A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability
Vol. 8, No. 7, July 2012|
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
Biblical Stewardship in the Anthropocene Age
MOVING FORWARD AFTER RIO+20
During this past month, the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development has been the center of attention for the worldwide community of people involved in global issues of social justice and ecological sustainability. The conference has been evaluated as a success by some, a disappointment by others. A preliminary analysis of the agreement reached (entitled "The Future We Want") is neither a cause for enthusiastic endorsement or pessimistic rejection. Even as we enter the Anthropocene, politics remains "the art of the possible."
The paradoxical tension between developmental and environmental priorities notwithstanding, the concept of sustainable development remains normative as the path toward our common future. However, the negotiations made it clear that economic development is politically more important than environmental sustainability. For most people, and therefore for most national leaders, economic growth is a higher priority than overcoming poverty; and national interests far outweigh the global common good of humanity. It is becoming increasingly clear that the advancement of women is critical for integral human development, and the scope of gender issues is much greater than just reproductive health. However, basic concepts such as equality, solidarity, and sustainability remain barely visible. Overall, the agreement is long in words but short in commitments. Be that as it may, what matters now is to keep moving forward in the process of overcoming poverty without damaging the planet.
Since humans need bread but cannot live by bread alone, it is unfortunate that no mention is made of the spiritual dimension of human development. God could have been mentioned in a way that recognizes the diversity of religious traditions while respectfully acknowledge those who are not believers. Religion could have been mentioned as a force to be enlisted in building a sustainable future.
This journal issue on "biblical stewardship in the anthropocene age" starts with a review of Richard Bauckham's book, The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation. Readers from other religious traditions, or who profess no religion but nevertheless recognize the need to undertake the "inner journey" that seeks further personal growth even after basic necessities are met, are cordially invited to suggest other sources to be reviewed in the future.
For Christians, it should be clear that Jesus sleeping in a boat while his disciples were terrified by the storm (Mark 4:35-41) should never be misunderstood as divine lack of concern. During the transition from consumerism to sustainability, as during the crossing from one side of the lake to the other, we must keep the faith, overcome fear, and let God be God when the storms come. Just as the Rio+20 agreement is one more step forward in the midst of many disagreements and concerns about unresolved problems, we should not be paralyzed by the prospect of more population growth, faltering economies, wider poor-rich gaps, further environmental degradation, and the specter of voluntary (or involuntary) "degrowth." Climate change may bring about a huge storm in the "lake" we are crossing. The other articles included this month address this and other "storms" that must be faced, always trusting that, if we do our part, God will never be outdone in generosity.
Page 1. Book Review of The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation, Richard Bauckham, Baylor University Press, 2010, by Luis T. Gutiérrez
Page 2. The World is Finite, Isn't It?, by Tadeusz Patzek
Page 3. Capital, Debt, and Alchemy, by Herman Daly
Page 4. The Tragedy of Maldistribution: Climate, Sustainability, and Equity, by Elizabeth A. Stanton
Page 5. From Current Business Paradigm to the Second Renaissance, by Sam Yau and Rinaldo Brutoco
Page 6. Negative Externalities Are the Norm, by Rob Dietz
Page 7. Enhancing the Effectiveness of Payments for Ecosystem Services, by Katia Karousakis
Page 8. Wall Street and Beyond: Occupying the World, Occupying Ourselves, by John Stubley
Page 9. For Rio+20: A Charter for a New Economy, by James Gustave Speth
Book Review of
The Bible and Ecology:
Rediscovering the Community of Creation
by Richard Bauckham, Baylor University Press, 2010
Luis T. Gutiérrez
The preface of The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation by Richard Bauckham (Baylor University Press, 2010) states very clearly the purpose and scope of the book: "This is a book about the Bible's understanding of the place of humans within the rest of God's creation ... The phrase "community of creation" in the subtitle of the book refers to the kind of vision of creation that the Bible, read as a whole, offers us." Specifically, "we need to realize more fully the biblical sense in which humans are fellow-creatures with other creatures. Stewardship (or 'dominion', the biblical term) is a role within the larger sphere of community relationships, which it does not exhaust."
