It is part of the New View in Theology and Practice that all things in the created order are interconnected or related. The Nature of Creation: Is it static things? Is it dynamic happening? The New View sees the nature of creation as relatedness, meaningfulness and joy. In this version, relatedness is focused on. We are created to be related, to the rest of creation and to each other as human beings, and to God himself.
To reach these, click the links in Contents below.
Originally most of the text here was a major section in the detailed discussion of the theology of the New View. Then I was challenged by Eric Enloe of Handong Global University as to whether interconnectedness is really in Scripture. So, just as for the Representation section, I have set up a separate page to discuss Interconnectedness, Relatedness in more detail.
(Please feel free to skip to the implications, since they are more practical. Some of other pieces are more academic.)
"[Yahweh] God said 'It is not good for the man to be along. I will make a helper suitable for him." Genesis 2:18
To Abram "I will bless you ... and you will be a blessing ..." Genesis 12:2
"Their descendants will be known among the nations, and and their offspring among the peoples" Isaiah 61:9
"... restore him gently ... carry each others' burdens ... share ... let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." Galatians 6
"There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery, they break all bounds and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying." Hosea 4:2-3, emphasis added.
"They sacrifice on the mountaintops and burn offering on the hills ... Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution and your daughters-in-law to adultery." Hosea 4:13
"Because you have depended on your own strength and on your many warriors, the roar of battle will rise against your people." Hosea 10:13
"They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind" Hosea 8:7
"The sins of the fathers will be visited on the children to the third and fourth generation." "The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge."
"Cast your bread on the waters, and it will return to you after many days."
The first few show a connectedness between people, the long one from Hosea 4 shows a connection between what people do and the health of the natural world, the next two show the connectedness between faith / attitude and the state of society, while the next few show a general connectedness. Some of these show good, some evil. Connectedness? Connectedness in a dynamic way, as repercussions, which is the Biblical way. Some show repercussions of good, but most there show repercussions of evil.
That is a view that predominated in Scholastic Christianity, which likes to see supernatural action in the world, and such elevation of God's Law is one that still prevails in some Jewish thought to this day. That the repercussion could be via the action of God in response to how we act in relation to his laws is certainly a logical explanation, and possibly all the above verses and more could be explained that way, but such a view exhibits problems.
We can depict this view as follows:
One problem with such a view is that it makes God rather unjust, if He hurts others because of my sin. Because I sin, God makes my daughter turn to prostitution. I have long felt uneasy with the sins of the fathers being visited on the children to the third and fourth generation, feeling "Is God really just in that?" I know that Paul warns that we cannot question the justice of God, but in fact many people did so, including Abraham, Moses and Jeremiah, and God honoured their doing so.
Moreover, such a view seems rather forced as an explanation for some of the Scriptures above. God saying that it is not good to be alone does not seem to be anything about obedience to His law, but rather about the state of affairs in the way He created. Being known among the people is an interconnectedness of a kind that does not fit that.
It seems to me that such verses, and many more like them throughout Scripture, are indicative of interconnectedness within creation rather than solely via our relationship with God. I cannot yet point to 'proof texts' for this, but viewing the creation as interconnected brings new life, new dimensions, to passages of Scripture that were flat before. As we understand more what kind the interconnectedness is, and what its implications are, this might become clearer.
The interconnectedness view resonates well with the view that God designed reality to 'rejoice' and that the role of humankind is to 'radah' (shepherd) the rest of creation, as discussed under those links.
The best way I see interconnectedness or relatedness is as dynamic and linked with response and responsibility, rather than as a static idea of relationships. That is, I see it as a state of affairs in which we exist, rather than entities that we can identify and perhaps name.
However, many would tend to see it as a set of relationships. This is rooted in Greek thought, which liked to consider things, entities, which are discrete and relatively static, or at least retain some essence throughout changes. They liked the idea that each thing is of a certain substance despite 'accidents' that change it. Such a view has pervaded Christian and Western thought for centuries. As a result, we might naturally slide in our thinking from relatedness to relationships. This view is depicted in the following figure, which shows people, trees, a house and path, and the thought of someone, all connected by a network of relationships.
We might ask "What are the relationships among things in creation?" I do not think it is appropriate nor helpful to try to understand relatedness in terms of relationships. For the following reasons:
In recent years, the idea of relatedness has begun to be accepted among some Christian thinkers. The Relational Foundation has been arguing for the importance of relatedness for about 30 years. Recently, the Vatican has published a new list of sins, which includes 'relational damage', in which we are sinning if we damage others. These are very welcome developments, but they need to be developed in various ways. May the Holy Spirit stimulate further critical consideration of their ideas in order to enrich our shared notion of relatedness, interconnectedness. There are several ways in which extant ideas are weak, some of which follow - though what follows is not aimed at them.
