A Theology of Ecology?

(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.

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12 Responses to A Theology of Ecology?

  1. bigfry2003 says:

    I’ve come to believe Christians ought to be at the forefront of the green movement. As you’ve said, God entrusted His creation to mankind as steward in Genesis (long before He commanded Israel how to care for their land).

    Being as the earth and all that’s in it belongs to God, we should treat it as we would the home of someone who has graciously allowed us to stay with them. Would you empty the fridge without replacing it, use their fine china for skeet shooting practice, wash your dog with their linens or tear down the walls and re-arrange the layout of the house of someone whom you’re house-sitting for? Why would we treat God’s creation in such a way?

    The earth IS an amazing and renewable resource, but honestly we’ve misused it so badly you’d almost have to remove mankind at this point for it to catch up with all we’ve stripped from it. Great post, Danny. A lot to think about.

  2. lesjr says:

    Gotta seriously disagree with you, Brad. I think you are giving humanity waaaay to much credit. Sure we ought to take care of what we have been given. Sure. But being at the forefront of the green movement? I guess i prefer to think along the lines of the old hymn… this world is not my home, I am just a passing through… we are too preoccupied with our things here and not the journey.

    And Danny, seems to me that one of the passages you refered to says quite clearly that we live on a broken world–while it has the capicity to renew in some ways–much like the human body–it will only be renewed fully when God restores all things.

    All that being said, I don’t want to live in pollution–and think we should curb it however we can.

    • Brad Adcock says:

      The message of that old hymn, while beautiful, can and has in many cases led to an attitude that says ‘I don’t belong here, so who cares; God’s gonna get rid of it and take me to heaven anyway, right?’ It’s not a salvation issue by any stretch of imagination, but it reflects very, very poorly on us as Christians to blindly misuse or abuse what God entrusted to our care. What’s wrong with desiring to take care of the environment? What part of that detracts from our Christianity? (Not attributing these things solely to you, Les; just the attitude of (too) many Christians who don’t seem to care).

      • lesjr says:

        I for one don’t think God’s gonna get rid of it… My theology these days sees God as restoring.

        Again, I don’t think we should have a dont care attitude… howver, the opposite of that seems to attach an almost worshiping view of this old rock we call home. I think they are missing the point altoghether.

  3. bigfry2003 says:

    Our theology matches on that, Les. I’m not advocating being green to the point of ‘worshipping’ by any stretch – but that balance between not caring and worshipping isn’t as widespread as you’d like to think. You’re right in that both sides of the extreme (as with any issue) completely miss the point. I think you and I are only divided by semantics on this; hope your household is overcoming the stomach virus or whatever that was that beset them late last week.

  4. dannydodd says:

    Yes, the earth is under the curse of sin and full of “thorns and thistles,” but that does not give us permission to exploit and act irresponsible to the home God has given us.

    The eschatological ideas that you hinted at do play a part of this discussion. Maybe that can be a blog for another day.

  5. lesjr says:

    Brad, I appreciate you and love you too. Regardless, I think there is far more than semantics here. Most folks I know who have bought into the green have also bought into global warming, etc. It is more than just a safe the earth from pollution and treat her right movement. It is a control deal.

  6. dannydodd says:

    Les, you are politicizing this.

    Let’s not insert our 21st century political climate debates into a search for a biblical approach to our environment.

  7. lesjr says:

    Danny, you are the one who mentioned the green movement. Since we don’t live in a bubble, good luck on not letting the “daily debates” have an influence in deveoping your theology.

  8. dannydodd says:

    No need to apologize Les. I am not claiming that culture does not impact theology.

    My goal in this post was to explore biblical ideas about ecology in the biblical culture (which did not include any debates on global warming) for the purpose of finding a balanced approach to the ecology today- in our current culture.

    Maybe I am being somewhat naive, but is it not possible to do this without engaging in all the debates? Whether or not the globe is warming (and I do have an opinion on that as you well know, Les) should not determine my personal and biblical ethic towards the environment.

  9. c3andp says:

    I do not know if the globe is warming or not, but it is getting hot in here!
    C3

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