Reading the Bible Through a Green Lens – Part Two
[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. This is Part Two.]
BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES FOR CREATION CARE
- It is very helpful to read Scriptures, searching for its ecological insights. DeWitt goes on to present eight biblical principles which give a powerful environmental message.
- The Earthkeeping Principle – as the Lord keeps and sustains us, so we must keep and sustain our Lord’s creation. In Genesis 2:18, God puts man in the garden to “till it and to keep it.” The word for “keep” is “shamar” which can be translated as “guard,” “safeguard,”
- “take care of,” “look after.” This implies a loving, caring, sustaining kind of keeping, and also indicates the nature of our relationship with creation. We care for creation, so that it can flourish.
- My comment – a discussion of the meaning of “keep,” might be very helpful in possibly counteracting the definition or connotations associated with the word “dominion.”
- The Fruitfulness Principle – we should enjoy but not destroy creation’s fruitfulness.
- In Genesis: 20-22, 24, God blesses the creatures with fruitfulness, and says, “Be fruitful and multiply,” thereby giving to the land and to the seas what satisfies and sustains it. Therefore, we who are created in God’s image, should provide for all God’s creatures. DeWitt uses the Noah story as an example of how we should care for the earth and its fruitfulness.
- My comment – once again, this can be used to counter the definition of “dominion.” Dominion over creation implies caring for creation as God cared for creation.
- The Sabbath Principle – we must provide for creation’s Sabbath rests. In Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, God commands us to set aside one day in seven as a day of rest for people and animals. The Sabbath is a time to worship the Lord and enjoy the fruits of creation, a time for rest and restoration. In Exodus 23, God also says that the land must also have its Sabbath rest. In the New Testament, Mark 2: 27, Jesus makes it quite clear that the Sabbath is made for those who are served by it, not the other way around. The Sabbath is made for people, and through the people, for the rest of God’s creation. So, the Sabbath is also made for the land, and not the land for the people. This Sabbath law applies to more than the land, it applies to all of creation, such as our use of air and water.
- My comment – in our commercial world of seven-day, almost round-the-clock shopping, split shifts and minimum pay for workers, and immediate access by Internet, constant availability by cell phone, it seems we have all but lost our concept of the Sabbath. It can wreak havoc on family life, and take advantage of those who need work so desperately, that they are willing to work an exhausting schedule ( maybe even with two or three jobs) to barely maintain themselves and their families. This is a monumental task to take on, and once again is another example of “profit before people.”
- I had never thought of using the Sabbath concept in discussing our use, abuse or overuse of air, land and water, but it makes perfect sense and would an exciting new concept to introduce. Or rather, it is going back to our spiritual/biblical roots to provide the foundation for ecological efforts regarding air, land and water.
- The Discipleship Principle – we must be disciples of Jesus Christ – the Creator, Sustainer, and Reconciler of all things. The Bible calls us to be disciples of Jesus, and as disciples, we follow the example of the one who makes all things new. Collosians 1:16 tells us that Jesus is the one in whom and for whom all things were created. Just as the first Adam brought death and degradation, Jesus, the new Adam, brings life and restoration. As disciples of Jesus, we work to restore all things in Christ.
- My comment – before I read this article, I interpreted this role of Jesus as reconciler, as reconciling us, that is human beings, to himself, and thereby to God. Jesus’ role, and hence our role, in reconciling all creation, is a totally new concept to me. As such, I will have to do a lot more thinking and reading about this, for myself first, in order to be able to present this concept to anyone else.
- 5. The Kingdom Priority Principle – we must seek first the kingdom of God. Popular culture urges us to seek everything else before the kingdom of God. In seeking God’s kingdom on earth ( as prayed in the Our Father), we strive to sustain and renew God’s creation. In doing so, we find out that happiness and joy are by-products of our stewardship, and fulfillment comes as a result of seeking the kingdom. Those who seek God’s kingdom will be the ones who will inherit it.
- My comment – once again, I have always interpreted this seeking of God’s kingdom on earth as applying to humans, concepts such as restoring justice and mercy, living with our fellow human beings as God would want us to do. I never considered the broader environmental context and application of this This too will require more thinking and reading on my part.
- The Contentment Principle – we must seek true contentment. Contentment in this context means aiming to have the things that sustain us while not pressing beyond this point. 1Timothy 6:11 tells us that by not pressing beyond this point, we will be able to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.” Being content also helps to preserve creation, for we will demand less from our natural resources. This will allow nature to heal itself, to perpetuate its fruitfulness.
- My comment – our consumer society, especially in the Western world, follows the exact opposite of this contentment principle. We are encouraged to buy more and more, to have larger houses (which must have walk in closets for all our clothes), see exotic places, acquire the latest computers and all the latest technological “toys.” We pay for all these items with money we do not have, always seeking contentment that we hope such purchases will give us.
- There are books, articles, DVD’s, and television shows on decluttering. It is said that we only wear twenty per cent of our wardrobe eighty percent of the time. The obesity rates and lack of exercise are hallmarks of our existing society. I recently looked through my high school year book from my graduating year. In the whole school population – well over a thousand – there were only a handful of girls who were overweight, none of them obese. The same cannot be said of today’s high school population.
- Yet many people are seeking to downsize, to declutter, to simplify their lives. Basing such efforts on the biblical contentment principle could very well help people in their efforts. It could also be an interesting and perhaps fruitful Lenten practice. Presenting this concept to young people may be more of a challenge because it would seem so counter-cultural. However, the “baby step” approach would probably be more effective here.
- The Praxis Principle – we must practice what we believe. In studying the New Testament, in Luke 6:46, we find Jesus asking, “Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I tell you?” Once we find out from the Bible what God wants us to do in caring for creation, the challenge becomes putting what we know and believe into practice.
- My comment – Now is the time to put these principles into action. Words are not enough. “Actions speak louder than words.”
- The Conservation Principle – we must return creation’s service to us with service of our own. DeWitt begins with the root meaning of “conserve,” that is “to serve with.” Just as Adam was expected to serve creation and to keep it, so are we. We already know that the”garden,” and the larger biosphere serve us. We are called to “serve” the garden and the larger biosphere. So this becomes a reciprocal service, a relationship between the garden and the gardener, between the biosphere and us as its stewards.
- My comment – once again, this is a new definition and a new concept for me. But it certainly goes back to the creation account of the sixth day, and the inter-relationship between all of God’s creatures. We think of nature serving us but not of us serving nature. This is also where the concept of “dominion” comes into play.
- Concluding Comments
- I initially chose this article because of the beginning section on the stumbling blocks. It would help me to deal with my own stumbling blocks as well as those of others. “Forewarned is forearmed.”
- I also chose this article because it provided an introduction to the “Going Green” movement. As such, I needed to go back to the beginning – to the Bible, with Genesis and moving on from there. This article really does go back to the basics, to the biblical roots for Christian ecology. This is a very practical article, but I wish it had also done a bit more with a Christian based spirituality, finding God in God’s creation. In dealing with the stumbling block about not wanting to be an alarmist, DeWitt does say that he would prefer caring for creation to be based positively on love for and gratitude to God, and not on acting out of fear. But he doesn’t go any further than that.
- This article would also provide a solid foundation for any group seeking to begin a Christian based ecology movement. It could function as a “checklist” to ensure that any actions taken are biblically based. Or, in the other direction, we could study each of the principles and brainstorm ideas/actions which would naturally follow if that principle were put into practice. I found this article to be clearly written and logically presented. It provides a launching pad for more reading, reflection and ultimately for action.