Monday, 1 October 2018

Groaning inwardly

I begin to see why people don't have a theology of the environment.  It gets very messy very quickly.  We thrashed our way through Romans 8:18-23 for our second Tenants of the King Bible study, and wrestled with such unanswerable questions as: What is creation waiting for and when will it happen?  Do our sins cause environmental problems?  If creation is being redeemed along with us, what does that mean?  Does "a new earth" mean a completely different one, or one which is the same but renewed?

Well!  Can I just go and recycle a few tin cans in peace now?

Let's go back to the basics.  We humans are part of the universe.  We can't live without it, but we also persist in regarding ourselves as separate to it.  If you picture "the environment" do you include bridges, skyscrapers, oil refineries?  Probably not.  But they are all just as much made of bits of the earth as rocks, rivers and trees.

Image credit: Pixabay

So why do we put man-made things in a separate category?  Why do we think that they shouldn't really be part of "the environment"?  Perhaps because we're aware that humans have a disproportionately large effect on this world - and generally a negative one.  I was stunned to read in Sapiens that there is strong evidence to support the theory that whenever humans moved to a new part of the world, mass extinctions of the local wildlife followed swiftly after.  These are not the extinctions we're causing now, with our industrial activity.  They're not even the ones when the European explorers decimated the dodo and gulped up the Galapagos tortoise.  These are extinctions from thousands of years ago, by humans armed with not much more than bits of sticks.  Yuval Noah Harari concludes that, "We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of biology." *  I found that profoundly dispiriting.

It's not hard to come to the conclusion that this planet would be much better off without us.

We would not, of course, be the first people to come to that conclusion.  The idea that there is something inherently wrong with our relationship to the earth comes up several times in the Bible, from the creation story to the prophets to Paul's letters.  But there's also a hope that it can be put right.

Romans 8 gives us Paul's take on this hope.  If we really are part of creation, he argues, then it is being redeemed along with us.  We are suffering and waiting to know God's glory fully; creation, too, is suffering and waiting for God's glory.  Our only hope for creation is the same hope that we have for ourselves - that through Jesus, we can escape futility and death and be reborn to a new life.

Image credit: Pixabay

No, I don't know how or why or what or when, either.  I don't even know if it's really going to happen or if it's a story we tell ourselves to make us feel better.  But I do know that the heart of being a Christian is trusting in Jesus.  When the theology gets too much and the world is crashing down around us: Look to Jesus. 

Believe it or not, that's what the next study is about.

*Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari, Vintage 2011, p82.

Other posts:
Introduction
Study 1 

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