How does this dynamic kind of interconnectedness work? One way is to see God's Law, not as something imposed from above but as something underneath that "upholds creation with his word of power". Such law enables us to function and itself can include some interconnectedness with others. As we function in line with the various kinds of law that uphold creation, repercussions occur. Take the simple example of the physical law of equal and opposite reactions to force. When I swing a bat, the operation of this law leads to a repercussion on the ball (as long as I don't miss!). Likewise, the social law of politeness means that if I act in a rude way, the other person will be upset.
This view may be depicted as follows:
Many Mosaic laws state or imply such repercussions. "Honour your parents, so that things will go well with you" is explicit. In "Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do no murder" the repercussion on others is implicit in the verb: disloyalty, loss of property and loss of life. This is the kind of interconnectedness that I see throughout the Scripture that pervades creation. Many of the verses above indicate relatedness of this kind.
Note: This view finds strong echoes in the 'Philosophy of the Law Idea' pioneered by the late Herman Dooyeweerd, so it can be addressed philosophically as well as theologically.
I was thinking about Just-In-Time (JIT) supply chains used in manufacturing, because they have been devastated by the Covid-19 virus, thus shown to be unsustainable and fragile. I had felt uneasy about JIT for years, but some Christians might have used my recognition of the importance of interconnectedness to argue against my concern, with "But doesn't JIT make us more interconnected and so must be a Good Thing? Is not the inter-dependency that JIT creates a Good Thing?" That set me thinking. I began to realise that the kind of interconnectedness I refer to above is not the kind we have in JIT.
I have come to sum it up by saying "Interconnectedness is a fact and a responsibility, not a norm."
The JIT kind is that we (businesses or business processes) are joined together and forced to depend on each other. JIT-interconnectedness is seen as a norm that we must abide by and which we must enshrine in our structures of operation, by rules and technical means. JIT-interconnectedness is a discrete, deliberately-formed relationship whereby one process cannot operate without the other. It reduces responsibility and freedom of the receiving process.
The interconnectedness that I am referring to above is the opposite. It increases responsibility and freedom. This kind of interconnectedness is a fact, nor a norm. It refers to the fact that Creation is organised in such a way that whatever we do has repercussions, that how we function is not determined, and that for the repercussions of our functioning we bear the dignity of responsibility. Our functioning might be good or bad, and its repercussions, beneficial to others or harmful. We are interconnected in a web or ocean of potentially-joyful responsibility.
We can extend these ideas beyond JIT to any imposition by us on how other creatures function. We might call the two types of interconnectedness:
God condemned Sodom, not primarily for its sexual sins, but for arrogance, affluence and unconcern [Ezekiel 16:49]. Those three are attitudinal sins. Jesus put attitude at the centre, when he told us that being angry with my brother without cause is as bad as the act of murder, and a man looking lustfully on a woman is as bad as the act of adultery.
We may understand this via Dooyeweerd's notion of aspects, in which the faith and ethical aspects, which concern our attitudes (selfish or self-giving) and what we most deeply believe, affect all our other functioning, whether socially, what we do with money, the justice or injustice we do, etc. That is why the first commandments are about beliefs and attitudes, and why it was for idolatry and the taking advantage of the widows and orphans that God sent the people of Israel and Judah into exile [Jeremiah 7].
Our attitudes and deepest beliefs are relational issues in that they are about how we see ourselves in relation to our Creator and to the rest of Creation.
We may indeed enjoy the rest of creation, and use it as resource for living, but that is secondary and not primary. God's plan is this: Primarily, we serve and bless the rest of creation, and then in return it responds and blesses us. Shepherds look after sheep, but, having done so, they can use wool, milk and even meat. God's plan is for a 'virtuous circle', in which as we bless the rest of creation, we are blessed in turn - and the whole results in blessing and praise to God. The apostle, Paul, understood this.
Jim Skillen puts it this way: Each creature has honour of being what it is, and each creature is hospitable to others. He finds this in the order of the days of creation: light and dark are hospitable to land, which is hospitable to plants, which are hospitable to sea creatures and land animals and these are hospitable to humans. Everything in all creation is there, not for its own sake, but for the sake of all others - and this is most true of humans.
We can understand this better if we recognise that the central rule of creation is interconnectedness, relatedness. Everything relates to everything else. There are food chains. There are networks of causality. There are cycles of blessing. There are relationships of responsibility. Nothing stands alone, nothing stands apart from others and especially not above it. All is dependent on all else. All refers beyond itself. And, ultimately, the whole cosmos refers beyond itself to God, and the interconnectedness we find in the cosmos is an echo of the love of God. Love is always relating and referring beyond itself. Note 4.
