Sandra Richter. Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says About The Environment and Why It Matters
In 2019 I gave a sermon entitled “The Green New Covenant,” part 2, (after my co-pastor’s sermon, “Green New Covenant,” part 1), in which I posited that The Way of Jesus is our way forward in addressing the challenges we’re facing with the current climate crisis; denialism, paralysis, and “biblicism.” To denialism, The Way calls us to be a prophetic voice. To paralysis, The Way calls us to a reconciled life. To “biblicism,” The Way calls us to the grand narrative. One week later, I received a lengthy email which the writer kindly but forcefully dissented to my acceptance of climate change as anthropogenic. It was, painfully, an exemplification of “denialism” and “biblicism,” challenges that I addressed directly in my sermon. This person denied that human-caused climate change is real because “climate science is a political agenda,” and then accused me of using “off-putting language” by “calling someone a Denier.” And, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7; KJV),” so, therefore, “We are never called to make others afraid, with the possible exception of making them think about the consequences of denying Jesus as Lord and Savior.” (Oh, the irony.) It is an exchange that still sits with me, troubles me, and deflates me.
Richter’s work is really good, (go read Epic of Eden), and I looked forward to reading this book to have a resource that can assist in the education of Christians on this issue. Stewards did not disappoint. Richter has provided a thorough historical, cultural, and contextual exegesis to inform the themes that speak directly to our modern circumstances. The examples she uses in the book also help “bring it close to home,” and provide the analogies that are necessary for concretizing the principles. It is a compelling read and one that should be deeply considered by any Christian.
However… That email still sits with me.
Let’s recognize that I, the messenger, take full responsibility for the presentation, content, and messages presented, and I may have done a poor job. Let’s recognize that a “sermon” may not be the appropriate avenue in which we talk about “social/political issues.” Regardless, still, the posture of heart by many Christians has disheartened me; their dogmatic and spiritualized rationalization of political beliefs couched in religious and biblical language. It is one of the great tragedies of life, that a brilliant and formative collective of writings like the Bible is referenced and used to deploy the complete opposite of what it teaches and advances. How does that happen? Why does that perpetuate?
My two basic responses are as follows. First is that most Christians are actually quite uneducated when it comes to their biblical texts. They know what it says (because they can read), but they have very little training, desire, or need to go any further than the “words on the page.” To this, Richter’s work is invaluable. Second, however, and this would be my one caveat to books like Stewards, (and I mention this below in my inline note), is that the “psychological workflow” of our beliefs works contrary to our intuitions. Arguments do not persuade, they confirm. To that, Richter’s work can only come after a shift has happened.
Thanks to Sandra Richter for her contributions to a better understanding, a more thorough explanatory scope of biblical engagement, and the prophetic call to us to be the “children of Adam” (בני אדם) that we were created and designed to be. May more Christians read Stewards and actually become stewards.
Introduction: Can a Christian Be an Environmentalist?
Why? Why has the church, historically the moral compass of our society, gotten so lost on this topic? (2)
| One reason is certainly politics. (2)
A second cause of the church’s paralysis on this topic is… We, the Western majority voice, are largely sheltered from the impact of environmental degradation on the global community. (3)
Third, and perhaps most detrimental, is the theological posture taught by many in the church that the created order is bound only for destruction. (3)
[via: While I agree with Richter’s categories, more emphasis needs to be stated on the “psychological workflow” of how we formulate our beliefs. Theology is not just the “third” but the last reason and a post-facto rationalization that comes after we’ve already decided what we believe. We make our decisions based upon our political tribal views, we then avoid information that may contradict those views (in concert with the availability heuristic), and then we create theological interpretations that give us the moral framework for our positions.]
