Creative Commons Image by Bart Everson on Flickr.
When pastors and Bible study participants seek a stronger ecological hermeneutic, I often challenge them simply to read Scripture with an eye to its many references to beyond-human elements of creation, their roles, and actions. The shift to thinking of the rest of the universe as part of the story, rather than simply the stage on which the human drama takes place, awakens us to biblical writers’ attentiveness to nature, and helps develop our own attentiveness.
The further in we go, the more there is to explore. Before I began writing Inhabiting Eden, I wasn’t certain how much of Scripture I could rope into the project. But Scripture is far more ecologically fruitful than I had assumed. Scripture doesn’t always say what we would like when it comes to other urgent concerns such as violence, nationalism, equality, or gender bias. But when it comes to creation, Scripture helps us relearn much that we’ve forgotten. For preaching, this spring never runs dry.
Scripture’s attention to nature only makes sense. For their survival, our ancestors depended on knowledge of and cooperation with creation’s systems. They had less to shield them from cold, heat, damp, and drought than most of us today. Among scripture’s writers and first readers, attentiveness to climate, seasons, crop growth, and needs and habits of animals meant the difference between life and death.
We still depend on nature for everything: food, water, air, even ground to stand on. It provides what scientists call incalculable “ecosystem services.” Some say the global economic benefit of ecosystem services is double that of the worldwide human economy. But unlike our ancestors, our society has found ways to ignore this, to distance ourselves from nature, and to take for granted that the basics will always be available for those with the cash to afford it.
But as we read Scripture alongside of creation, and read creation as described in Scripture, we may tune ourselves to a wider sensibility, to deeper thanksgiving for this garden earth we have the privilege of inhabiting. This changes our habits. Recognizing our natural wealth, we feel less urge to buy commodities that we’ll soon discard. We begin living more mindfully in our surroundings, and thinking of our familial relationships as extending to all the creatures we enjoy beyond our immediate kin.
As thanksgiving for the nurture and beauty God provides through creation grows, so does our longing for social systems that will live harmoniously, rather than harmfully, with creation. We recognize, and feel, our sorrows and fears over destruction of the natural world -- and empathize with the sorrows and fears of others. We talk to others about our convictions. We work collectively toward better policies.
It is this sensitively, this sensibility, that we cultivate when reading Scripture with attention to all God’s creation as inhabitants with us of a world so much bigger than we are, a world all generations depend on, a world now depending on us to assure its survival. To the extent that we know this and reflect it in our preaching and teaching, we are helping lead others to a sensibility that will save us from extinction, a sensibility of human flourishing in a flourishing world.
- 2 Kings 5:1-14 describes Naaman, the Aramean commander suffering from leprosy, seeking a cure from Israel’s God. He nearly misses it when he deems a showy fanfare more powerful than the curative powers of the Jordan River’s simple water.
- Psalm 30 demonstrates the continuous availability of divine redemption for those who seek God’s help. Even in darkest days, joy may reappear.
- Isaiah 66:10-14 (alt.) compares prosperity to an overflowing stream bringing plenty, and compares humans to flourishing, quickly growing grass.
- Psalm 66:1-9 (alt.) proclaims God’s rule over all the earth.
- Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16 foresees that we reap what they sow, and exhorts us therefore not to grow weary in doing right for the good of all.
- Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 portrays Jesus sending disciples out to preach taking little baggage with them, but only word of the nearness of God’s healing, restoring reign.
- Amos 7:7-17 shows Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, mistaking Amos’s divinely inspired warning for a political conspiracy against the king’s power, but Amos remaining steadfast.
- Psalm 82 imagines the powerful who neglect the weak and fail to give justice to the destitute as unable to maintain their lofty status, while a God who speaks out for justice rises up.
- Deuteronomy 30:9-14 (alt.) portrays God’s word as sensible and available. Obedience will lead to prosperity of body, livestock, and soil.
- Psalm 25:1-10 (alt.) imagines God as a patient teacher, correcting mistakes and leading the teachable into faithful paths.
- Colossians 1:1-14 prays that the Colossians may know God’s will and lead worthy lives, bearing fruit in good works.
- Luke 10:25-37 narrates the Good Samaritan’s freedom to respond immediately and directly to perceived needs of others, healing and mending in a timely way.
- Amos 8:1-12 offers Amos’s warnings that cheating in business dealings will bring ecological disaster.
- Psalm 52 compares those who trust God to fruitful green olive trees.
- Genesis 18:1-10a (alt.) depicts generous hospitality toward strangers bringing unexpected awards.
- Psalm 15 (alt.) lists the social virtues of the faithful: they speak truth, refrain from slandering neighbors, honor God, and behave honestly and generously toward others.
- Colossians 1:15-28 describes the cosmic Christ, the firstborn of all creation, holding all creation together.
- Luke 10:38-42 describes Mary sitting to listen, not too busy to think clearly -- a prescription for a richer and more well-considered inner life, attentive to one’s impact on the world around.
- Hosea 1:2-10 introduces a book in which faithfulness to God is directly correlated with ecological prosperity.
- Psalm 85 portrays faithfulness springing from the ground like a perennial plant, and righteousness looking down from the sky like the sun’s brightness.
- Genesis 18:20-32 (alt.) raises the problem of collective, ecological punishment for evil, and the disaster that results when the few who are willing to behave justly are absent.
- Psalm 138 (alt.) offers thanks and praise to God for caring for the lowly.
- Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19) reminds readers that, despite appearances, it is God who rules over all creation, all principalities and powers.
- Luke 11:1-13 depicts Jesus teaching his disciples that God wishes to provide their needs, and instructing them to pray simply for adequate food, forgiveness, and peace.
- Hosea 11:1-11 imagines God not only as a tender parent, but as a lion roaring, making God’s people tremble like doves.
- Psalm 107:1-9, 43 (July 31) presents God as savior of the thirsty, filling the hungry with good things.
- Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 (alt.) portrays busyness for economic gain as pure, wind-chasing vanity.
- Psalm 49:1-12 (alt.) likewise portrays trust in wealth as pure folly.
- Colossians 3:1-11counsels readers to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
- Luke 12:13-21 describes the rich fool who built bigger barns to hoard his grain, but died that very night.