Hope Rediscovered – Review
Hope Rediscovered: Biblical wisdom for an anxious world, by David Atkinson, 2018. Ekklesia, ISBN 9780993294211, 230 pages. RRP £12.00 (paperback)
Bishop Atkinson emphasizes that “God is Creator of all, and that God’s Wisdom, embedded in Creation, holds all things together” (p. 21). This book is a refreshing focus on the Hebrew Bible’s teaching about the goodness of all creation and its abundance. But this is also a book on John’s Gospel and the Wisdom of God found in it.
I learn from Atkinson that creation is not a place of battle and competition for scarce resources; God doesn’t say: “go and improve creation because I made a poor job of it!” But evidence of our ordering of creation might lead some to think that this is what God commanded. Atkinson quotes Richard Dawkins’ view of creation as representative of the way we live: “…there is…no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference” (p. 27). We are skilled in selfishness, skilled at fighting, and skilled at competing. This puts us at odds with God’s Wisdom. What is this Wisdom? It is God’s compassion, generosity, and mercy. God made creation to function in that way; we were made to live selflessly. Jesus is the embodiment of the Wisdom of God. The Word in John 1:1, for Atkinson, is the Wisdom of the Hebrew Bible (p. 51). Jesus is the Wisdom that re-orders (recreates) so that it is an expression of his goodness and mercy. Jesus reveals to human beings that they are to live according to compassion, generosity, and mercy.
Atkinson observes that there are “signs of new creation happening all through the Gospel” (p. 44). In John 2, for example, the temple is seen as creation in microcosm; therefore, Jesus’s action in the temple “is another sign of a renewed and healed creation” (p. 44). The Bishop suggests that Jesus is “creation’s priest”. Humans, likewise, as bearers of God’s image, are also priests of creation (p. 45). Jesus saw the temple to be a house of traders (John 2:16) that benefited the elite including the priests who lived off the labours and toil of the people. Jesus, in contrast, shows the role of the priest as God intended is to live selflessly that others flourish, i.e. living in accordance with the Wisdom of God embedded in creation.
Jesus embodies God’s Wisdom to the extent he is “the authentic human being who demonstrates in his life and ministry what walking in the way of Wisdom entails” (p. 49). I am particularly struck by “self-giving love and service” (p. 49) as examples of being authentically human. Central to John’s Christology is self-sacrifice. Priest is a metaphor of one who serves creation by living within boundaries God has set. Self-giving service, for example, is the mark of Jesus’s foot washing in John 13:1-20. Atkinson comments: “The fullness of life, which is following Jesus’ Way, includes the service of good works, especially for the benefit of the poorest… (p.177).
I encourage readers to read Atkinson’s book along with John’s Gospel orientated to the horror and greed to which we are hard-wired. This is a readable and thoughtful application of John to our times of ecological and economic catastrophe that can only help sensitize us to God’s wisdom that holds all creation together.