This book is my contribution to exposing and uprooting these misconceptions that have rendered the church silent on a critical concern. As a longtime professor of biblical studies, a professional exegete, an author, a theologian, and–most importantly–a committed Christian, my objective in this little book is to demonstrate via the most authoritative voice int he chuch’s life, that of Scripture, that the stewardship of this planet is not alien or peripheral to the message of the gospel. (3)
…what the Bible has to say is that the responsible stewardship of creation is not only an expression of the character of our God; it is the role he entrusted to those made in his image. (4)
1 Creation as God’s Blueprint
We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile. – J. R. R. Tolkein, The Letters of Tolkein
So how does one mount a biblical argument on this topic? … Do I see this particular value or precept systematically represented in the text as an expression of the reign and rule of God? Or is this value limited to a marginal representation in the Bible via the particularities of situational ethics? To make an argument that environmental concern is a kingdom value, the issue must rise to the level of the former–a consistent component of God’s instructions to humanity, a regular attribute of God’s communicated values and affections. (7)
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
In the opening chapter of Genesis … on days one through three we are offered three habitats (or kingdoms): (1) the day and night, (2) the sea and heavens, and (3) the dry land. On days four through six, the inhabitants (or rulers) of these various realms of creation are put in their proper places… (7)
[via: “Forming” and “filling” in contradistinction to “formless and empty / wild and waste” (תהו ובהו)]
…this penultimate climax of Genesis 1 offers us the most breathtaking aspect of the Creator’s work so far. On this day a creature is fashioned in the likeness of the Creator himself. ON this day humanity (‘ādām) is created in the image of God. (9)
cf. Ps 8:3-9
Whereas the ongoing flourishing of the created order is dependent on the sovereignty of the Creator, it is the privilege and responsibility of the Creator’s stewards (that would be us) to facilitate this ideal plan by ruling in his stead. (11)
We rule as he would rule. We are stewards, not kings. (11)
…the curse enacted by humanity’s rebellion is not simply a list of random penalties–it is a reversal of God’s originally intended blessings. Those made in the image of God and designed to live eternally will now die like the animals. The earth, designed to serve, will now devour (Gen 3:19). The act of birth will now produce death (Gen 3:16). Adam’s labor, which was intended to bring security to his family, will now be undermined by the very resources designed to provide for him (Gen 3:17-19). (12)
WHAT WILL WE SAY?
2 The People of the Old Covenant and Their Landlord
As it was in the garden, so it was in the land of Israel. … But God’s people were renters, not landlords. (17)
The system of offering and sacrifice served two important functions: (1) to acknowledge Israel’s position as a tenant and subordinate in God’s government, and (2) to address the needs of the landless among them (Deut 14:28-29; 26:12-15). (18)
cf. a cow’s first calving season (18) a ewe’s first birth…
In both of these testimonials we find that the firstborn is not necessarily unique in its own particularities, but it does serve as a bellwether. So a live, healthy first birth is a great blessing to any farmer and an indicator of good things to come. Moreover, as Ann [Bell Stone of Elmwood Stock Farm] pointed out, any “firstfruit,” be it produce or livestock, is a product for which the farmer has labored and waited throughout a long “hungry season.” So to give the “first” away is a sign of both great sacrifice and profound confidence, sacrifice in that the farmer and his family have waited a long time for that first lamb or tomato, and confidence in that they have no real assurance, outside their trust in God, that a “second” is coming. (19)
Deuteronomy, the constitution and bylaws of ancient Israel, makes it crystal clear that this good land given to God’s people, as well as it produce, belongs to Yahweh. The tribes of Israel are only his tenants, who are appointed to their inherited tribal landholdings according to his good pleasure. (21)
SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Although I would never suggest that present-day farmers return to the agricultural methods of the Iron Age, I would suggest that in Israel’s fallow law we find a critical ideological principle that should continue to guide our approach to the stewardship of agricultural land: It is not acceptable for any populace to take from the land everything that it can. Rather, as the law of Israel teaches us, God’s people are commanded to operate with the long-term well-being of the land as their ultimate goal. … In sum, the constitution of ancient Israel taught that economic security or growth was not a viable excuse for the abuse of the land, and that true economic well-being would come only from careful stewardship of it. (24)
A CASE STUDY
Industrial Agriculture and Punjab India
cf. Norman Borlaug, named the “father of the Green Revolution,” received the NObel Peace Prize in 1970
Allow the land to rest. Don’t take everything you can. Take only what you need. Leave enough so that the land might be able to restore itself for future harvests and future generations–even though such methods will cut into short-term profits. (28)