The book is not about the specifics of climate change or any other symptom of the current ecological crisis. Rather, it is an attempt to rediscover the biblical meaning of responsible stewardship; a meaning that, to a significant extent, has been lost in modern times even for many who profess to be in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Specifically for Christians, "it is imperative that we return to the biblical sources of our faith and rediscover the community of creation" in order to overcome that misconception whereby natural resources were created for humans to exploit without regard for the proper order and preservation of everything created - both human and non-human, living and not-living - for the good of the entire creation and the glory of the Creator.
In less than 200 pages of very readable text followed by 30 or so pages of supporting notes and bibliography, the book provides a comprehensive exegesis of the entire Bible, including both the Old Testament and the New Testament, as it pertains to the role of humans within creation in the emerging Anthropocene Age, i.e., the new epoch in which humans can have a significant impact on creation, for good or bad. Each of the five chapters is summarized below in the hope that readers will be motivated to get a copy of this excellent book and be enriched by reading it.
Chapter 1. Stewardship in Question
Bauckham starts with a critique of the concept of "stewardship." The biblical term "dominion" (as in Genesis 1:26 and 28) does not literally mean domination or manipulation, let alone exploitation.
As James Lovelock has pointed out, "We are no more qualified to be stewards or developers of the Earth than are goats to be gardeners." The technophiliac delusion that humans can control nature scientifically, and "manage" cosmic processes such as climate change, is both unbiblical and dangerous. Rather, the biblical meaning of stewardship is one of "care and service, exercised on behalf of God and with accountability to God." Humans are not to "assume the role of God in relation to the world." It is "our arrogant assumption that we can improve nature that has destroyed so much of it." Humans are placed by God within creation, not above the rest of creation. In this regard, the problem is that the command to subdue the Earth is often misunderstood by taking it in isolation from "its context in the canon of Scripture," notably starting with Genesis 2:15.
After a detailed exegesis of Genesis 1:1-2:4, Bauckham goes on to examine Genesis 2's vision of humanity standing in solidarity with the rest of creation. "Human life is embedded in the physical world with all that that implies of dependence on the natural systems of life." There are relationships of reciprocity between humans and other animals, as well as between living beings and "the land" (meaning the concrete totality of non-living creation). It is noted that the act of "naming" in Genesis 2:18-20 is not to be understood as an assertion of authority but as "a celebration of diversity." Likewise, going further to verses 21-23, naming Eve as "woman" and flesh of my flesh does not mean authority by Adam over Eve. It means that Adam and Eve are "fellow-humans" and is therefore a celebration of perfect unity in diversity whereby they become one (Cf. verses 24-25).
However, this splendid reality of universal solidarity is then broken by the human presumption of "independence" from God and the consequent emergence of all forms of manipulation and violence, starting precisely at the strongest link of unity: gender solidarity (Genesis 3:1-14), with God promising eventual restoration of original well-being (3:15) but consequences that still reverberate throughout creation (3:16ff). This corruption of original innocence in gender relations is not explicitly mentioned by Bauckham, which is understandable given current gender controversies in the Judeo-Christian tradition; but it is offered here as it seems to be an issue that cannot be evaded anymore. Bauckham goes on to explore the texts related to the Flood and the Covenant (Genesis 6ff) as the start of process of recovery that is still unfolding in human history but leads him to offer the following synthesis on the biblical meaning of human stewardship of creation:
- To think and act in solidarity with the rest of creation
- To make use of all the Earth's resources responsibly
- To rule "on behalf of God, not instead of God"
- To rule in the same way that God rules (as in Psalm 145:8-9)
- To rule fellow-creatures in a hierarchy qualified by community
- To rule within the order of Creation, i.e., sharing the Earth
- To rule so as to secure "a future for all living things"
In brief: "The key is to add but not to replace. Humanly modified nature is not better, but different. We are not improving nature, but we are fashioning something with fresh value. Can wild nature not look after itself perfectly without our intervention? Yes, of course, it can. Is not our intervention destructive? Yes, very often, and especially in the modern world it has been. But can we not add value to wild nature? Yes, if we enhance while also letting be." Anthropocene thinking!
