May God Continue to Bless Us (Ps. 67)
by Kosuke Koyama
>Kosuke Koyama is John D.Rockefeller, Jr., Professor of Ecumenics and World Christianity at Union Theology Seminary in New York City. This article appeared in the Christian Century, April 26, 1989, p. 442. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
May God show kindness and bless us,
Let the nations praise you, God,
Let the nations rejoice and sing for joy,
Let the nations praise you, God,
The earth has yielded its produce;
He humbled you, he made you feel hunger, he fed you with manna which neither you nor your ancestors had ever known, to make you understand that human beings live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh (Deut. 8:3).
Human beings cannot live by the produce of the earth alone. They must hear the word of God. In the constant tension between these two needs is hidden humanity’s peculiar dignity and tragedy. Buddhists would readily acknowledge that they need the produce of the earth and every word that comes from the mouth of the Awakened One. Similarly, Taoists would say that they need the produce of the earth and every word that comes from the Ultimate Tao. The great religious traditions of the world, without exception, have described the relationship between bread (the earth’s produce) and the word of God, because they are keenly aware of the tragic pull of earthly greed. Jesus asks, "What benefit is it to anyone to win the whole world and forfeit or lose his very self?" (Luke 9:25).
Our faith in the continuity of life is grounded in nature. But this continuity is often ideologized and politicized. Masao Maruyama, a prominent scholar of Japanese culture, speaks of the importance of the Japanese word that means "next-next." The crown prince is called "Prince Next." The basic philosophic thread running through all Japanese culture and religion is expressed in the phrase, "next-next-continuously-becoming-by-momentum." This "next-next" orientation may not be, by itself, a dangerous ideology. Yet when deified, the continuity of the imperial household produced an emperor cult that eventually destroyed the nation.
We are reminded of the great warning words of Hosea that have echoed throughout human civilization: "they have set up kings, but without my consent, and appointed princes, but without my knowledge" (Hos. 8:4). The words of Hosea may be paraphrased: "they have used nature, but without my consent." Nature is the environment in which we live. It is to be used, but it must not be misused.
Human sexuality belongs to this world of nature. It is a great gift which must be used with God’s consent and knowledge. The biblical God, who is the creator of human sexuality, neither engages in sexual acts nor has a spouse. This God enters into a covenant relationship with humanity, and keeps that covenant with unfailing steadfastness. God indicates the primacy of mutuality over sexuality. That is to say, the sacred meaning of sexuality is not located in sexuality itself, but rather in human mutuality. Sexuality is a mode in which human mutuality is expressed.
A similar observation can be made about racism. Racism gives prominence to particular characteristics that are biologically determined. In the beginning was pigmentation! Racism is not interested in individual morality or dignity. The ancient Buddhist tradition says:
No Brahman is such by birth. No outcaste is such by birth. An outcaste is such by his deeds. A Brahman is such by his deeds.
Because it disregards the inner person, racism is pornographic. "White only" restaurants in Johannesburg are porn shops. Being less obvious than those on 42nd Street in New York City, the porn shops in Johannesburg are far more harmful to the health of human community.
Nature surrounds us and we are a part of it. Yet we have a spiritual quality that transcends the dictates of nature. This quality must constantly be nurtured to avoid falling into a variety of idolatries. "The earth has yielded its produce; God, our God has blessed us."