3 The Domestic Creatures Entrusted to ‘ãdām
What is dangerous about the consumer identity is that a consumer will rarely ask questions about the supply chain leading up to the transaction. His only concern is getting the most out of the lowest-priced product. In fact, the clients prefer to maintain their traditional role of the ignorant buyer; they want to be invisible, anonymous, and free of any culpability. Assuming a “consumer” identity is morally evasive because consumers do not feel responsible for the journey of the product. They do not ask, “Who collected the raw materials?” or “Who put the pieces together?” or “How was the product transported to the shop?” It is the responsibility of the seller to worry about all this. – Myrto Theocharous, “Becoming a Refuge” (2016)
[via: On page 30, Richter quotes Henri Blocher’s In the Beginning, which ends with the phrase “The essence of mankind is not work!” On page 31, she quotes Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Sabbath is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God.” (From The Sabbath) I would just like to note that “work” (עבד) is part of the goodness of creation, albeit in the second chapter of Genesis (2:15)]
cf. Deuteronomy 25:4
God commands his farmers to allow the beasts who served them the opportunity to enjoy their life and work, to benefit from the fruit of their labors, to celebrate the harvest–even when the farmer knew such a privilege for his beast would cut into his family’s essential food supply. (35)
Mass-Confinement Animal Husbandry, aka “Factory Farming
cf. Deuteronomy 12:15, 22; 14:5; 15:22
All of these [details] clearly demonstrate the perfection of a slaughtering technique whose purpose is to render the animal immediately unconscious with a minimum of suffering. – Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus
As regards the slaughterer himself, the Talmud requires that “by virtue of his training and piety, his soul shall never be torpefied by his incessant butchery but kept ever sensitive to the magnitude of the divine concession in allowing him to bring death to living things.” – Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus
cf. Amy Meyer:
“Charged with the Crime of Filming a Slaughterhouse,” The Nation, July 31, 2013.
cf. “Dairy farming is dying. After 40 years, I’m done.” Washington Post
How about the “consumer culture” that facilitates our purchase of milk, meat, and eggs? Are we morally responsible for how these “products” come to us–who and how the raw materials were collected? Do we have an obligation to the creatures who produce them? Or are we free to claim absolution as to the “journey of the product” in our quest to get the best product at the lowest price? (47)
“Have you ever considered the life of the styrofoam and cellophane packaged chicken parts you purchase at Walmart every week?” Israel was constrained to do so by covenant law. (47)
4 The Wild Creatures Entrusted to ‘ãdām
We in the industrialized world have allowed our appetites to outrun both our resources and our humanity. … Our sages did not condemn materialism. … But they were acutely aware, at the same time, of the need for balance, a balance we scarcely any longer recognize. – Daniel Swartz, “Jews, Jewish Texts, and Nature: A Brief History” (1994)
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY
…the single greatest cause of the extinction of an animal species is (50) the destruction of its habitat. … It would seem that “we in the industrialized world have [indeed] allowed our appetites to outrun both our resources and our humanity” and we have reached a point where we need balance, “a balance we scarcely any longer recognize. (51)
Based on the larger history of the area, we can safely assume that in the early stages of Israel’s settlement and urbanization (1200-1000 BCE, the Iron Age I) the Israelites did not yet constitute a serious threat to this complex Levantine ecosystem. Rather, early Israel colonized the highlands in small villages of two hundred to three hundred people, organized around extended families of fifteen to twenty persons, in a closed and reciprocal economy. … This was a “closed” economy that had limited contact with the outside world. (52)
cf. Deuteronomy 22:6-7
Many have identified this law as a pars pro toto: one expression of a larger principle offered as a representative of the whole. Several have also identified it as analogia: a vehicle of Wisdom literature that formulates an abstract idea by means of a practical example. [cf. Deuteronomy 20:19-20] … The common idea between these texts is the preservation of the means of life. In other words, the idea of sustainability. In this law, the practice of taking both mother and offspring is censured in that such a practice will eventually lead to the extermination of a particular species in a particular place. …Jeffrey Tigay points out, the phrase “mother with her children” often appears in descriptions of warfare as a byword for wanton killing. (53)
cf. Tiglath-pileser III, 745 BCE
This strategy stripped the conquered nation of its will to rebel by relocating the bulk of its population elsewhere and repopulating the homeland with a foreign people group. In this fashion, “national identity was lost, dissident factions dissolved, and the new heterogeneous populace in both the old and new territories were left with survival as their only objective and Assyria as their only lord.” (54)
Room 10a of the British Museum:
[via: To get an incredible virtual tour, Google Maps has the room available for you to visit at the British Museum’s website.]
