Opinion: Bible says Earth is happy under certain conditions — and these aren’t it

Oct 12, 2015 by

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Why should I care for the environment? A lot of Christians are asking that question, either out loud or in their hearts. We know it’s the right thing to do, but what’s a Christ-centered perspective?

earth cropped with ozoneSometimes modern Christians think the incarnation of God first happened 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. Yes, the human incarnation of God happened in Jesus. But God has inhabited creation since time began.

Divine incarnation happened first about 14.5 billion years ago, when God created the universe through an action we now call “the Big Bang.” That’s when God decided to expose who God is. That was the beginning of a process through which God created all that exists and called it good. God’s blessing fills everything around us.

A God-infused world should be enough justification for us to treat creation as holy and realize we walk on sacred ground. Still, a lot of Christians ask why they should care for the environment, because they don’t see a bunch of Bible passages telling them to do it.

But there are other primary texts we should read too. Like Jesus, we should read nature and the signs of the times.

Would we look first to the Bible for guidance if our house was being bulldozed and our family was inside? No. We’d stop the bulldozer, or we’d bring our family to safety. We need no book — even the Good Book — to urge us to these actions. They are natural.

Our situation is this grave. Our house is being bulldozed; our water is being poisoned. By us. Our life systems are being degraded by our own actions personally and by industrial society. You might not sense it yet, but millions of other citizens of our Earth home — both human and not — are feeling it every day. And we Christians keep wondering if the Bible exhorts us to do something.

Nature: the first Bible

Disciples of Jesus read the signs of the times, interpret Scripture and move when the Spirit says move. Take slavery, for example. There are several Bible verses condoning slavery. If Christians took only those as a guide, without being guided by the Bible’s larger sense of love and justice, we would perpetuate the very cruelty, inhumanity and oppression that Jesus came to liberate us from.

So don’t wait for another Bible study or a worsening headline. God has been calling us to Earth-honoring repentance for a long time now. We just need to pay attention to what is sacred.

Many Christians feel God’s presence in nature, sometimes more often than in church. How about you? Many of us feel unconditional love when touched by a sunrise. We see resurrection hope when plants emerge in spring. “What can be known about God is perfectly plain,” for God has made it plain to see in Creation (Rom. 1:20). The natural world is the first and primary Bible. Creation is our first and final cathedral.

Sometimes Christians are so focused on being “Bible-based” that they forget something vital: Jesus and his followers had no New Testament. They did not rely on our Bible; they looked to nature, personal experience and their tradition of Judaism to find God’s good way.

Think about how many times Jesus uses natural objects to illustrate his teachings: salt, light, mustard bushes, yeast, fish, foxholes, figs, grapes, lilies, sheep, goats, cedars, palm trees, olives, mountains, rivers, sparrows, sand, stone, sea, wheat, watering holes, donkeys, camels and more. He was educating people about God and Spirit through nature. He was following in the footsteps of his tradition — a people who found God revealed in untamed spaces.

God: a big-tent camper

The ancient Israelites were a tenting people. They knew God was easier to connect with in the wild. Since their untamed God was at home in wild lands, you can bet the ancient Israelites took camping seriously. Reading God in nature was at the heart of the Israelite experience of the divine.

Tenting was such a pervasive part of daily life in biblical times that the word “tent” shows up 333 times in Scripture. People lived in tents, slept in them, ate in them, worshiped in them, died in them, gave birth in them.

Camping was both covenant and communion. Camp itself was sacred space, holy ground, “for the Lord your God moves about in your camp” (Deut. 23:14).

God, it turns out, is a big-tent camper. God’s vision of ideal human society, from ancient times, has been camping communion with his people on this blessed Earth. “I will pitch my tent among you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:11-12).

This ancient vision in the Torah is later invoked at the opposite end of the Bible in Revelation, when the author paints a future picture of creation redeemed. The writer describes a band of God’s people who have suffered and journeyed. He says God “will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst” (Rev. 7:15-16).

Today’s Christians are the spiritual descendants of these wilderness-dwelling people.

But we have lost our connection to the natural world. These days, we rarely know where our food originates, what native species dwell around us, what original people once lived there, where our water comes from or where our waste goes. Dis-placed and de-natured, we lose our participation within God’s miraculous world and turn nature into a commodity — inert, marketable and far from holy.

The Earth has feelings

It was a good year. Lush fields, good grain, great harvest. The author of Psalm 65 decided to write about it: “You have crowned the year with your bounty.”

If someone from our current culture had written this, the psalm might continue: “The Lord is good. Let the cash roll in! This is going to make us a ton of profit. Hallelujah!”

The real psalm, however, does not commodify nature but personifies it. “The hills wrap themselves with joy.” The valleys “shout for joy, yes, they sing!”

The Earth itself is happy.

This is not the only time Scripture portrays the Earth having feelings. In Isaiah the mountains and forests burst into happy song; later, the author envisions the trees clapping their hands. In another place in the Psalms, it’s the rivers clapping their hands and the mountains singing for joy because God is coming to make things right for the Earth.

Creation is psyched and showing it. It’s undeniable: Scripture says nature has feelings, and the Earth is happy under certain conditions.

Let the gravity of this sink in: The Earth is happy under certain conditions. If this is true, then — as partners in a covenanted bond — wouldn’t we as God’s people want to do our part and be in right relationship with the Earth, just like we would with anyone we love?

Todd Wynward is a public school founder, wilderness educator and Mennonite organizer for watershed discipleship who lives with his family in Taos, N.M. His new book, Rewilding the Way: Break Free to Follow an Untamed God, is new this fall from Herald Press. He wrote this article for Meetinghouse, a group of Mennonite publications.

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