Starships and the Calling of Humanity

By Chris Baker

The whole biblical story (creation, sin, redemption) can be understood in terms of partnering with God in human vocation.

“What does God need with a starship?” That is the question Captain James T. Kirk asks when he meets a being claiming to be God. God has a mission for the Starship Enterprise and Captain Kirk cannot believe God would want or need a starship for anything. While it turns out this being isn’t actually God, Kirk’s response was still a genuine one from his point of view: “What does God need with a starship?”

Captain Kirk’s question echoes a common sentiment. If God is almighty, what is our place? Why would an almighty God want or need humans at all? In the grand scheme of things, humans are just one more piece of creation relegated to one planet among billions of planets in the Milky Way. What does God need with a starship? What does God want with humans?

Faced with these grand questions about meaning and purpose, humans have often turned to creation myths. As a Christian, I turn to the opening chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1 establishes God as creator. The Genesis narrative follows a pattern with the creation of the world. Then God creates humanity in a unique way, blessing them and saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28).

In other words, when God creates humanity, God gives humanity a vocation. God calls humanity into existence and gives humanity a purpose all at the same time. What is that purpose? To “be fruitful and multiply.” Replenish humanity as the years go by and tame the earth so creation can replenish itself. Have dominion over all creation.

Much could be said of the call to have “dominion” over creation. A brief clarification might be in order. The image in Genesis 1 is not an image of humanity trampling over creation for humanity’s own use. Rather, the image in Genesis 1 is that of the God-king giving humanity jurisdiction over a piece of God’s realm as God’s stewards. The call to have dominion over creation in Genesis 1:28 is a call for humanity to steward creation well and responsibly, so that it might prosper and so that humanity might prosper along with it.

So God creates humanity with a vocation: be fruitful and be good stewards of creation. This pairing of creation and calling becomes a pattern throughout the biblical story. We see it when God saves his people out of slavery in Egypt and forms them into a nation, “You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:6). A creation of a people and a calling. We see it again with the creation of Jesus’ band of disciples, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17). Creation and calling. It happens repeatedly.

From one standpoint, the biblical story can be summed up in one question: Will we partner with God in the ways God calls us to or will we not? If God creates and God calls, what will our response be? Will we come alongside God and partner with the divine?

Let’s return to Genesis. God creates humanity with a calling: Be fruitful and steward creation so that it can be fruitful. All goes well for a while. Genesis doesn’t tell us how long. Eventually, though, having had a conversation with a snake, Adam and Eve begin to doubt God’s goodness. Doubting God’s goodness, Adam and Eve decide not to partner with God. Within the world of the story, rather than partner with God, Adam and Eve partner with the snake. Rather than partner with God, they partner against God. (The theme of the story remains the same, whether one understands Genesis 3 to be literal or nonliteral.)

In more traditional Christian language, this is what we might call “sin.” There have been whole volumes written on sin and its effects. Through the lens we’ve been using, sin can be summed up as “not partnering with God” or “partnering against God.” In this way, sin and vocation are tied together in ways traditional theology and language haven’t always made explicit. The choice between sin and holiness is less about whether one follows a list of rules or jumps through certain hoops. Instead, it’s much more about whether one is partnering with God and becoming the person God would have them be.

Adam and Eve reject partnership with God. At least for a time, they refuse their vocation. This, too, becomes a pattern throughout the biblical story. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel’s sin is said to bring shame to the name of God. Why? Israel’s vocation was to be a nation of priests to represent God and make God’s name and character known to the neighboring cultures/countries. Israel’s sin, rejection of partnership with God, was tied to Israel’s vocation. We see it elsewhere too. For example, God sent Jonah the prophet to the people of Nineveh. He rejects partnership with God very obviously by sailing in the opposite direction. Jonah’s sin, his rejection of partnership with God, was tied to his vocation. We see this happen time and time again in the biblical account.

God created Adam and Eve with a vocation. God created humanity and invited humanity into partnership with the divine. Over and over again, humanity rejected partnership with God. Rather than partner with God, humanity often partners with religious leaders, political leaders, business leaders, and more. One is reminded of Paul’s language of the “principalities and powers of the world” (Eph 6:12). The examples are seemingly endless.

Replacing God with something else is, at least in part, what the Bible calls idolatry. When something else fills the role that God should fill in our lives, we are committing idolatry. Idolatry is connected to vocation and rejecting partnership with God, and that connection is often not made explicit.1

Because humanity has chosen not to partner with God from time to time, humanity’s vocation has gone unfulfilled. Through to the end of the Old Testament, God’s name and character remained only partially known because his stewards, his kingdom of priests, his image-bearers did not fulfill their calling. Where do we go from here? Is God simply stuck with no human partnership and a damaged and abused creation as a result?

No. This is not the end of the biblical story! God himself becomes human in Jesus. Jesus becomes the model human and the model Israelite. Where the rest of humanity had rejected partnership with God, at every turn Jesus chooses to partner with God. In doing so, Jesus fulfills the human vocation (and Israel’s vocation) perfectly, even when it leads to his death.

It is in Jesus’ continual partnership with God—born out in his life, death, and resurrection—that the rest of humanity is empowered to partner with God in the vocation of humanity. Exactly how it works out that Jesus’ partnering with God empowers our partnering with God could be its own book! N.T. Wright is helpful; he cites 2 Corinthians 5:19-20: “That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are God’s ambassadors . . .” In other words, in the Messiah’s work in the world, humanity is once again empowered to partner with God in their vocation to be God’s ambassadors (or stewards, as in Genesis).

This pairing of reconciliation and vocation is again something we see throughout the biblical story. Let’s look at one example briefly. We recall that Peter had denied Jesus—three times. After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and Jesus have a conversation that is often understood as a conversation of forgiveness and reconciliation for Peter. In the midst of the conversation that bestows forgiveness and reconciliation, Jesus says to Peter three times, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15-17). Amid reconciliation, Jesus recommissions Peter. He once again invites Peter to partner with God.

We have seen how the traditional biblical story can be understood in terms of partnering with God. So we return to Captain Kirk’s question: What does God need with a starship? What does almighty God want with us? God wants partners! Partners who will work with creation that it might grow and prosper. Partners who will steward their circle of influence in a Christlike way. Partners who will represent and reflect the love of God in all they say and do. The only question left is: will God find a partner in us?

Questions: Does understanding sin, forgiveness, and atonement in terms of partnering with God make those big ideas more accessible? How so? In terms of your individual religious history, was God portrayed as someone who wants or needs partnership with humanity? How does the understanding that God wants to partner with us affect our understanding of God’s character? Is it easy or hard to imagine yourself partnering with God? Do you find it to be an overwhelming, frightening prospect, or rather an empowering, exciting proposition? Why?

Chris Baker is a co-pastor at Columbus Community Church of the Nazarene in Columbus, WI, alongside his wife Teresa. He previously served as associate pastor of worship and discipleship in Upstate New York. Chris enjoys reading, a wide variety of music, and having conversations about big ideas.

1 N. T. Wright makes this link between sin, idolatry, and vocation in The Day the Revolution Began (HarperOne, 2016).

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.

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