to be true to themselves and yet also be companions with humanity in the universal providence of God’s graces. Certainly Elijah Benamozegh saw within it the indication that animals and humans could be seen as “brothers,” allowing him to respect an intuition of St. Francis of Assisi in the process:

After the Flood, when God establishes His covenant, it is with all mankind, in the persons of Noah and his family: “I now establish My covenant with you and with your offspring to come” (Gn. 9:9). And that is not all. In the benignant words which are often quoted, St. Francis of Assisi called the animals his “younger brothers.” According to the Bible, it is not men only but the animals too who are included in the divine covenant….[5]

The story of the divine covenant with Noah indicates God’s desire to save not just humanity, but all forms of life. This is because, as St. Cyril of Alexandria indicates, Noah is a messianic personality; his story is one of many ways God pointed to the work which was to be accomplished by Christ. In this way, Jesus can be said to be the true Noah, saving the world from sin: “So, as it is written, the Only-Begotten became a man and lived among men, he being the true Noah.” [6] Should we not understand, then, that the new and everlasting covenant, the one which takes all the covenants before it and fulfills them, includes the whole of creation, including the great diversity of sentient beings?  Paul, in the beautiful opening chapter of his letter to the Colossians, can be seen to say that this is indeed the case:

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.  For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  (Col. 1:17-20 RSV).

Jesus, as the true Noah, fulfills the covenant with Noah as he fulfills the covenant with Moses, and all the covenants God had with the rest of creation, with the blood of the new covenant (cf. Matt. 26:27-28), should  be seen as being shed for the whole of God’s creation. As the true Noah, he brings together the whole of creation in the covenant which leads all forms of life to beatitude, to eternal life; all things are drawn in by him, and together, like a rainbow, surrounds him in eternity as an eternal reminder of his glorious work for them and all things.  All things find themselves sustained by him, so that as Silesius reasons, they can never come to naught, thus fulfilling God’s promise to them that he shall never destroy him with his wrath:

If the creatures do subsist in God’s eternal Son
How can they perish then, or even naught become?[7]

God’s covenant is not just with humanity, but with the whole of his creation. As the Logos, the Son of God, gives us the comprehensive, final revelation of God in and through the incarnation, we must examine what that revelation entails. When we see all things come into being in and through him, reflecting him in their own unique ways, we can then begin to see the truth width of God’s providence, telling us not to be concerned only with humanity and his relationship with humanity, but with all things, for God himself is concerned with and covenants with the whole of his creation.


[1] Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer. Trans. Maria Shrady (New York: Paulist Press, 1986), 52.

[2] Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer, 52.

[3] Theodore of Mopsuestia, “Commentary on Hosea” in Commentary on the Twelve Prophets. Trans. Robert C. Hill (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2004), 51.

[4] Abraham Isaac Kook, “The Moral Principles” in The Lights of Penitence, Lights of Holiness, The Moral Principles, Essays, Letters and Poems. Trans. Ben Zion Bokser (New York: Paulist Press 1978), 150.

[5] Elijah Benamozegh, Israel and Humanity. Trans. Maxwell Luria (New York: Paulist Press, 1995), 123.

[6] St. Cyril of Alexandria, Glaphyra on the Pentateuch, Volume 1: Genesis. Trans. Nicholas P. Lunn (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2018), 93.

[7] Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer, 44.

 

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