Let us look at what this entails - including looking at what Christians call The Fall. Or jump directly to Rich Redemption - Romans 8 revisited.
Part of this is technology. We are to fashion and control according to some purpose, rather than let things happen. (For example, rampant plants like Rhododendron should be controlled for the sake of other 'weaker' species.) For example, we can discover and employ the properties of timber, iron, silicon, and so on. But I believe the type of technological development God had envisaged would be different from ours - controlled, patient, at peace with the creation (see fruit of the Holy Spirit) - and especially that part of the fruit which is being patient with the speed and way in which creation works rather than using technology as an excuse for being impatient with it.
Part of this is economics. We are to frugally and skilfully manage, respecting, accepting and creatively working within the limitations of resource we encounter. Very different from current economics, based on removing limitations, on maximization of owner value, on production and consumption.
Part of this is poetry and music. And rest. Notice how the climax of the creation story at the start of Genesis is not human beings but rest [thanks to Jim Skillen for pointing this out].
And so on. I find Dooyeweerd's aspects provide a useful insight into the diversity of creation and how it may be properly opened up.
In Westminster Abbey is Poet's Corner, where famous poets are buried. I used to think this was blasphemy because many of these poets had not been true followers of Jesus Christ and did not die "in the Lord". But today, though my opinion of them has changed little, I no longer see it blasphemy, because even these people have opened up something in the Creation Order and thus contributed to fulfilling humankind's commission. This relates to our discussion of the contribution of the non-believer.
In other views, we try to understand it in terms of God's authority: selfishness, pride and idolatry usurp God's authority. While this is logical, and there is obvious truth in this, this understanding on its own contradicts itself, in that it suggests a God who is himself 'selfish'. While Christians, Jews, Muslims and others might just accept that, many find it difficult to stomach.
Under the New View this problem is lessened. If we see both pride and idolatry, not as resisting God's authority but as denying our interconnectedness - denying or ignoring, for example, our responsibility to others, our ability to bless others, our causal effects on others, etc. - then we can see how damaging these can be to others. Since God loves all he has made, this hurts him. This enables us to bring God's love and justice together.
But now consider that all is interconnected. Suppose I do something that harms other things. Because God loves those other things, he is sad, and perhaps even angry with me. And so he punishes me, perhaps as retribution but certainly as a warning to stop what I am doing that harms the others. God's justice is because he loves others as well as me. There is no now tension between God's justice and his love.
This is the New View of the relationship between God's love and his justice, wrath and so on. The wrath of God is derivative, not original, secondary not primary. We no longer have to deny one to uphold the other.
Paul Marshall defines justice as 'right relationships among all things in the created order' - linking justice with relationships. Righteousness is also linked with relationships: indeed, righteousness and justice are the same thing.
The standard view seems to portray God as a petty official who, peeved that his creatures did what he told them not to, instituted various curses and pains by way of punishment, retribution or even, if we are honest, revenge.
But I no longer see it so. Rather, I see these things as a natural outcome of what we have done, because of the interconnectedness inherent in creation.
Thus the so-called 'curses' are not. They are merely God telling us examples of how creation, with which we are interconnected, will work against us if we take to ourselves the right to determine what seems good and evil. He cited three examples - in obstetrics, in food production and in family relationships. Our wrong actions break the cycle of joy and blessing that we mentioned above. No! God is no petty, peeved official. He is still love.
The problem is that we have chosen to see the world in a certain way: to take to ourselves the right to determine what is good and evil, and this is a deep orientation of heart, not just a matter of thinking or doing. I believe we are guilty sinners, but many today (especially in establishment Christianity) detest notions of guilt and react against the word "sin", prefer to to say we have "limitations" or "failures". In my view, we are absolutely at fault, as individuals, communities and the entire human race; we have refuse the invitation of God to care for creation, we want rather "to be like God" - and we still do even more so today since secular, anti-Christian Humanism became so pervasive. (See longer piece on 'The Fall'.) Because we have done so, we are blinkered and keep on with self-justification.
(Why the reaction against "sin" and "guilt"? Is it because earlier Christians had over-played them, but not only that, applied them to others more than to themselves, leading to a harsh Christianity? The "wrath of God" and the doctrine of Hell were over-emphasised and distorted. Even that earlier tendency was rooted in sin, especially the sin of attitude, just as today's reaction against it is. God judges both. Because God loves the Creation, which is being deeply harmed by us, it is right that God should judge.)