Chapter 2. Putting Us in Our place
Whereas chapter 1 is a corrective to the common misconception that the human mandate to "subdue" the Earth is a God-given license to use and abuse nature, chapter 2 goes further to show that responsible stewardship also includes a recognition that God, who created all things at the beginning of time, continues to sustain all things here and now; and that humans are called to let God be God in this continuing act of creation even as they are called to help in this divine project until it is finalized at the end of time. The following is quoted from page 37:
"A major concern of this book is for us to recognise that there is much more to the Bible's understanding of the relation between humans and the rest of creation than the mandate of human dominion given in Genesis 1. One reason it is important to seek out the other biblical perspectives on the matter is that, in the modern history of the West, the idea of human dominion has been the ideological justification of human domination and exploitation. It has been associated with the dangerous modern human aspiration to godlike and creative power over the world. Under the banner of human dominion we have thought ourselves liberated from any given place within the order of God's creation. The modern culture of materialistic excess has developed in the context of a notion of dominion as an unrestricted right of masters and owners to exploit all the resources of creation."
It is well known that specific biblical texts cannot be properly understood in isolation. Authentic understanding requires consideration of the entire biblical corpus; else, people can use the Bible to "prove" (or "disprove") anything they want. Throughout the book, Bauckham follows the wise practice of constantly checking his understanding of specific texts against many other related texts of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. In chapter 2, the "dominion" command of Genesis 1 is bounced against chapters 38 to 41 of the book of Job, where God speaks at length about the divine role in creation -- past, present, and future.
Starting with the question, Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth?", the human delusion about being in charge of creation is deconstructed until -- as Bauckham shows -- God seems to be asking Job, and us today: Where are you now while I keep ordering and sustaining my creation? Are you helping me, or are you destroying what I keep building, for your generation and future generations? These are not purely rhetorical questions. They go to the heart of what, in the biblical mind, God was asking Job in his time and is asking us today; and point to the essential paradox of the process we now call "sustainable development." The following is a summary of key insights based on Chapter 2:
- There is a "cosmic order" originally established and permanently sustained by God. "The order is not simply set up by God at the beginning. He is continuously active maintaining it."
- Humans lack "both knowledge and power" to control nature. This was the case for Job, it is the case for us today, and will always be the case irrespective of advances in science and technology. Only the Creator can control creation.
- Surely, we now have a better understanding of natural phenomena than Job had. But even today, our understanding is limited and imperfect.
- Who understands "dark matter"? New discoveries always bring about new questions yet to be answered.
- The sensible human response to the wonders of creation is "cosmic humility." Contrary to "our culture of self-assertion ... to be human is to have a limited place in the cosmic sense of things, a less limited place than many other creatures, but limited nonetheless."
- "We need to the humility to recognise the unforeseeable risks of technology before we ruin the world in pursuit of technological fixes to all our problems."
- "We need the humility to know ourselves as creatures within creation, not gods over creation, the humility of knowing that only God is God."
- We need to overcome an "anthropocentric vision of the cosmos." The universe is "what it is quite independently of us." We must recognize "the otherness of the cosmos, precisely that it is not a human world."
- It is not a matter of God trying to humiliate Homo sapiens sapiens. Rather, it is a matter of humanity overcoming self-centeredness and facing reality; and acceptance of the natural order of things brings healing to both humanity and the human habitat.
- All the above applies to animals and biodiversity as well as to the physical world. The biblical question is the same: can we "provide for these [living] creatures, as God does?"
- "God has created each animal with its own proper habitat and way of life, means of sustenance and generational continuance." Darwin's discovery of biological evolution in no way changes this biblical vision. Given that creation was not a once and for all act, but is a continuing divine activity, both the origin and evolution of each species is part of the creative action of God.
- This applies to both wild animals and domestic animals. In the case of wild animals, God provides for them via nature. In the case of domestic animals, God provides for them through us. In either case, God is the ultimate source in the "supply chain."
- Humans are not "the centre or the apex of the animal world." Homo sapiens sapiens "is a creature among others."
- For all living creatures, both human and non-human, "death nourishes new life and new life could not continue without death," as shown by the trophic dynamics between producers, consumers, and decomposers. All flesh is grass (Isaiah 40:6), including human flesh.
- Biodiversity is a celebration of unity in diversity under God. Humans are to join in the celebration without presuming that they can manipulate the festivities for their own ends and by their own means.
- Humility as part of creation, and joy in the awareness of creation, are like two sides of the same coin. Aside from potentially nefarious practical consequences, human-induced extinction of species (i.e., loss of biodiversity) is contrary to both ecological humility and ecological joy, and arguably contrary to God's plan for creation.
- "While we contemporary humans, like Job, cannot in the last resort defeat the destructive forces in creation, we can help to unleash them."
At a time when the product of population and consumption per capita is increasing, biodiversity is decreasing, pollution is increasing, and symptoms of climate change are being irrefutably detected by sound science, inflicting further insults on Creation would not seem to be a very attractive proposition. And yet, as it became painfully evident at Rio+20, humans appear to be incapable to listen, as Job did, to divine questions that are now more relevant than ever. What are we to do?
Chapter 3. The Community of Creation
We must "rediscover the community of creation." A diligent study of the Bible is instrumental for this rediscovery, and just in case chapters 1 and 2 were not enough, several additional exegetical examples are provided in chapter 3 with additional emphasis on creation as a living web, i.e., a community of creatures in which none is independent of the others, let alone the Creator.
It cannot be overemphasized that "the community the Bible envisions is a theocentric community of creatures. Nothing would be more alien to biblical thought than a pantheism whereby the created cosmos is elevated to divine status and worshipped as such, as Bauckham correctly points out (pages 84, 86-87, 132). In this regard, the absence of any reference to God in the recent Rio+20 agreement is lamentable. Surely, in the mind of biblical writers, a future without God would not be "the future we want."
In chapter 3, Bauckham starts with a reflection on Psalm 104. This is a psalm about "God's generous extravagance" as it is manifested not only by the amount of natural resources but by their splendid diversity. This is by no means an anthropocentric text. The psalm is ecocentric and even more so theocentric, with humans always shown in their proper place: "What gives wholeness to this psalm's reading of the world is not human mastery over it or the value humans set on it, not (in contemporary terms) globalisation, but the value of all created things for God."
Next comes a meditation on Matthew 6:25-33, where Jesus uses the metaphor about feeding the birds and clothing the flowers as a sign that God is both Creator and Provider. However, it is noted that Jesus is referring to basic needs, not to "the wasteful excess and the constant manufacture of new needs and wants in our contemporary consumer society." Furthermore, "God's provision is sufficient if equitably shared. Living from God's provision means also living within limits, those ecological limits of creation that we in the affluent parts of the world are finally having to recognise." This may be a bit too optimistic, as most people in the overdeveloped countries still refuse to see any limits to growth and the need for equitable sharing of resources.
Back to the Old Testament, Psalm 148 is discussed to show that "the most profound and life-changing way in which we can recover our place in the world as creatures alongside our fellow-creatures is through the biblical theme of the worship all creation offers to God." In psalm 148, "the various creatures contribute to a symphony by being both individually different and mutually complementary" without (we could add) presuming to be mutually exclusive. "All creatures bring glory to God simply by being themselves and fulfilling their God-given roles in God's creation" without (again we might add) attempting to exclude others from any roles they can perform on the basis of gender, race, species, or any other conceivable reason: "there is no place in worship for the exaltation of any creature over others." Indeed, "we need to recover religious reverence for nature," albeit without divinizing nature; creation is sacred, but not divine.
Thus the "community of creation" is a, ecocentric but even more so a theocentric community. A purely secular community of creation cannot be healthy and fully alive in the biblical sense. To reinforce this point, and having covered several biblical texts that show the entire creation praising God, Bauckham goes on to texts that show the whole creation mourning. "The parallel and contrast between praising and mourning is the more striking in that the mourning, like the praising, is directed to God."
There is no contradiction here: Lament does not stifle praise, nor does praise suppress lament." After reviewing several Old Testament texts of lamentation (notably Jeremiah 4:23-28) he jumps back to the New Testament to show that, in the new dispensation as well as the old, "human evil has ecological consequences ... the natural order and the moral order are by no means unconnected." This is an excerpt from Bauckham's exegesis of Romans 8:18-23 (pages 95-101):
"To the extent that it is humans who have brought devastation on the rest of creation their hopes and destinies are bound up together. This is precisely what we also see in Romans 8:19-21) ... The liberation of creation is to happen at the end of history, when Christian believers will attain their full salvation in the glory of the resurrection (verses 21 and 23). Since creation's bondage is due to human sin, its liberation must await the cessation of human evil at the end ... But, if we accept the diagnosis that human wrongdoing is responsible for ecological degradation, it follows that those who are concerned to live according to God's will for his world must also be concerned to avoid and to repair damage to God's creation as far as possible. Like the coming of the Kingdom of God, we cannot achieve the liberation of creation but we can anticipate it."
