(I must credit N.T. Wright and his book, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, as a major source and influence for this post. And yea, it is a little long for a blogpost- DD)
“Going green” is all the rage today. One of the most popular Super Bowl commercials was a parody of “green police.” Debates about environmental concerns are now a part of the daily common dialogue. This for Christians naturally raises the question of how God fits into this discussion. Are there any hints in Scripture as to how we should respond to the green movement? Does the Bible record any type of theology of ecology?
THE EARTH BELONGS TO GOD
This is where we must begin to uncover answers to these questions. The Old Testament makes clear and unequivocal claims that the earth belongs to God.
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. (Psalm 42:1)
The earth is unmistakably his and all that are within it are his (Psalm 50:10-11; 24:1-2; 1 Chronicles 29:11). As divine owner God created the earth and subsequently offered it as a divine gift to man (Psalm 115:16). Nation Israel understood this (at least initially). This claim of the OT (of God owning the earth and gifting it to humanity) must therefore be the foundation for any ideas about a theology of ecology.
It is also significant to this discussion to note that God created the earth and proclaimed it “good” (six times in the creation narrative in Genesis 1-2). As Wright suggests, the earth is good because it is a work of God. It is good independently of human presence within it. It is good because of its purpose in sustaining both natural and human history (it is here- earth- where God has chosen to work with us to accomplish his ultimate redemptive will.) The creation is totally dependent upon God for it existence and sustenance (as are we). God has built into the earth an incredible capacity for renewal, recovery, balance and adaptation to accomplish his will within it.
The earth itself somehow recognizes the handprint of its creator and in its own way offers up glory and praise to God (there are an abundance of biblical references here- Job 38:7; Psalm 19:1-2; 65:8-13; 89:5,12; 96: 11-12; 98:7-8; 145:10-11; 148: 3-10; Isaiah 35:1-2; 42:10-12; 44:23; Joel 2:28; Habakkuk 3:3 and in the NT- Luke 19:40). Further God promises a redemption of the earth (Isaiah 65:17-25; Romans 8: 19-23- since the earth remains under the curse of sin- Genesis 3:17-19).
From this evidence it is apparent that God has a deep and abiding relationship with the earth interrelated to its purpose. He is aware of and takes care of its inhabitants (and not just humans- Matthew 6:26-30). The earth clearly matters to him. Therefore understanding what he expects from us who have been given the dominion over the earth should matter as well.
DIVINE ECOLOGY AND US
God did delegate the oversight of the earth to us (Genesis 1:28) because we alone among the creation are made in “his image” (Genesis 1:27). We are the most dominant species on the globe. It should only follow then that our stewardship of the earth would echo the very values and character of the One in whose image we are made. As with all of our God-given gifts we should approach caring for his creation responsibly.
While there is no set list of environmental ethics recorded in the OT, there is enough evidence for us to conclude that God wants us to base ecological approaches in the same “social justice” ethic that is so pervasive within Scripture. The Jubilee model taught to Israel (Leviticus 25, 27) demonstrates how God wants us to approach the environment in a balanced and healthy way- a way in which is both beneficial to the environment and to us. The idea expressed to Israel’s kings concerning “speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8-9) is part of this socially just approach to the environment.
Certainly we must realize that creation is about more than just us and that our environmental ethics must consider all that God has created on the earth. Our ability to enjoy, use and survive on the planet is irrevocably interconnected with the rest of creation. While creation itself is not divine and not to be worshipped (which many cultures in the OT did), it is to be considered sacred and therefore treated with balanced care and proper respect.
One reason Israel lost her land is because she forgot this and perverted God’s social and environmental ethic embedded in the Jubilee. Greed and exploitation along with the abuses that accompany them overshadowed the Jubilee commands. The prophets recorded the results:
You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed man’s blood; and you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them. (Habakkuk 2:16-17- see also Hosea 4:3)
In conclusion, God’s theology of ecology is consistent with his overall grace-filled biblical theology. We are not to mistreat our gift of the earth. We are not to greedily exploit it bringing about wasteful destruction and abuse. Neither are we to divinize it and prevent the proper use of its resources to help sustain us. Our theology of ecology should be faith-based, not fear-based- resting upon the principles God gave Israel for just use and treatment of the land.
The earth is an amazing and renewable resource. God has gifted it to us and asked us to make sure we remember it still belongs to him and to continue to treat as his gift.