Earth cries! Are we the gods that must step up?

Earth cries! We are the gods that must step up to the biggest crisis in history | Ben Okri | The Guardian

Reflection and Commentary 

In this prophetic poem, lamenting, warning, calling, Ben Okri points to the crisis now:

Words for the day.
Denial. Justice. Right
T​o protest. And Earth cries.
O when will we wake up?
Gulf Stream dying.
Day’s end approaching.
Climate migrants. Oil spills.
Global boiling. Carbon
Emissions. Net zero.
Fossil fuel nightmare.
Wandering rage of the world,
Trying to find a home.

We make climate migrants ‘illegal’ – we don’t value them as persons, we don’t heed them as prophetic messengers of the Earth itself – are they not ‘the wandering rage of the world, trying to find a home’?

Who will give this crisis
Hanging over us a voice
That can open the hearts
And minds of the people?
Disasters coming. No amount
Of hiding can hide it.
The young crave truth.
Only truth will save us.

Who will give this crisis a voice that can open the hearts? Are there no prophets? There are some, though not much of a prophetic church – there is Jesus Christ and others, but rarely his organized self-affirming Church. How much, how often, how clearly is this voice heard in church, does this call find tongues to speak this truth in church?

Some have a voice, some raise their voices, but can they open the hearts and minds of people? Can their voice steel people to stedfast voting, to living out hard decisions? Or are our hearts hardened, so like Pharaoh, we persist in refusing the call, and end up drowned in the rising sea?

It is a crisis we fail, or even prefer not to notice, like the people feasting just before Noah’s flood came upon them, or like the foolish virgins. (Matt 24.36-39;25.1-13)

Have to wake up before night comes.

Eph 4.6-17 – is now to be read in and for the earth, and not just in the churchly setting Eph. gives it.

Shadows are rushing towards us.
Earth is shaking. Insects are perishing.
Flowers are mourning. When will truth
Come? When will we have the courage
To give this hour in history its true name?
How many of us must perish before
The governments make this climate crisis
A priority? We’re the not so slow
Suicide of the world. We are the not so
Fast saviours of the world.

What kind of call will wake us all up, government and people? There are screams, there are bleedings, are they not able?

What is to be done, what can be done, about government and politics, to prevent the suicide of the world? Can we hope for salvation while ignoring questions of government and thinking we are ‘above politics’?

We are the not so slow
Suicide of the world. We are the not so
Fast saviours of the world.

Should we pass over these lines quickly, as too dramatic, even hysterical? Or is it here that we are to stop and ask seriously, Who are we? Who are we called to be?

If we rise up as one in peace and truth
And beauty will they listen? Must
We scream to be heard? Must the Earth
Bleed to be nurtured? Has the world
Not bled enough?…….

What is needed?   

                         ………How do you get
The ears of the world to listen
Without fear? And to listen with
Courage? We need a new language
That howls and caresses at the same time,
A new language that frightens and
Gives hope simultaneously, that
Tells the truth and transcends the truth
In the same breath. For the human being
Is a frail vessel that cannot take the light
And yet cannot face the darkness.

This plea for a new strange language is a tall order. New languages that do good in really bad situations are not easy to come by. Okri characterizes the language needed with wonderful precision: howling and caressing, frightening and giving hope simultaneously…These are words looking for more than our ordinary words have it in them to deliver. 

Is not the word of God in Jesus Christ like this? It has a rich many-sidedness and balance, that ‘speaks to our condition’.  

God’s is a word that loves the earth, sparking love for and in the earth, for its citizens. This word does more than move us to gratitude to the Giver of all things, for it brings us into active partnership in the work and the suffering of the giving creator. The word of God in Christ speaks to us in the living of everyday life, just as Jesus walked round Galilee. It speaks to us from the depths of estrangement.  It speaks new life, from within the living of it, calling us to live it here and now.  

We Christians deliberately listen for the word of God in Christ and even try to be its mouthpieces. And yet, we prefer to keep it ‘unspotted from the world’, a special language in the sanctuary, which never earths itself in the truth of the world now. The word in Church caresses us, and seems scared to frighten. It ministers complacent evasion of the crisis, and so can give no hope here and now.   

Do we hear the word of God in Christ as a new language that both frightens and gives hope, because it tells truth and transcends the truth?   

The word that does that is not within our everyday capability, – is it?

For the human being
Is a frail vessel that cannot take the light
And yet cannot face the darkness 

We need more than we are, more than we can summon up from within ourselves when we see ourselves standing only on our own feet.   

What then is needed? What is possible?  

Must we become a new species?
Must the human being be remade anew
To face the tough truths of the times?