The juxtaposition of praising and mourning is "praise in defiance against evil and in hope for a new creation." The biblical "invitation to all to praise the Creator will continue to ring out until the day when mourning is subsumed into the eschatological joy of all creation."
Chapter 4. Where the Wild Things Are
Chapter 4 is about the biblical message of eco-solidarity and eco-nonviolence. How can we be "responsible stewards" of creation while having to make a living? Bauckham goes back to what happened at the beginning (page 107):
"The purpose for which God put Adam in the garden was: 'to till it and keep it'; or 'to cultivate it and to care for it'; or 'to work it and to protect it' (Genesis 2:15). In the garden, the combination was not a problem ... But the breach in God's harmony with the human couple destroys the whole idyll ... after Eden, how do we both cultivate and protect nature? ... How do we protect nature from our work, and so keep from fouling the source of our own life"?
This brings to mind the concept of sustainable development, originally defined in Our Common Future, the report of the UN World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) in 1987, and most recently discussed anew at the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. The final conference agreement, entitled The Future We Want, is about sustainable development as the path toward resolving (at least to some extent) the very same riddle: how can we both use natural resources and conserve ecological capital? Except that, whereas until recently human civilization was mostly at the mercy of nature, we are now reaching a turning point in which natural resources such as vegetation and energy, and natural phenomena such as weather and climate, are becoming sensitive to massive human intervention; which is precisely what the term Anthropocene means.
In the Bible, wild nature is often portrayed in a way that might be associated with violence and destruction. However, as Bauckham explains, the biblical vision of wilderness transcends both specific acts of necessary violence, such as predators killing their prey in order to eat, and random events such as tsunamis, which are both mostly unpredictable and beyond human control. Again, it is a matter of letting God be God even as we do everything possible to foster ecologically sound practices and prevent (or at least mitigate) the effect of destructive forces throughout the cosmos. Thankfully, meteorites seldom hit our planet and now we have telescopes to see them coming. Perhaps we can do better than the dinosaurs and reroute them before they hit.
"All that is 'wrong' with the wild places is that they are not for humans, but the Hebrew Bible does not suppose that all parts of the world are for human use or habitation" ... Rather, the value of nature seems to lie "not in its adaptation to human use or enjoyment, but in its unspoiled otherness." Bauckham substantiates this point at length via careful analysis of texts from Genesis (2:18-24), the Song of Songs (4:12-15), Ezekiel (31:8-9, 34:2-4), Isaiah (11:6-9, 13:20-22, 32: 16-20, 34:11-15, 35:1-9, 41:18-19), the Psalms (especially Psalm 23 in which the shepherd leads the sheep to green pastures and protects them from harm), and Proverbs (12:10 and 27:23-27, regarding the treatment of domestic animals).
Then he goes on to the New Testament, and the key texts here are the accounts of Jesus' temptations in the wilderness: [Jesus] was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with wild animals; and the angels ministered to him (Mark 1:13; cf. Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13). Jesus' battle was with the "bad angel," not with the wild animals or the "good angels." In other words, Jesus was at peace with all dimensions of creation, both material and spiritual: "Whereas Satan is simply an enemy of Jesus and the angels simply his friends, the wild animals, placed by Mark between these two, are enemies of whom Jesus makes friends. Jesus in the wilderness enacts, in an anticipatory way, the peace between the human world and wild nature that is Isaiah's ecotopia ... Like all aspects of Jesus' inauguration of the Kingdom of God, its fullness will be realized only in the eschatological future, but can be significantly anticipated in the present by respecting wild animals and preserving their habitat."
After expounding on the implications for ecological ethics, including the proper management of forests and other natural resources, Bauckham again goes back to the Garden of Eden, in particular Genesis 2:18-24. "The first thing to notice about this passage is that the order of events - the creation of the man, then the animals, then the woman - is a storytelling device that the [biblical] author has used to say something about the relationship between the sexes, and the relationship of humans to other animals." Since the animals are created before the simultaneous creation of man and woman in Genesis 1, it is clear that it is not the sequence that matters. What really matters is that "only a human of the opposite sex could adequately remedy the single human's loneliness."
Thus the original unity of man and woman, which will be fully restored only in eschatological time, also needs to be anticipated here and now, in both society and religion, as a fundamental requirement for integral human development. In the Torah (Deuteronomy 5:14; cf. Exodus 20:10) both animals and women are grouped together as "property." Even in New Testament times, women were considered to be little more than property, and their witness was not accepted as credible. The resurrection brought about a new order of things that has yet to be fully recognized (Mark 16:9-11), and we should know better by now. It is strange that this point - and the need to foster gender equality - is not mentioned in this otherwise excellent book.
