From Pastor Kenny's Desk

April 22, 2018

Earth Day and the Bible

 

As we celebrate Earth Day I thought I’d reflect just briefly on a biblical approach to caring for the environment. Which can, be a tricky thing, as the Bible can be a challenging book to interpret. It is just diverse enough, and the history of its interpretation just broad enough, that readers can come to very different conclusions about any number of issues. Throughout the history of the church, the Bible has been interpreted so to support a huge variety of positions, even those that may seem diametrically opposed. For instance, there were biblical arguments used to justify opposition to slavery and to support slavery. And the Bible has been used to justify participating in war and refusing to take up arms. Over time, many of these issues have been resolved, but certainly not all.

 

One issue that is shifting from being a more disputed topic to a more settled one is our relationship to the environment. For many years, the Bible has been read to support using the environment in whatever way seemed to most help human culture and endeavors to prosper. The key verse in this regard came from Genesis 1:28, where after creating humans in God’s image, God then commands them to fill the earth and subdue it and have “dominion” over all fish, birds, and all living creatures. Dominion, from this point of view, was read to imply complete authority and control, the right, to do with something as you like.

 

More recently, and often driven by concerns about the environment, biblical scholars, theologians, and scores of everyday Christians have called that reading into question and have wondered about what our role should be with regard to caring for the environment. What, exactly, does dominion mean?

 

One way to approach this question is to look at other places in the Bible where such words occur. Dominion, for instance, is usually associated with the rule of kings, which might at first seem to support a sense that we are permitted to do whatever we want with the earth. Except that the kings of Israel were expected to exercise dominion over 

their subjects by caring for them, taking care of their needs rather than exploiting them.

 

Psalm 72, for instance, describes the duties of a king as to defeat enemies and protecting the kingdom … things we normally associate with kings … but also to deliver the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper, protecting the vulnerable from all that would rob them of life (Psalm 72:12-14). Seen from this point of view, dominion is about protection and care and when applied to our relationship to the earth invites us to imagine that God gave us this creation to care for and protect, and calls us to see our interests and future as wrapped up in the survival and flourishing of the earth.

 

With all that in mind, I think we can and should continue to pay more attention to the needs and care of the earth, trusting that as we do we are obeying one of God’s first commandments.

 

In that spirit, the video below describes in under three minutes the history of Earth Day. Enjoy!

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