My proposed reconciliation of the two views can be stated thus: The world is sacramental (the lowercase s is intentional). Part of seeing and experiencing the sacrament of creation, involves working in it. After all, at its core, Genesis 2 presents a view of humanity that sees cultivating and developing (another difficult word) our place as central to our identity. And yet the Sayerites should be cautious on this point, because Genesis 2 also calls for a regular Sabbath, a period of rest and removal from work. And in this way, Genesis teaches us, man imitates God.
I’ll be honest: I wish I had written this. I was attempting to move in this direction in the comments, but Meador–like always–got there first and said it better. And so, rather than simply praise and move on, I’m going to do what I always do in such situations: quibble.
Do we really have to call creation sacramental? Doug Wilson has been taking this on the past few weeks, so he’s worth quoting in this context:
There are two sacraments, true, but there is only one sacramental. The world is a sacramental, and everything in it. Grace is everywhere, and gets into everything. Faith can dig it out of anything. The grandeur of God can flame out from anything, like shining from shook foil.
Yes, the world is given. And Wilson has rightly continued to hammer the distinction between giver and gift. But I’m not sure what “sacramental” adds to that account.
Consider: “sacramental” suggests a specifically theological understanding of the created order. I think it is used to indicate not just the possibility of God’s communication in and through a created (physical) thing, but rather the actuality of it. Rather than seeing things as things with particular natures that are independent of our perceptions, or society, or even–dare I say–God, the sacramental vision depends upon seeing everything as specifically ordered by and toward God.
And so much the better, right? After all, it’s a corrective action against evangelicalism’s (purportedly) weak doctrine of creation. But as a correction, it may not help much. Inasmuch as the “sacramental” understanding of creation passes from its own internal goodness to its place within the divine economy, then the content of our obligations to the world depends upon the will of God and not on the structure of goods within the cosmos. Or, nominalism and voluntarism and all the problems they entail.
At least there’s a danger of that. And in younger evangelical contexts, that’s largely the reality–which is why the sacramental ordering of creation is often deployed as justification for the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake, independent of any other good. And why not? In a world where “creation” means “what God gives to us,” ethics is reduced to the divine command and whatever we can’t obviously find prohibited in Scripture becomes permissible.
A more robust understanding of creation–it would be a great time to deploy ‘thick’ if we knew what it meant–that didn’t start with its role as a mediator of God’s communicative action could help us recover the dignity of creation as creation and as creation for us. I suspect the absence of this sort of account is why Wilson has to deploy categories proper to the inner life of the Triune God–perichoresis–to the order of creation in order to recover its dignity. Because on a “sacramental” account of the world, the world simply isn’t enough–it has to reflect God’s triune life in some way. Call it a modern version of Augustinian vestigia trinitatis.*
** To clarify pre-emptively, most of what I said is in “rant” form and not directed at Jake per se.