Chapter 5. From Alpha to Omega
This is the most splendid chapter of the book, and one that should be a source of sure hope for Christians. The final solution to the sustainable development paradox may not be around the corner, but is coming. In the meantime, it is imperative for all Christians, in union with all people of good will living on Earth, to cultivate it and to care for it, concurrently and simultaneously, resolving as best we can the inevitable difficulties and contradictions that are part and parcel of the human condition. This is not a new duty, but one that becomes critically urgent as we enter the Anthropocene Age; and this is so especially for Christians (page 141):
"From the point of view of a sequential reading of the whole Bible, we might say that, in the New Testament, Jesus Christ joins the community of creation. But the New Testament writers do not themselves see it that way. In the light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, they perceive that there never was a time when he was not related to the whole of God's creation. The New Testament does not replace the Old Testament's theology of creation, but it does reread it retrospectively in the light of Jesus Christ ... In the New Testament, faith in Jesus Christ and salvation through Jesus Christ do not separate humans from the rest of creation, as they have sometimes been held to do in latter Christian thinking. On the contrary, they unite humans even more closely with other creatures, since the New Testament, as we shall see, depicts Jesus as himself closely related to all creatures."
Understanding the New Testament requires understanding the Bible's "meta-narrative" (or "grand narrative"). Underneath the diversity of authors, styles, and literary forms, the Bible is neither a history nor a novel, but rather a grand theological scenario that "runs from eternity to eternity, more especially from creation to new creation." The following is Bauckham's breathtaking synthesis of the entire trajectory (pages 143-144):
"The meta-narrative has some prominent stages:
- There is the story of the human race and all the nations that comprise it;
- There is the eventful story of God's special people Israel, whose calling is to model, for the sake of all nations, what it means to be a people of God;
- Then, within Israel's story, there is the story of Jesus, his birth, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation to heaven;
- There is the story of how, through Jesus and the mission of his Church, Israel's story expands to include all the nations and the whole world;
- This story is leading to the goal that has been in view from the beginning, when God, in an act of new creation, will take his whole creation into his own eternity."
Take a deep breath! Needless to say, the story of Jesus of Nazareth is the key story that gives meaning and cohesion to all the other stories, precisely because "the whole history of the world is also Jesus' own history." This is why he states, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Revelation 22:13; cf. Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, 48:12). In other words, Jesus Christ "encompasses, as it were, the whole meta-narrative of the created world."
In the context of the Anthropocene, "the biblical meta-narrative is about the relationship between God, human beings, and non-human creation." Not only the human world is important; the entire living world is important, and the material world is also important. In a way that is reminiscent of John Paul II's theology of the body, Bauckham reiterates that "God made humans to be bodily persons, an integral unity of spirit and body, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus demonstrated beyond Christian doubt that human destiny is not to be pure spirits liberated from matter, but to be bodily persons, transformed, of course, but transformed as whole persons, body, souls, and spirit." The Bible is about realities, both seen and unseen; not about ghosts.
This is a liberating insight. Among other things, it liberates us from false hopes in technological fixes as the way to get humans off the hook when it comes to dealing with the realities of a finite world. Continued advances in science and technology are necessary, but will never be sufficient unless humans behave in solidarity with the rest of creation. "Salvation is not the replacement but the renewal of creation." Biblical stewardship entails assuming "appropriate responsibility - not by any means total responsibility, but appropriate responsibility, under God, for the world as a whole. The unparalleled power that humans have to affect the rest of creation on this Earth makes that responsibility momentous." To make sure that the reader will not miss this key point, Bauckman hammers on it via exegetical and ecological reflections on:
- The cosmic Christ in Paul's letter to the Colossians 1:15-20
It is noted that this hymn is structured in two strophes, "dealing respectively with the creation of all things in Christ and the reconciliation of all things in Christ ... Jesus Christ is to be understood most fully in his relationship to God and to the whole creation, not only to humans." Christ is both Creator and Redeemer. "To see creation whole we must see it in relation to the crucified and risen Jesus."
This is a very interesting Q&A: "Is nature fallen? At one time it was possible to suppose that suffering and death in the non-human world were a consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve. Our scientific understanding of the history of life on the planet makes this approach impossible for us, since if there is something wrong in nature it was wrong long before humans appeared on the scene." So much for literalist creationism.
