Is the world enough?

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. Genesis 4:2

Dear members and friends,

One big motive in the Bible seems to be that God is not in favor of the advancement of human civilization. One definition of the word “civilization” links it to the Latin civilis (“civil”), related to civis (“citizen”) and civitas (“city”). And, the first step into building cities was settlers who began to till the ground. In Genesis, “Cain was a tiller of the ground,” while “Abel was a keeper of sheep.” As the story goes, Cain killed his brother Abel over jealousy, and was cursed: “When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength (Genesis 4:12).” Overall, the agricultural revolution has been considered the biggest human achievement because it enabled humans to increase in number and build settlements with walls (cities). However, what also came into being along with these improvements was the rise of human arrogance and self-glorification: most rulers in the ancient world claimed either to be of divine descent or to be a god.

Now we are living in 21st century, when many humans believe that they have figured out everything and are in control of nature, and to a degree, even the universe itself. Yet, what human civilization has actually birthed is a structural and systematized way of maximizing human comfort and enrichment at the expense of nature and other people. I am also guilty of taking advantage of the comforts human achievement has wrought. Yet at the same time, I often wonder whether the commonly accepted “good” lifestyle in advanced countries is indeed healthy and essentially good for humans. Whenever I watch a documentary regarding the life of villagers on remote islands or in the deep mountains, I often find myself envying their simple yet satisfying lifestyle. How much do we need to make our mind satisfied? In one way, having the whole universe is not enough, because greed knows no limit. But in another way, having three meals and a place to sleep could be good enough, because true satisfaction isn’t found in our possessions, but in how we accept life itself.

I am certain that human civilization could have been built in harmony with nature if humans were able to control their greed and selfishness. In a way, the big message that the Bible is trying to teach humans is the wisdom of self-contentment and self-control, which will be beneficial to self and to all others.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee