Christianity Is Green Religion
Bishop of Pittsburgh, Retired
Solomon was the wisest man who ever was, the wisest in all the world, David’s son by Bath Sheba born. He succeeded him as King of Israel.
The book of his writings is not part of the Old Testament or the New; nor is it to be read for “Doctrine or Discipline of the faith”. It is one of the books of the Apocrypha which are, as Article VI of the Articles of Religion directs, “For example of life and
instruction of manners”.
There is a lot of good teaching in this book; a lot of plain common sense that derives from the very mind of God; sound guidance as women and men think through how they should be and act as wise persons. Solomon was wise of old, and amazingly wise even unto the thinking of today.
I paraphrase our text, “There is no god but the Lord God of Israel. But he is not exclusive to one tribe or nation. He is God of all people. So don’t get any idea that there is some higher standard of facts or knowledge or wisdom by which he should, or could, be judged”.
That is the point. Simple, isn’t it? God is the standard of truth. If you don’t understand that; then what part of Truth do you understand?
And manners! (By “manners” we could read “life style”; the way we live out the truth we believe.)
This gets us to St. Paul and Romans, Chapter 8. Important stuff:
worth comparing with the glory that shall be revealed in
us. (Verse 18)
Ah yes - This life is difficult, but in Jesus Christ, glory ahead for us – for me. Of course; and most sermons would ring the changes on this theme. Well and good to do so. But I am intrigued by what Paul says next:
For the creation waits -
This is a bit bigger than us; A lot bigger than ME.
The whole creation waits with eager longing - groaning
in travail together until now.
When Paul speaks of creation he means the whole of the created order; what we would call the natural world, the universe, all material reality and its ongoing process of history. He describes it in relation to God and in harmony with itself. Yet like our own human existence, it also is subject to decay and yearns for redemption in glory.
It has always been there in scripture, but here is an idea that only now is gaining the gravity and urgency for the life of faith and manners that it demands. Let me explain:
When I was young I was fascinated with farming. It was a romantic fascination. I loved the country and animals and crops and the natural rhythm of living things. I read the books of Louis Broomfield who was himself a romantic farmer.
In his book Malabar Farm, about his place in Ohio, there is a chapter headed ‘The Cycle of a Farm Pond’. It was the first time I ever thought about what is now the common word – Ecology. What it meant was that in this little body of water there was a wonderful diversity of living creatures existing in a harmony of balance with the natural physical environment and with each other.
In fifty years the idea of Planet Earth as a delicate balance of physical forces and various species of life is now a part of every school child’s imagination.
But subject to decay, growing to a fulfillment in Glory? What is this all about?
It was in college that I read another book; the first of what is now a whole genre of literature, Our Plundered Planet by Osborne Fairfield. The thesis was this: There are various global forces that are continually altering the planet; continental drift, geothermal, volcanic, climatological; even cosmic forces, sunspots etc; And (here was Fairfield’s point) Humanity. The most formidable force affecting the planet in the short term, and mostly for the worse with regard to the delicate balance that is the harmony of the natural order, is the impact of human development empowered by an ever-expanding technology.
Probably the most famous volume in this genre has been Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. I recall the summer on Little Cranberry Island, Maine the town council decided to spray DDT for mosquito control. It worked – no mosquitoes. But no birds either. The silence at dawn, in the woods and in the fields was deafening.
For fifty years we have been subjected to the preaching of the ‘Environmentalists’ and the growing ‘Green Movement’ in politics and government, the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the late 60’s.
So often the movement has been seen as kooky, romantic, on the fringes, embraced by a New Agey, Tree Hugger, Save the Whales, Anti-development crowd more concerned with Snowy Owls and little blind fish than with the needs of people, their jobs, their housing, - and their free access to whatever they want to have access to.
Economists have argued that there is no ‘bottom line’ to ecology. Whether it is the gross pollution of whole countries under socialist regimes or the destruction of mountains in the free market of gold or the stripping of land for coal or the rape of the primeval forests for precious woods, it is all a matter of real estate – real estate bought and sold to the highest bidder.
And what of religion? For the Church, until recently, it has been a Silent Spring. Now it seems to be the left wing of Christianity that is heeding the environmental message. As for conservative biblical Christians, it is a non-issue treated almost with derision. I love the bumper sticker, “Fight Pollution – Clean Your Room”. Talk about a Silent Spring.
So what about the biblical witness?
Let’s take it from the top: Genesis Chapter One.
“In the beginning God created” and “God saw everything he had made, and behold it was very good”. Light, the firmament, the lands and waters, plants and animals, all in harmony and order, God created them. And man, to fill the earth and subdue it – and have dominion – that is to exercise headship as St. Paul defines it in the celebrated passage from Ephesians, as Christ is head of the Church – and gave himself up for her – that she might be holy and without blemish.
The crowning achievement of our creator God was to make humankind in His own image whom He set in the midst of the earth with an intelligence of mind to tend it and an imagination of heart to make it beautiful, holy and without blemish.
How to tend it? In harmony with its natural order.
The biblical idea of the Sabbath year is a case in point; every seventh year to let the fields lie fallow that the rain and the sun might replenish them. It is simply good agriculture.