- The cosmic Christ in the prologue to the Gospel of John (1: 1-5, 9-10, 14)
The prologue to the Gospel of John is explicitly cosmic in scope. In biblical terminology, "all things" is a term used to include the concrete totality of everything created, both human and nonhuman. "Flesh is human nature in its vulnerability, weakness and mortality. It is therefore also human nature in its commonality and kinship with the rest of creation; human nature made out of the dust of the Earth, utterly dependent on all the physical conditions of life on this planet and interconnected with other life in diverse and complex ways. Jesus in incarnation is not just one of us humans but part of this worldly creation, a member of the whole community of creation ... The Word 'became flesh', the mortal nature humans share with all living things, in order to give the eternal life of God to all flesh."
- The Kingdom of God in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 6:9-10)
In the Synoptic Gospels, the renewal of creation is envisioned as part and parcel of the Kingdom of God. The theme that they see as "the overriding concern of Jesus' preaching and actions is the Kingdom of God ... the term 'Kingdom of God', which Jesus used without explanation, as though his hearers would have some idea of what it meant, has, of course, its own background in the Hebrew Bible" (e.g., Isaiah 52:7, Daniel chapter 7, and many of the Psalms). "The kingship and rule of God in the Psalms have both a spatial and a temporal dimension. They are cosmic in scope, encompassing all creation, by no means confined to human society ... The cosmic scope of the Kingdom can be clearly seen in the opening three petitions of the Lord's Prayer" for the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (composed ca. 1523 CE), the crucial meditation on the Kingdom offers the same integration of temporal and eternal perspectives. There is no such thing as spirituality divorced from earthly realities.
- The universal solidarity of the Risen Christ (bodily incarnation, bodily resurrection)
The incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ all happened in the flesh. He was born of a woman and embraced all the limitations of the human condition, including ethnicity and gender. He went around doing good in perfect solidarity with both people and nature. He died and was buried in the flesh, and he rose from the dead in the flesh. "Since the mortal bodies of humans are their solidarity with the rest of material creation, when the Word of God 'became flesh' he too entered into the physical, mortal and transient life of the whole earthly creation. In dying, he shared the fate of all living creatures on this Earth, and we cannot think that in rising to new life beyond death he abandoned this solidarity with the whole community of creation. His resurrection was the beginning of the new creation."
- The universal worship of the Triumphant Christ (Philippians 2:6-11)
"In [this] christological 'hymn' ... we find that the story of Jesus culminates in universal worship of God expressed as submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ" (cf. Isaiah 45:22-23, Revelation 4:9-11, 5:6-13). The cosmic scope is evident: this worship is to take place "in heaven and on earth and under the earth"
Literalist reading of the Bible: This is not mentioned in the book, but there was a time when many thought that the Earth is motionless and is the center of the universe. This unbiblical misconception was based on a literalist reading of isolated passages such as Isaiah 11:12 and was a factor in Copernicus and Galileo being accused of heresy as recently as the 17th century CE. Like creation, the Sacred Scriptures are sacred, but not divine.
- The new creation in the eschatological future (Revelation 21:1-22:21)
In fact, chapter 11 of the book of Isaiah is a prophecy about the renewal of the entire community of creation via the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is a prophecy about the new heaven and the new earth that resounds again in chapter 21 of the book of Revelation. "The vivid language of old things passing away and all things becoming new refers to a transfiguration of reality into a new form. It is radical transformation, but not replacement." The renewal is purificative, restorative, and enhancing, but not destructive.
This transfiguration will be fully realized only in the eschatological future, when all creation is recapitulated in he who is the Alpha and the Omega, but must be fostered in the present, here and now, by humble prayer and diligent work, as per the wise dictum "ora et labora", commonly attributed to St. Benedict (ca. 480-543 CE). The New Jerusalem "surpasses Eden because the tree of life, from which Adam and Eve did not eat, is now available - multiplied, in fact, as twelve species of tree [a transfiguration of the twelve tribes of Israel?] whose leaves heal the scars of this world and whose fruit nourishes with eternal sustenance (22:2). But the New Jerusalem also surpasses Eden in being a city. Whereas Eden was a temple-garden, the New Jerusalem is a temple-city. The New Jerusalem is the transposition into the new creation of all that is good in human culture, all that human beings since Eden have well made of the resources given them by the other creatures of Earth."