To overcome this requires repentance, not just deductions, discourse or determination.
Though some dislike the theology of sin and its attendant theology of atonement, once we have stopped trying to make points, and begin to see ourselves as we are, we know we are warped (guilty) inside, trapped in the warp, and separated from God the source of Life and Joy. All we do, even the best, is tarnished by selfishness, pride, arrogance, self-will, unconcern. Sin is not only there, but is noetic.
See a longer discussion of sin, evil, dysfunction.
Example: What is intended for blessing, namely that when we give ourselves for the rest of creation it blesses us, has been turned into self-interest: we do good in order that good may be done to us. That hidden sin is a root of much evil in the world. Very subtle, but did not Jesus see through it in many of his parables?
(But, some might say, has not nature been 'put out of joint'? See elsewhere.)
We make much of those verses that say that God will make all things right. And yet, much of the evil in the world comes about indirectly rather than directly. We are used to direct repercussions of what we do. But because of interconnectedness, what we do sets of a chain of repercussions. I use someone spitefully or unjustly, they get hurt and irritable, they go home and snap at their family, who in turn feel hurt and snap at each other, and a row breaks out, and one of the children goes round to their friends in a bad and cynical mood and causes trouble there, and so on.
In environmental issues, it is the indirect rather than direct impacts that are harmful. For example, I drive my car, and the emissions contribute to climate change, which causes storms that destroy the homes and livelihood of thousands in central Africa.
One very important indirect impact comes not from our actions but from our world view - the taken-for-granted assumptions about how the world is, what's important, what's wrong and what's right. Our world view affects they way we live and work, and what we put effort into and what we let go by, which in turn emanates in our actions, which in turn have impact. The Biblical world view involves proper radah, and would lead us to use our car less and do the 'inconvenient' thing of walking or cycling more (but with increased health!). But most of us Western Christians have a world view like that of the worldly consumerist, and don't bother. My world view - whatever it is - emanates in a myriad of small life decisions that have an impact, whether direct or indirect. That is why world view is so important, and why Rom. 12:2 tells us it is God's plan to transform us by changing the way we see things.
"The fathers will not be punished for the children, nor the children for the fathers; everyone will be punished for his own sin." God punishes those who commit sin - but the sin we commit has multiple indirect repercussions. And they stand against and accuse us in the court of God's judgement, as evidence to what our sin really is: "affluence, arrogance and unconcern for the poor" [Ezekiel 16:49] in our hearts and attitudes.
The soldier who perpetrates acts of unnecessary brutality is obviously guilty. But are not his colleagues, who egged him/her on also guilty? Is not their commander, who turned a blind eye to lesser brutality and refused to exert proper discipline in the past guilty to some extent, though perhaps in a different way? Are not the high-ups, who fostered a certain attitude guilty too? Are not the whisky-swilling generals, who set the tone guilty? Are not the politicians and media in the home country, who give the impression that their armed forces should be given privileges, guilty to some extent? Are not the public, who treat armed forces as heroes who can do no wrong, equally guilty? Those anti-war protestors, who cause a hero-worshipping reaction among the media and public - do not they also have a hand in this? From the other side, is the victim of the brutality completely innocent? Did they not unnecessarily taunt the soldiers? Were they not brutal to others of their community?
What about the child caught shop-lifting: who bears some guilt there? What about the tax-avoiding business? What about the politician; are we not all guilty there? What about the child abuser or the rapist?
Guilt is a web. None of us is completely innocent. At the very least, we acquiesce to prevailing beliefs or prevalent attitudes. As someone years ago put it, "It is enough for evil to triumph that good men do nothing." This is perhaps what the Vatican means by 'relational damage'.
But if we acknowledge the relatedness of all in creation, and especially indirect impacts, then frequently poverty and powerlessness come about indirectly because of what we do, even though we don't intend it. The very world view we hold becomes inscribed into the society or environment we create around us, into its very structures. If that world view is idolatrous or distorted, then so will our society, environment and structures.
Even the best-willed person can do things that, unwittingly, create detrimental conditions for others - whether those others are human, animal or anything else in creation that 'groans' (see below).
God recognises this and helps those who are affected in such ways. But he does not simply step in on every occasion to right wrong, for two reasons. One is that he has given humankind responsibility and wants us to develop that and learn to employ it. The other is that this life is not the Real nor Final Life; that is to come (for most of us beyond death).
(1) Is not the discourse on rights closely linked with self-serving considerations, or even selfishness? Does not our thinking develop as "I'd like this - We'd like this - We want this! - We need this! - This is a basic human right."? On what basis may our jurists decide what is a right and what is not, especially when a large cohort of the media are shouting for it? We need a foundation for differentiating rights from needs, wants, wishes, preferences.
