Is Nothing Sacred?!
Posted on May 1, 2009
Is everything sacred? Are all things God-breathed?
One way understand life is to separate it into ‘sacred’ & ‘profane’. The sacred concerns itself with explicitly religious ritual & confession and the profane gets everything else. This separation Christianity has incorporated into itself and perpetuated, which tends to result in faith that emphasises a narrowly-defined religiousity but ignores the reality of faith in all aspects of life. That such a separation is unbiblical is to simply point out the obvious. Whereas the sacred/profane split denies religiosity/spirituality in all but the most obvious circumstances, the Bible insists that all life must be conformed to the mind of God. The levitical laws on everything from food to sex insist it, Jesus’ parables insist it and Paul’s practical guides to the early church insist it.
But is calling everything sacred going too far? If we insist there is no division between the sacred & profane, and that everything is sacred are we not claiming that everything, everything, is good? In Australia at least, there has been a necessary move towards seeing the sacred, or divine, outside the sanctioned bounds of the church. It’s been necessary because of our stifling tendency to limit God’s activity to what happens in church. This has meant that we have begun to see God at work in Creation, our work, our relationships etc. But, in our desire to extend God’s sovereignty beyond the cloister of the monastery or church, we have overreached ourselves.
When I was a child, I remember asking my parents who created the world. God, they said. I asked: What about skyscrapers? Are they created by God? Aren’t they built by humans? Yes, they said, but because God created the needed materials, a skyscraper is really created by God. You see the dilemma. If you believe God is Creator, then in one sense everything that is in this world (buildings, relationships, ideas, community, legal systems, political powers) is created by God, or a derivative of God’s creative actions, because humans derive our creative ability from God’s creative ability. But believing this simplistically means that anything human can be justified; we see this particularly in totalitarian systems and violent regimes through the ages who have assumed God’s support for their atrocities. More subtly, we see it when delicious chocolate is made by a genuinely dedicated chocolatier using cocao beans picked by slaves. Or when an honest stockbroker assists ordinary ‘mum and dad shareholders’ to profit from a stockmarket built on debt and greed.
Maybe it’s simply a matter of being exact with the words we use, and quite possible I’m being pedantic, but before the Fall, we could definitely say that all things were sacred, and good. God had created the world and humans to live in harmony with each other and God. Now, I think we can only say that all things are sacred, but not that they are all good. God is still the Creator of all, but we are using his Creation, including ourselves, in ways that are not good. My work as a teacher is sacred at a fundamental level, but if I teach people to hate others or support an unjust system then my vocation is no longer good. We could say it is sacred, but evil*. An engineer’s desire to find out how things work is fundamentally sacred but if she uses this desire to create an atomic bomb then her work is sacred, but also evil. Think of ‘the powers’ that Paul writes of: created by and for God (sacred) but also in rebellion and therefore, doing evil by working to destroy God’s creation.
Naming everything ‘sacred’ is accurate only if we recognise everything’s potential for evil. The Bible is the story of humans using their sacred powers to distort God’s creation and it has words for this – babel, egypt, babylon, the beast, demonic.
*I am using the word ‘evil’ here to denote distortions and contradictions of God’s creation at the most fundamental level