The desperate courage of the lions, and the wanton slaughter of these majestic creatures, is so graphic and so lifelike that the first time I visited the British Museum I had to leave the room–and I was not the only one. … Why display such graphic images of slaughter? To demonstrate to the Assyrian citizenry, in accordance with their value system, the great valor of their king, and therefore his right to rule. (55)
…this relief [click here] shows that in Neo-Assyria, taking a mother bird with her eggs, a “mother with her children,” was worthy of display as another testimony of a sovereign’s right to rule. (56)
In contrast to the practice of their neighbors, Israel is instructed (56) in the wisdom of preserving the creatures with whom they shared the Promised Land. Indeed, Deuteronomy states that if Israel killed off the wild creatures without a thought as to the creatures’ ability to replenish their populations, it would not “be well” with Israel in the land. I believe the same would apply to us. (57)
The BLack Bear in the Bottomlands of Mississippi
So we return to the biblical mandate. The wild creatures that God has placed in our care are not ours, nor are they simply disposable. These creatures and their habitat are vulnerable. And it is ‘ādām‘s God-ordained task to deploy our superior gifting to conserve and protect, not to exploit and abuse “in order that it may be well with you [us] and that you may prolong your days” (Deut 22:7). (59)
5 Environmental Terrorism
War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend. – Faramir, in J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
cf. Deuteronomy 20:19
There is a long tradition of commentary on this verse, all of which recognizes the biblical author’s effort, for whatever motivation, to reduce the collateral damage inflicted by siege warfare (cf. 2 Kings 3:19). (61)
In light of the long-term value of food-bearing trees, it is no surprise that a standard aspect of Neo-Assyrian military strategy was the decimation of a besieged enemy’s vineyards and orchards… The objective of such environmental terrorism was first to intimidate. (62)
I entered triumphantly. … Into his pleasant gardens, the adornmen ts of his city which were overflowing with fruit and wine…came tumbling down. … His great trees, the adornment of his palace, I cut down like millet. … The trunks of all those trees which I had cut down I gathered together, heaped them in a pile and burned them with fire. [Smoak, “Building Houses,” 22; cf. Daniel David Luckenbill, ed., Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926-1927; repr., New York: Greenwood, 1968), 2:87, text 161.
Regarding his siege of the city of Suhu, Salmaneser III declares, “We will go and attack the houses of the land of Suhu; we will seize his cities. … We will cut down their fruit trees.” [Smoak, “Building Houses,” 21; cf. Grant Frame, ed., Rulers of Babylonia from the Second Dynasty of Isin to the End of Assyrian Domination (1157-612 BC), The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia, Babylonia Periods 2 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995), 295, “Assyrian troops cutting down date palms at the siege of Dilbat.”
To quote Micahel Hasel, Israel is forbidden from such military tactics because “it would not be in Israel’s interest to destroy the very resources that would later sustain them.” [Hasel, Military Practice and Polemic, 35.]
Operation Ranch Hand
According to the Red Cross of Vietnam, 4.8 million Vietnamese people have been exposed to Agent Orange, and of these four hundred thousand have died from related causes. About one million of those exposed are currently disabled or have related health problems, including cancers, birth defects, skin disorders, autoimmune diseases, liver disorders, psychosocial effects, neurological defects, and gastrointestinal diseases. And since these chemicals are capable of actually damaging genes, it’s possible that many generations will continue to suffer the resulting birth defects and deformities from exposure. (65)
| And what of the young American patriots who were responsible for dispensing these herbicides? The US Department of Veterans Affairs currently lists Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea, and prostate as “presumptive” diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. (65)
6 The Widow and the Orphan
Learn to do good; seek justice. Reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan; plead for the widow. – Isaiah 1:17
This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties, and to keep oneself unsustained by the world. – James 1:27
There is no question that the Bible is on the side of the marginalized. (67)
WHO WERE THE WIDOW AND THE ORPHAN
In Israel’s particular form of patriarchal tribalism, society was formed by a “progressively inclusive series of groups” emanating from the patriarch of the household. (69)
cf. Deuteronomy 24:19; Leviticus 19:9; 23:22
As we have learned, grain (wheat and barley) was the backbone of Israel’s domestic food supply. This is how the Israelite farmer kept both his children and his livestock fed. It became a critical commodity in international trade as their economy advanced. Yet our subsistence farmer is being instructed to refrain from fully harvesting his most essential dietary anchor. … Like grain, the olive was fundamental to ancient Israel’s economy. (76)
Pharaoh Thutmose III’s Karnak botanical garden depicts grapevines imported from Canaan to Egypt–the Egyptians’ attempt to import Canaan’s expertise into their world. (77)
In sum, the Israelite citizen was instructed that the land did not belong (77) to him; it belonged to God. And God wanted the marginalized to have the chance to benefit from its produce too. (78)
cf. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry (1977); Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization, by David Montgomery (2007)
Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
cf. “Big Muskie” dragline excavator:
[via: The scale of this thing is unbelievable!]
