1990 ICS Niagara Conference
Workshop: “The spirituality of Creation”
By Dr. James Olthuis
Perspective Report by William van Geest
In his workshop, James Olthuis challenged conference participants to “explore what spirituality has to do with trees, rocks, water, animals and all other creatures in God’s family.” Drawing heavily on Romans 8, Olthuis extended traditional theological interpretations of love, Christ’s passion, suffering, and equality, to include all parts of creation. He said that all creatures are loved by God and have equality before God.
The term “stewardship”, now popular as a way of describing the human role in creation, can be a form of “benign dictatorship: focusing only on how the creation can serve human ends.” Olthuis called on us to repent of our tendency to see humans at the center of the universe. He said that humans are in partnership with all creatures in serving God.
Olthuis’ emphasis on the equality of all creatures caused some controversy. “Are humans not superior to animals and plants then?” someone asked. To this, others responded by saying that instead of superiority, we should speak of the distinct roles or tasks of each creature: trees respond to God as trees and humans as humans. Olthuis noted that humans are the only creatures able to care for other creatures.
One audience member put the discussion in perspective by saying that because we have so long tried to dominate other creatures, we may have to let the pendulum of our thinking swing the other way for a while. Although humans have a special task in the creation, this participant agreed that we need to see clearly our commonality with other creatures and with them “sing for joy before the Lord” (Ps. 96).