Sunday, January 8, 2006

Christian ecology

I once read somewhere than in one of his renowned commentaries on Romans, Douglas Moo makes a case for a Christian focus on ecology, presumably from Romans 8.20-22 (but perhaps also 1.20): "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now." Reading through the first chapters of Genesis this past week as I start another round of read-the-Bible-in-a-year has made me think of this again. Adam, as a prototype of all humanity, was put in Eden and told to cultivate and care for it (2.15). And both he and Eve were to be governors of the whole of living creation: plant and animal, mold and mollusk, grasshopper and ginko (1.28; cf. Psalm 8.3-8). But as a result of his sin, the ground became cursed; weeds and invasive species crept in, and crop yields dwindled radically (3.17-19).

As God's redeemed "new creations" and kingdom-workers, our new life in Christ involves regaining the image fractured by the Fall (Col. 3.10). Does it not follow that we ought to regain our status as nature's caretakers?

My friend Dan has a t-shirt bearing the slogan "Forget the trees; save the kids." This of course reflects God's priorities. But are we really to neglect nature? Surely not. After all, nature also serves as an image-bearer of God (e.g., Ps. 19.1; Rom. 1.20) and exists for God's pleasure and praise (Ps. 148). Biblically, the bestowal of blessing comes in the form of rain, snow, milk and honey, goats and sheep, and fruitful crops. And how can we rightly respect, teach, and learn from Jesus' teaching that points to "the lilies of the field" (Matt. 6.28) if they're unhealthy or fail to even exist for future generations?

As I think more about a career as a biology teacher, the more excited I get about environmental bio and related sciences (e.g., geology and geochemistry). Ecology has always been my favorite branch of the sciences; perhaps this is why! With the desire of leading students to a greater understanding and appreciation of the world around them and how they can--and do--influence it, even that plays a role in restoring the world and spreading the kingdom of God into every niche (pun intended; but then again, you won't get the joke if you're not an ecologist). How much more should the church value and encourage those in forestry, agricultural sciences, geology, or wildlife conservation! What about people within the church starting a recycling group or helping to pick up roadside trash or restore a habitat through removal of an invasive weed (such as the ubiquitous purple loosestrife)? The Fall was pervasive; no corner was spared from being "subjected to futility ... and slavery to corruption." Should we not also, in regaining our pre-Fall image and God-ordered life, take seriously our responsibilities as those entrusted with the care of all living things?

(Incidentally, this comes at a time when I've been praying for God's direction for my future, particularly with reference to this coming fall. To teach, or not to teach: That is the question.)

P. S. -- Iz, if you're reading this, keep rockin' that garden of yours to the glory of God!

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