[via: cf. The Myth of Mountain top removal mining by Beth Wellington, The Guardian]
The prophets ask us again and again, “Who will defend the voiceless? Who will speak for the orphan and the widow?” … How will we answer when the Creator asks us where we were when the widow and the orphan and the resident alien were stripped of their homes, their health, and their livelihoods because we chose silence? (89)
7 The People of the New Covenant and Our Landlord
Others, such as Lynn white…blame our current environmental crisis squarely on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which supposedly posits a dichotomy between people and nature in which “man and nature are two things,” and man is master, and therefore, whereas the exploitation of people would be ethically evil, the exploitation of creation was right and good.” … The charge is that the Bible desacralized nature by eliminating polytheism and animism, subjugated the created order by giving it to humanity to rule, and degraded it by the separation of spirit and matter. According to White, the Judeo-Christian tradition in the Western world is “The most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. [footnote: In an epoch-changing presentation in 1966 White stated that in the Christian worldview every facet of the physical creation exists only “to serve man’s purposes.” Thus he credited the modern technological exploitation of nature to the Judeo-Christian ethic (White, “Historical Roots,” 1203-7). See Michael Paul Nelson, “The Long Reach of Lynn White Jr.’s ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,'” Ecology and Evolution, December 13, 2016 (replicated below). White’s argument focused on the philosophical and ethical framework created by Christianity, which he believed has led to our current posture of exploitation (See White, “Historical Roots,” 1205-6).]
The Long Reach of Lynn White Jr.’s “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”
Fifty years ago, historian Lynn White Jr. presented and published a highly influential paper, explaining the intellectual and philosophical roots of our environmental crisis. Current debates in conservation make White’s paper as important now as it was in 1966.
Michael Paul Nelson
Ruth H. Spaniol Chair of Renewable Resources and Professor of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, Oregon State University
Published Dec 13, 2016
By Michael Paul Nelson, Oregon State University and Thomas J. Sauer, United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service
Fifty years ago this month, at the 133rd annual meeting of the AAAS held in Washington DC, a fifty-nine-year old historian of medieval science and technology dropped an intellectual bomb, sending jarring reverberations still felt today. On the evening of December 26th, 1966, Lynn White Jr. climbed the steps to the stage and took his place behind the podium. His address was published as “The Historic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” in March of 1967 (1). Within just a few years of its publication, the article was already considered a ‘classic;’ and over time it would elicit dozens of responses, be frequently reprinted in textbooks, and become standard reading in a wide array of university environmental courses.
In his essay, and later in a follow up essay entitled “Continuing the Conversation” (2), White conveyed a deceptively simple yet profound message. Our current environmental crisis, he argued, is the result, not simply of our technological ability to impact and degrade the environment. Rather, our environmental crisis is first and foremost the product of our Western worldview. That is, our problem is fundamentally philosophical or ideological: we bring our ideas about the world into existence, ideas about what humans are, what the world is, and how the human and the non-human world ought to interact. To put it simply, and in White’s words, “What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them” (1). Until we “think about fundamentals,” “clarify our thinking,” “rethink our axioms,” White said, we will not adequately address our environmental crisis.
Though White focused his critique on our interpretation of the human/nature relationship as manifest specifically in the Judeo-Christian tradition, his point was more foundational. This was a challenging message in part because it ran so contrary to what so many believed. If our problems are primarily philosophical, they are not primarily scientific, or technological, or political, or economic. Those societal structures are the secondary artifacts of our deeper Western worldview, they do not touch or change it, they only embody and reinforce it. Our problems are not going to be solved, therefore, simply by the application of more science and technology. To many scientists this assertion alone was blasphemy, as they reflexively assume the starring role in problem-understanding and -solving. Our problems are instead, White suggested, the expression of a specific Western, post-Enlightenment worldview that both draws a hard and fast boundary between humans and nature, and prioritized humans over nature at all turns. A failure to alter that worldview is a failure to address the roots of our environmental problems.