Bauckham reiterates: "This point has been made several times in this book, but I have developed it more fully here, because it is the essential key to an ecological eschatology, i.e., a living hope, not for the abolition of other creatures, but for the healing and perfecting of human relationships with all other creatures. Such an eschatological hope can be an inspiration for seeking such healing of these relationships as is possible here and now, a peaceable living with other creatures that will be of a quality fit for transposition into the new creation." Amen! However, it is hard to imagine that further ecological healing can take place unless relationships between humans improve simultaneously, notably in matters of gender equality and other dimensions of global solidarity. "So be it. Come, Lord Jesus!"
In checking all the above New Testament texts via the online Bible Gateway, it was fascinating to see all the cross-references to Old Testament texts. Indeed, the Bible is an impressive mosaic of "unity in diversity." But it is not a static mosaic. In both unity and diversity, it is a dynamic scenario that gradually moves from primitive violence to evangelical nonviolence, as René Girard has pointed out; and this applies in all dimensions of creation, living and non-living.
Bauckham and Girard are giants in extracting, from these venerable texts of the Judeo-Christian tradition, fresh insights that are both compatible with the tradition and specifically relevant to the complex undertaking of sustainable development. Too bad they were not present at Rio+20!
"The glory of God is man fully alive." Thus wrote St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century CE. In today's world, St. Irenaeus certainly would have used "person" rather than "man." Actually, he probably meant "the glory of God is creation fully alive," for humans can be alive only to the extent that the entire cosmos is alive. Bauckham's book makes this clear. It is a wonderful synthesis of the Bible as it pertains to the relationship between humans and the human habitat, and should be studied by anyone who is interested in the biblical vision of solidarity and sustainability.
Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962.
The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, Lynn White, Jr., Nature, 10 March 1967.
The Limits to Growth, by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Randers, Potomac Associates, 1972; Island Press, 1993; Chelsea Green, 2004.
Our Common Future, Report of the UN World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission), 1987.
Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, René Girard, Stanford University Press, 1987.
Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of Creation, John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1990.
The Global Citizen, Donella Meadows, Island Press, 1991.
The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, John Paul II, Pauline Books, 1997.
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vatican, April 2005.
The Vanishing Face of Gaia, James Lovelock, Perseus Books, 2009.
The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation, Richard Bauckham, Baylor University Press, 2010.
Ethical Oil, Ezra Levant, McClelland & Stewart, 2012.
Energy and the Wealth of Nations, Charles A. S. Hall and Kent A. Klitgaard, Springer, 2011.
Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology, William Ophuls, The MIT Press, 2011.
Ecological Ethics, Patrick Curry, Polity Press, 2011.
Ecofeminism and Rhetoric: Critical Perspectives on Sex, Technology, and Discourse, Douglas A. Vakoch (Editor), Berghahn Books, 2011.
Anthropocene: Age of Man, Elizabeth Kolbert, National Geographic, March 2011.
Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Vatican, May 2011.
The Biblical Vision of Ecojustice, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Feminism and Religion, 19 August 2011.
The Meaning of Sustainability, Albert Bartlett, Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education Newsletter, Volume 31, No. 1, Winter 2012.
Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation, Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (Editors), University of Illinois and CNX, 21 January 2012.
A Life of Abundance: Energy and Ethics, Eco-Justice Programs, National Council of Churches USA, March 2012.
Reimagining a Global Ethic, Michael Ignatieff, Ethics & International Affairs, 1 April 2012.
For Rio+20: A Charter for a New Economy, James Gustave Speth, Solutions, June 2012.
For a Sustainable Global Society: Learning for Empowerment and Leadership, Daisaku Ikeda, President, Soka Gakkai International, 5 June 2012.
Can We Survive the New Golden Age of Oil?, Steve Levine, Foreign Policy, 6 June 2012.
Global Environmental Outlook, GEO-5 Report 5th Edition, UNEP, 6 June 2012.
What kind of world do we want to leave to our children?, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, 12 June 2012.
From a Christian perspective: What is sustainability?, Markus Vogt, EcoJesuit, 14 June 2012.
Church has role to play in morality of sustainable development and green issues, Sean McDonagh, Irish Times, 19 June 2012.
The Future We Want, Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, United Nations, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 22 June 2012.
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