The point is this; we, human beings, are both a part of nature by our creation and by our making in the image of the Creator himself stewards with him for the continuing care and renewal of the natural world.
Look at Psalm 104: Lord, how wonderful are your works. In wisdom (Ah, wisdom!) you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. When you send forth your spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the ground. May the glory of the Lord endure forever. May the Lord rejoice in all his works.
Do you understand? The creation, the mountains and the seas, all creatures great and small, all were made by God to reflect his glory. In that, the Lord delights.
There is something wrong; a flaw in creation. Like the fault in human nature it is fallen from its original perfection.
There is this sense that it is all building to something, something truly glorious, no mere imperfect and distorted reflection. As St. Paul suggests, the creation literally groans to see its completion, like the human heart in yearning to see the fulfillment of the Kingdom. So the creation is to be set free from the futile cycle of decay and disintegration (the run down of entropy).
There is this strange association in Paul’s thought that the sinful nature of mankind and the natural disintegration of the earth are somehow related in similar character of a fallen or perverted condition - yet also in the common hope of consummation within the eternal purpose of God.
Let me show you something quite amazing – if you know Russian.
The Book of Revelation is the record of the special vision given to St. John depicting in fanciful images the end of all things consummated by God in final glorification of himself in Jesus Christ. What it portrays is the last struggle between the forces of darkness (the anti-God void of nothingness) and the forces of light, Glory Glory (pure energy).
Chapter 8 describes seven angels blowing seven horns heralding the coming of the end and final struggle. Verse 10 The third angel blew his trumpet and a great star fell from heaven blazing like a torch and fell upon a third of the rivers and the fountains of water. The name of the star was wormwood. And a third of the waters became wormwood and many men died.
When the news of the nuclear accident spread through the old Soviet Union, the release of radiation into the air, the meltdown into the groundwater with many, many deaths, it struck an ominous terror into the hearts of the Russian people, those who remembered their bible. Because the word for wormwood in the Russian language is Chernobyl.
I do not pretend to understand the meaning of the Revelation. But in a mystical sense its imagines catch the imagination and I think the point is this:
Humanity is a component of the Creator’s design for the natural evolution of the whole of creation unto glory. (Are you with me?) We are to be good stewards and tend well the garden. But because the human spirit is craven and compromised by sin, so is our stewardship. Our effect upon the planet is more rapacious plunder than glorious gardening.
The earth will be destroyed by this bondage to sin and decay and many will die. But not all, only one third; and God will intervene to bring glory unto glory. Therein is Hope and in this Hope is our redemption.
So where are we?
God is calling us to see that Christianity is Green Religion. If we love God and the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom all things were created, we have no choice but to love and to cherish the created order. If we would truly enjoy the Holy Spirit then we would have the spirit of him who made and conserves the earth because it glorifies God. And it is for this that we are made.
And what about manners, the life style of Christian belief?
As we are called to love one another, we are called to love the earth. Ecology is to the natural environment what pastoral care is to human beings. Both are to bring to bear all the best understanding and technology that we have at our disposal to the good stewardship of creation. But we know that we can never fix it by our own resources. Everything is compromised by decay and sin. Our confidence is not in technique, but in faith. And in Hope; the glory about to be revealed to us (in Jesus Christ).
In 1908 Winston Churchill stood beside Owens Falls where the waters of Lake Victoria flow out to form the great River Nile running forth from Uganda becoming the longest river in the world. He later recorded his thoughts: “So much power running to waste – such a lever to control the natural forces of Africa ungripped, cannot but vex and stimulate the imagination. And what fun to make the immemorial Nile begin its journey by diving into a turbine.”
But we go to Uganda led by another vision. We go carrying solar power to rural church facilities: hospitals, orphanages, and schools. Eighteen Sr. High American young people are linked with eighteen African youth who go together into the bush to install equipment and build bridges of light and communication in the name of him who said, “I am the light of the world.”
The Ugandan Government is considering its energy policy. Foreign investors are pressing for construction of huge central installations: another hydroelectric dam on the Nile, large fossil fired power plants. And there is Solar; clean, non-despoiling from the limitless resource of the sun, generating on site power in amount appropriate to need.
Our mission is to be apostles of ecology because we love Jesus Christ. We bear witness to the gift of technology applied to the development of human society in harmony with the delicate balance of nature. We are not kooky romantics, our hope is in Christ.
Yes. It is only good common sense, isn’t it? Could we say wisdom?
If you go on in that most fascinating apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon, at chapter thirteen you will read, For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works;
And here is verse 9. I would have it emblazoned over every research scientist’s workstation. They are not to be excused for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?
* * *
We are full circle - back to the original problem. It all has to do with the right understanding of God, which gives us a right understanding of the physical world and our own place within it. It is the wisdom that judges our stewardship and yet fires our hearts with love for God and the natural beauty of the earth he has made.
Jesus said, “Consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these”.
Yes, Solomon was a wise old guy. But the wisest council we can trust and enjoy is the witness of the creation itself. Solomon was wise enough to see it. And St. Paul. If we truly love Jesus, we will see it too.
Lectionary A Proper 11
Lessons: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
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