To be clear, it is not that technological innovation and scientific understanding are unimportant, not at all. A culture maintaining an appropriate relationship with nature will certainly create and evaluate beautiful and novel technologies consistent with this novel worldview. A society caring about and for the world will seek to understand the conditions of that world as a way to express their care. But without the tether of a new worldview, White agued, our technologies and sciences will simply revolve around the worldview that gave rise to our environmental crisis in the first place.
And here we are, half a century from that evening in Washington, DC. The signals could not be more mixed. There are certainly many signs of an emerging post-Modern worldview paralleling White’s own nomination of Saint Francis’ non-anthropocentric teachings as a way forward. But the dance toward a new worldview seems to be, at best, more two-step than waltz.
Recently, for example, some well known conservation leaders have referred to discussions about the philosophical and ethical foundations of conservation as “silly arguments that are diverting attention from the real business” (3), the real business being “a stronger focus on synthesizing and expanding the evidence base that can identify what works and what fails in conservation so that we can move from philosophical debates to rigorous assessments of the effectiveness of actions” (4). They speak as if “what works and what fails” can be judged without reference to our fundamental philosophies and ethics. Conservation leaders have ridiculed those who take a principled non-anthropocentric stand, or anything other than a pragmatic position (which always favors and therefore perpetuates the worldview de jour). Dismissing some conservationists for their “moral certitude,” they claim to “find it dispiriting…unproductive and ultimately self-defeating…to have to argue with other conservation biologists over” ideological matters. “The reality of conservation practice,” they assert, “is too complex and nuanced for [such] moral conviction” (5).
We again flirt precariously and unabashedly with a renewed commitment to anthropocentrism with our focus on ecosystems services (to humans) as a way to articulate value in the natural world. Powerful voices still seem to believe that we can leave intact the same worldview that created our environmental problems and simply tinker around the edges, working to invent new applications of technologies and politics built on new justifications, but not altering our basic belief structure. As if anticipating a future trend in a dangerous direction, White warned us repeatedly that we are not going to simply technologize our way out of our current environmental crisis. He wrote, “we shall continue to have a worsening ecological crisis until we reject the [Western] axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve [humans]” (1).
And there is White, telling us again and again, that though the “man-nature dualism is deep-rooted in us…[u]ntil it is eradicated not only from our minds but also from our emotions, we shall doubtless be unable to make fundamental changes in our attitudes and actions affecting ecology.” What we need, White argued, is instead a philosophy that is “a viable equivalent to animism” (2), a philosophy and corresponding ethic affirming the intrinsic value of nature, and rejecting the human/nature dualism that permits hubris and anthropocentrism to emerge in the first place. White steadfastly warned us away from assuming that an enlightened prudential ethic – where we recognize that our well being is dependent upon nature – is a suitable replacement for the new philosophy and ethics we so desperately need in the future we face. Our old worldview created our problems, only a fool would assume a simple reapplication of that same worldview would also solve our problems.
In 1987, twenty years after the publication of his article, Lynn White, Jr. died of heart failure. His message is now fifty years old. But we need to hear it again, today, right now, more than ever. Humans, White pointed out, “commit their lives to what they consider good” (2). When, and if, the world in its entirety becomes good itself – not just good for us – we will glimpse a new path forward.
References and Notes:
(1) L. White Jr., The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science. 155, 1203-1207 (1967).
(2) L. White Jr., “[Continuing the conversation]” in Western Man and Environmental Ethics, I. Barbour, Ed. (Addison-Wesley, 1973), chap.5, pp. 55-64.
(3) D. Toomey, A scientist’s call for civility and diversity in conservation, interview with Jane Lubchenco. Yale Env. 360. Nov. 13, 2014. http://e360.yale.edu/feature/interview_jane_lubchenco_scientist_calls_for_diversity_and_civility_in_conservation/2826/
(4) H. Tallis, J. Lubchenco, Working together: a call for inclusive conservation. Nature. 515, 27-28 (2014).
(5) M. Marvier, P. Kareiva, Extinction is a moral wrong but conservation is complicated. Biological Conservation. 176, 281-282 (2014).