This sounds like a Gospel call: You must be born again, born from above. If anyone is in Christ, there is new creation. But we must not be glib. Even when we look at Christians with charitable tolerance, it is often hard to say, Here we have a specimen of a genuinely new species, a species with the goodness the earth is crying for. And it is a sad fact that many Christians, including deeply committed, and brashly vocal Christians do not face ‘the tough truths of the time’. They often turn out to be climate change deniers or delayers, selfish and complacent.  

But, all the same, we hope we are on the way, we say we are learning, ‘God hasn’t finished with me yet’ is the comfort we write on our sweat-shirt, and so live in easy acceptance of our failures. We presume we have time, God will give us time. 

Even if a long slow learning process is going on, its erratic progress will not get us through – at least in Okri’s view, for…

There’s no time for this renewal.
We have to become new right now.
For time will not wait for us in all the
Evils and poisons we have spewed
Into the belly and soul of nature.
Time will not wait for us to grow
Up and see what can be done
When we have had a long think about it.

Because of what we human beings
Have done we have to accelerate our
Own transformation now,
In the teeth of the crisis we
Have inflicted upon ourselves.

Heed the signs of the time – we are closer than ever to the tipping point? We have little time, because of what we have been doing to the earth and to ourselves. We are achieving ‘our own transformation’ – a ‘negative transformation’ for we are the ‘not so slow suicide of the world’

How do we as Christians respond to this prophetic analysis and call?  

How far do we go with Ben Okri?

Does his next step cause us to stop following? That is more than not quite agreeing with him – we decide he is dangerously wrong and is denying the faith…so we resist.

He says next: no gods will get us out of this – we are the gods that must step up…

Is this not doubly offensive to us as Christians? 

1 We may say, it’s true that most gods in the world won’t get us out of this mess – in truth, we say, it is only one God out of the many gods who can help.

The one true God, ie the God we know and confess, is our only help. We can and must look to him for help. The climate crisis is beyond our power but with God all things are possible.

So we cannot and will not say, We are the gods that must step up. Rather we must humbly wait for God, and we can trust God. In any event, whatever God does is good….if God let’s the world go to ruin, and all creatures with it, that is good. (‘He gives and takes away, My heart will choose to say, Blessed be the name of the Lord’ – a piece of Christian ‘witness’ that drives wise and caring people away?)

But if this earth now collapses, and all the creatures in it die in miserable ways, and all the beauty is gone, how likely is it that human beings will say, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’? Rather, won’t we call for the rocks to fall on us, to save us from the sight of God in destructive wrath, (Rev 6.12-17, sixth seal)? 

Really, truthfully, is it in our power to be so contentedly resigned? Could it be right?  

So 2 – It might be helpful to think with Ben Okri further, and adopting his words about stepping up as gods, in a fully Christian way, in close company with God in Christ.  

No gods will get us out of this.
We are the gods that must do it.
We are the gods that must step up
To the biggest crisis in the history
Of human consciousness as we know it.
We are the gods that must turn this
Story around.

‘We are the gods that must do it’: this need not mean that we see ourselves as the one transcendent God, so pushing God out of the way, taking his place. But we see God as God lives humanly in Jesus Christ, as Christians say. In Jesus Christ, who walked the earth in Galilee, ‘the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ (Col.1.15-20). And we are given our humanity, in Christ, we live in him and so we live with God in the world, in God’s way. That way involves the faithfulness of the human Jesus, even to his sharing the suffering of God in the world. Our living grows from the dying of the seed, when he died and fell into the earth.  

Our humanity in and with Jesus is the humanity of God who comes into the world as it is, and responds hopefully and helpfully to the urgency of the needs of creatures. God calls us, speaking in the living Christ

a new language
That howls and caresses at the same time,
A new language that frightens and
Gives hope simultaneously, that
Tells the truth and transcends the truth
In the same breath

We human beings are not expected to take the place of God, but we are called to learn and get into living the life of God in Jesus in the world. Our living therefore is not easy, not an assured achievement of powerful righteousness, but is like the language that begets it – frightening and hopeful, howling and caressing, imperative Now and faithful for the long haul.  

Living with Christ in the world like that will turn us away from ‘weak resignation to the evils we deplore’. 

Turn around to follow God in God’s way – that will at least show down our present acceleration into the deathly abysmal negative transformation we are already mired in. It certainly means we will respond with heart, hands and mind to ‘Earth cries’, with urgency and understanding. 

This last part is a big challenge for Christian articulation – there is in Christian faith and vision a ‘transcending of truth’ or at least of my language – even while there can be no evasion of plain factual truth…

Does Christian faith, does Church, help us to get the urgent wisdom and courage so that we can be faithful in this time?

What a transformation it would be for our church, for ourselves, if we did wake up to the call of God in Christ in this situation? What would the word ‘transformation’ mean for us then? 

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