(2) Clash of rights. My rights versus your rights? Our rights versus those of faraway people we have seldom heard of and who are insignificant to us? Our rights versus those of later generations? Our rights versus animal rights? Our rights versus the sustainability of planetary systems? We need a foundation on which rights of all kinds can be discussed, without the articulate and powerful always gaining more rights than those without a voice. (Especially when 'our' rights are mere preferences?)
This idea of relatedness goes some way towards providing a foundation. All rights may be seen as deriving from the impact or possible impact within the web of interconnectedness - which turns the discourse about rights towards one about responsibilities.
Interestingly, this has happed in the British Green Party. After Paul Marshall and a couple of others came to speak to its working group on Rights in the 1980s, we began to understand the radical distinction between Green and Liberal: Green is about interconnectedness, the acceptance of responsibilities and the reasonable constraints that result. We amended our Manfesto for a Sustainable Society, and renamed the working group the Responsibilities and Rights Working Group.
More interestingly for Christians, perhaps, is that the Relational Foundation in the UK is exploring the importance of relatedness. It is trying to develop policy and thinking based on relatedness rather than on individualism.
This does not go all the way, because we need to understand the nature of the entities at the nexi of interconnections, and the nature of the interconnections themselves. That can be helped, for example, by Dooyeweerd's philosophy, a so-called Christian philosophy, which roots all entities and relationships in meaningfulness, and offers a way to distinguish distinct kinds of meaningfulness ('aspects') as implying distinct kinds of possible or actual relationships and responsibility. Dooyeweerd's aspects are well founded.
(This is why I am against abortion. Because it destroys and denies one of the most intimate relationships there can be between two beings. At this point, will some readers immediately turn against what I am trying to say and reject the entire idea of interconnectedness? :-( )
Jesus clearly spoke about the Real (Next) Life when he:
We can see how this all chimes in with our notion of Radah as managing the rest of creation for its own blessing. Paul seemed to understand this well when he said on a number of occasions that the rest of creation would be resurrected and given new shape along with human beings.
(Note: I have placed this issue, not under the theme of Redemption below, but under the theme of Relatedness partly because it follows naturally from discussing the Fall and the Poor and the clearing up of problems that befall us, partly to emphasise its continuity with the present regime, and partly to avoid any suggestion that Real Life is either some kind of contingency plan by God made necessary by the Fall or on the other hand that our current regime is somehow inferior in God's plan. Both this life and Real Life were part of God's plan from the start, with or without the Fall. See Paul Marshall's book Heaven is Not My Home.)
(cf. PDL Day 4, Day 5, Day 64)
That is not how the Bible sees it. Most of the Bible sees heaven as the realm where celestial beings live, such as angels, the realm that is 'not Earth' and is 'above' Earth, both physically, morally, etc. Possibly because of the influence of Greek thinking, this was seen as the 'spiritual' realm as opposed to the material realm of earth.
Because, the Jews and other reasoned, God is not physical, God must be spiritual, and must therefore be 'in heaven'. The Bible; however, sees God as Creator of both heaven and earth, rather than being 'in heaven'; indeed Solomon knew that even "the heaven of heavens" cannot contain God. So heaven is not to be seen as 'God's home'.
This New View tries to understand heaven in the way the Bible shows it, as the realm of the celestial beings, as that part of creation that is not Earth. Heaven is probably governed by laws different from those we experience, including different physical laws.
The destiny of those acceptable to God is not heaven but a renewed Earth. Heaven is Not My Home wrote Paul Marshall, and Heaven It's Not the End of the World wrote David Lawrence.
Note 4. Philosophically, referring beyond self is what Dooyeweerd meant by 'Meaning'. But we are used to thinking of independent entities rather than meaning, of self-actualization rather than self-giving, of emancipation rather than interconnectedness.
This is very like this New View. He will soon publish a book on this.
Lawrence, D. Heaven, It's Not The End of the World. Scripture Union.
Marshall, P. Heaven is Not My Home.
This page, URL= 'http://abxn.org/nv/interconnectedness.html', is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden to latest date below, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Written on the Amiga with Protext in the style of classic HTML.
Created: 15 June 2014, from rrrr.html; its creation was stimulated by Eric Enloe and Nick Lantinga as mentioned above.
Last updated: 7 June 2017 Attitudes section. Also imported several things from rrrr; contents. 21 June 2017 corruption self-interest example. 26 May 2018 abortion note; new .end, .nav. 16 June 2019 guilty sinners. 30 March 2020 Two types of interconnectedness.