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
THE DAY OF THE LORD
The yôm YHWH is indeed a day of judgment. On this day injustice, abuse, and our seemingly unending ambition to destroy ourselves will be confronted and eradicated. But it is also the day of mercy in which God’s original intent for this planet as defined in that perfect first week of creation is resurrected. The day of Yahweh is the day when the Creator steps back into our dimension and says, “Enough.” It is the day when death dies, the prisoner is freed, the oppressed is delivered, and the oppressor gets his due. This is the telos of both the Old and New Testaments. (96)
cf. Isaiah 13:2-13
But the “day of Yahweh” may also be found in the New Testament. Here it is also known as the parousia (Greek: “arrival, advent, appearance”) or in Christian circles “the second coming”… (98)
cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 7-8
So we see that the imagery of fire and earthquake, the roar of thunder and heavenly disturbances, are common to passages involving the day of Yahweh, and this language is intended to communicate judgment, not necessarily annihilation. (99)
…the visions we encounter in these books force us to ask if the prophet is straightforwardly describing the conditions of the new world, or is he using a series of metaphors to describe a state of affairs that have no direct analog to our experience in this world? – Douglas Moo, “Nature in the New Creation”, 465.
…these images and metaphors are part of a stock typology for describing the great judgment at the end (99) of the age. (100)
Why does creation wait? Because creation itself has been subjected to frustration. The Greek in this passage suggests that “creation has been unable to attain the purpose for which it was created.” Why? Because the ‘adāmâ (the cultivatable soil) was subjected to ineffectiveness because of the rebellion of ‘ādām. God’s chosen steward failed in his appointed task, and so the creation over which he had authority was trapped within the self-defeating cycle of humanity’s rebellion as well. Creation experiences the same “bondage of decay” as does the human race. And just like the heirs of the kingdom, creation awaits its deliverance. (101)
Now look what Paul does in Romans 8. He juxtaposes the resurrection of humanity with the resurrection of creation. …the apostle argues that the great moment of victory that the believer lives for is the same moment the creation anxiously awaits. When death is defeated and the curse eradicated, the cosmos will also be born again, liberated and healed, freed at last from the chaos of humanity’s rebellion. (102)
If creation has suffered the consequences of human sin, it will also enjoy the fruits of human deliverance. When believers are glorified, creation’s “bondage to decay” will be ended, and it will participate in the “freedom that belongs to the glory” for which Christians are destined. Nature, Paul affirms, has a future within the plan o God. It is destined not simply for destruction but for transformation. – Douglas Moo, “Nature in the New Creation”, 462.
REVELATION 21:1 AND REVELATION 22:1-2
Conclusion: How Should We Then Live?
I used to think that the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. – Gus Speth, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality under President Jimmy Carter
Where should we as Christians position ourselves with regard to these truths? … Stewardship of this planet is not a Republican versus Democrat conversation. … Of all the voices and all the “facts” that are calling for our allegiance in the many arenas of environmental thought, for the citizen of the kingdom of God, the voice of Scripture must surpass them all.
| My study of the nation of Israel made it clear that the first kingdom of God required its citizens sot sere and protect the garden. … If I were to summarize … (107) into a single proverb it would be this:
The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains;
you may make use of it in your need,
but you shall not abuse it in your greed. (108)
…it seems to me that Israel’s distinctive perspective is instead a reflection of the character of their God. A reflection that critiqued and censured their culture and their economy just as much as it does ours. … Just like us, Israel struggled with (108) the competing demands of a diverse society, insufficient yields, property loss, land tenure, poverty, and taxes. But underlying their response to these issues was one central tenet: this land, these creatures, are not ours. They are on loan to us. We must manage them well so that each is preserved. And we must take God at his word that in response to our obedience, he himself will bring about the increase (Deut 30:9). (109)
[via: “Philosophy is always rooted in theology.”]
…the church has…embraced our role as the moral compass of society, confronted corruption, and defended the voiceless. Can we do it again? (111)
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead
In sum, I am completely convinced that the redemption of all creation is the gospel. Therefore, creation care is not merely a message of social justice, a wise approach to life on this planet, or a political action item. It (111) is instead a life posture that reflects the character of God and embodies the telos of his plan. Like all of the fallout of Eden, the only true solution to our dilemma is the gospel–the message of transformed lives, living in alliance with God’s strategic plan. … What is the will of God regarding creation? “Then Yahweh Elohim took the human and put him into the garden of Eden to tend it [le’obdāh] and protect it [lešomrāh]” (Gen 2:15). (112)
| The introduction of this book asked the question: Can a Christian be an environmentalist? My answer is, how could a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve, redeemed and transformed by the second Adam to live eternally in the resurrected Eden, be anything else? (112)