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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Christian Living Series - Saving the Earth: Justice, Kindness and Humility

Christians can make great environmentalists. The Bible’s teachings on the environment and how we should live as Christians help us to move beyond the (crisis motivated) sustainability ethics that have evolved around climate change. Instead, these teachings move us towards a different way of thinking and acting; one based on humility, kindness and justice for all creation.

In Micah 6, when the Israelites ask God what was required of them, the reply was “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 NRSV
This verse has inspired many to work for the poor, and to improve the treatment of other men. But the verse can also be applied to our treatment of the natural world and all its creatures.

From an environmental point of view the world is not a very just place. The rich and the powerful are free to pollute and degrade the environment, while the poor suffer the consequences. We have seen it time and time again: large companies building factories in poor suburbs or towns where the children begin getting sick; mining companies destroying the land and livelihoods of local people; oil spills caused by badly maintained ships destroying local fishing industries; free riders causing the tragedy of the commons; and now climate change forcing the poor out of their homes while the rich continue to blithely pollute.

Climate change will always affect the poor the most. The rich might have some buffer from increasing droughts, natural disasters and rising sea levels, but the poor have none. Already 3000 Tuvaluans have been forced to become environmental refugees by the rising sea levels on their low lying pacific island. Millions in Bangladesh and other pacific countries may face the same fate. These people have contributed very little to the problem, yet they will still suffer the consequences.

So, if we are to ‘do justice’ we must stop allowing the poor to pay for our comfort. We must consider whether it is just that Australians have an ecological footprint so large we would need four planets to support everyone in the world, at the same standard of living. If it is not, Christians and the church must act together to help reduce our impact on the earth. As well as reducing our energy use, this means reducing our use of water so everyone has access; reducing our use of pesticides and production of waste so we aren’t polluting the areas others have to live in; making ethical purchasing decisions so we are not buying things we don’t need, and so we are not contributing to slavery, sweatshops, unfair trade or the production of products like blood diamonds.

To ‘love kindness’ we need to move beyond the fight against injustice and add compassion for the creatures we share this world with. Loving kindness is about fighting against the unspeakable cruelty of trades like that in bear bile – where a steel tubes is inserted through the muscles of a live bear, kept in a tiny cage for its entire life, to drain their bile for traditional medicine- and shark finning – where a shark is captured, has its fins cut off and is tossed back in the ocean, alive, to drown slowly and painful y. Loving kindness means supporting the work of groups like wildlife rescue; means catching and releasing the moths that fly into your house instead of killing them; and means having a bird bath or feeder in your church grounds during a drought. It means planting nectar bushes in your garden for birds, butterflies and bees; working to preserve animal habitats; and volunteering to help a local endangered species. These actions might seem small and insignificant, but they add up. After all, as Mother Teresa once said – “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in an ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Finally, we must ‘walk humbly’ with our God; and this can be the hardest step. It is time that humanity stops clinging like a child to the idea of our superiority over the rest of creation. God has made humanity his stewards to care for the earth, and we, God’s children, must reveal ourselves through our obedience and work for the redemption of creation. We must remember that we are not defined by our possessions, but by our relationship with God. It is in God that we are to find peace and security. When Jesus came to earth he did not insist on wearing the latest fashions or keeping up with the Joneses. Instead he chose to come to the world as a poor carpenter. He got around by walking, or riding on the colt of a donkey – the lowliest transport available. Jesus was unconcerned by money and appearances. I think he who told us not to worry about our clothing, would have been horrified by the idea of the suffering of both people and the environment that tends to go into our clothes and belongings today. In today’s world, Jesus’ is a challenging example.

Humility is an unpopular word in today’s society. Somehow pride, greed and ambition have ceased to be sins and become virtues. In a world that worships the rich and powerful, would we recognise Jesus? And if we did, would we abuse his creation for our own gain?

Living as a Christian gives us many opportunities to care for God’s creation. By reflecting on God’s words, we can learn to act in a way that is more in harmony with nature, and with God’s will and purpose. In spite of the ecological crisis; if practiced faithfully maybe justice, kindness and humility are the keys to saving us all.

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+