Reading The Bible Through a Green Lens – Part One
Marking the second anniversary of the release of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si., reminded me of a reflection that I did a few years ago on an article, Reading the Bible through a Green Lens by Calvin B. DeWitt. Up until that time, any reading I had done on environmental issues had been from a purely secular perspective and I wanted to approach this topic from a biblical/spiritual perspective. What follows is my personal reflection on this article, not a critique.
In the introduction, DeWitt describes the Bible as a “powerful ecological handbook on how to live rightly on earth.” However, it is important to identify stumbling blocks and pitfalls that may stand in the way of living rightly on God’s good earth. He identifies the following six stumbling blocks, with my personal reflection on each to assist in removing or avoiding these stumbling blocks.
STUMBLING BLOCKS TO CREATION’S CARE
- The world is not my home: I’m just passing through. The promise of everlasting life does not preclude the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Just as we take care of our bodies and our possessions in the here-and-now, we are also called to take care of God’s earth.
- My comment – this same justification has been used for not changing the status quo in many things. It has been used to justify inaction regarding poverty, suffering and other social justice issues. Unfortunately, it has been also been used by some in saying, “Offer it up” when action to remediate or change the situation was called for.
- There are too many worldly people out there doing environmental things. The author interprets this as a “Christian” refusal to work with secular motivated environmentalists . He recalls God’s using Cyrus, an unbelieving Persian, to do God’s work at that time in the history of the Jewish people.
- My comment – rather than passing judgment on others who work on environmental issues, we are called to look at ourselves and the reasons for our inaction, and/or our contribution to environmental problems.
- I don’t want to be an extremist or an alarmist. The author states the importance of caring for creation from a positive perspective, that is, from a love of God and all creation. However, it may still be necessary to sound the alarm.
- My comment – sometimes, we don’t want to take a public stand, by our actions and/or our words. By our Baptism we are all called to be prophets. The question is – how will we fulfill this call? By word, by action or by both? Also, the Old Testament prophets could easily be classified as extremists or alarmists, but they were doing the work that God called them to do.
I believe God gave us the job to do what we want with creation. Many people have used Genesis 1:28 to justify their abuse and destruction of creation. When God gave us dominion over the earth and all its creatures, it was to continue God’s work, to preserve and care for it, so it would benefit all peoples and creatures, both now and into the future.
- My comment – I think that this is probably the main stumbling block for many people, due to the misinterpretation (convenient or otherwise) of the word “dominion.” This also may be connected with the patriarchal or kyriarchal definition of the word “dominion.” By going back to our spiritual and biblical roots, we need to clarify exactly what is meant by “dominion,” and look to the example that both God and Jesus give us.
- People are more important than the environment. DeWitt cites the story of Noah and the flood as illustrating God’s care for all creatures. He also says, “At the very least, care for living creatures cannot be disregarded because of the importance of people.”
- My comment – this would probably be my biggest stumbling block. If I were asked to contribute time or money to the Haitian people or to preserve a tiny creature I had never heard of, I would hardly even give it a thought when making my decision. But, I am starting to rethink this.
- I recalled a recent presentation when I was fascinated in listening to a young forester, describing the life cycle of a tiny insect and its role in the eco-system. I remember thinking that I wish I had that knowledge and enthusiasm about a bug so that I could explain and justify a commitment to its preservation. It highlighted for me the importance of both a knowledge base and an enthusiasm for your cause.
- On the other hand, I have also become very much aware of the connection between our abuse of natural resources and the effect on people, especially on people who are not able to speak out against such abuse. The examples of land and water abuse are the two causes that come to mind. They very definitely have a strong social justice component, one which some people may identify with more easily than the preservation of a bug. We need more education about going back to our biblical roots and forward to the social justice issues related to ecological concerns.
- I disagree with what some environmentalists and scientists say will happen. DeWitt compares those who dispute the claims and strategies of environmentalists with the claims and strategies of the tobacco industry who questioned the findings regarding the connection between smoking and cancer.
- My comment – this may be a convenient excuse for some. However, we must respect a person’s right to their own opinion. If the person’s opinion is not an informed one, then we could undertake to gradually introduce some environmental knowledge to them. If they have done some research on the topic and are convinced of their position, maybe another strategy might work. Perhaps, experiences which promote a sense of wonder and awe at creation, and how we can experience God in creation, might be an alternative or additional option to try. We must show the same respect for people who hold such opinions, as we would like them to show to creation. Accept people where they are, and walk with them.
- NOW WHAT MUST WE DO ABOUT CREATION?
- Our goal is for Christian environmental stewardship to be a part of everything we do, to be an integral part of our service to each other, to our community and to God’s world. The following three steps can form the framework for us to follow.
- Awareness – In our extremely busy lives, we must make a conscious effort to be aware of what is happening in God’s creation. Awareness includes seeing, naming, identifying, and locating different parts of God’s creation as well as providing ourselves with sufficient time for quiet reflection and learning, so that this awareness can occur.
- My comment – building awareness requires making a conscious effort to set aside time to build such awareness. It doesn’t “just happen.” To me, awareness also means educating yourself on the issues involved, especially seeking local applications, as well as practical steps that people can follow.
- Appreciation – Awareness leads to appreciation. Appreciation can happen in varying degrees from toleration (such as bugs) to respect to valuing. All of creation has value because God made it.
- My comment – I “appreciate” the realistic approach here, because all of us might not stand in awe of a bug, but would stand in awe of a majestic oak tree. This is another example of where I need to become more educated on the background information, especially regarding the ecosystem and its complexities.
- Stewardship – Appreciation leads to stewardship which in turn leads to restoration. Stewardship also means serving. Just as God is serving us through creation, we should return this service of our own.
My comment – stewardship in many church circles means using our time, talent and treasure to do and/or support the work of the church. We can also use these same gifts of time, talents and treasures for the restoration of creation which we view as part of the work of the church.
(Part Two will be posted next week)