Monday, May 08, 2006

Christ and the Good Earth

From chapter 3 of Christ and the Good Earth - an introduction to ecological theology, by Ray Galvin, published by ColCom Press 1993.

A further shortcoming in von Rad's account is his failure to see the creation theme in the centre of the Exodus story itself. More recent scholars, such as George Landers and H Paul Santmire, have pointed out that the most natural reading of the Exodus story reveals a deeply held belief in God as the 'sovereign Lord of Creation.' Yahweh could not have delivered Israel from Egypt if Yahweh were not already the Lord of the Creation. How else could Yahweh have brought plague after plague upon Egypt, parted the waters of the Red Sea and sent manna and quails in the wilderness? When we read the Exodus story carefully, we cannot help but be impressed with the constant and repeated upheavals of nature that afflict the Egyptians, bypass the Israelites and are written into the story as the very means by which God's people are liberated.

Von Rad maintained that Deuteronomy 26: 5-9 was Israel's most ancient creed. This passage was recited by the Israelites as they brought an offering of the first fruits of the harvest. Its content, however, focuses upon the deliverance of the people of Israel from oppression in Egypt. It is clearly an expression of the Exodus theme. Yet even here, the activity of God as Lord over Creation is clearly stressed. The Lord 'brought us out of Egypt with a might hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders.'

So the deliverance of Israel was not just a human-centred thing, a psychologically induced event focussing only on the intellects and wills of human beings. It was an event that presupposed God's lordship and power over Creation.

My conclusion to this point is that there is an important balance in the Old Testament between human liberation, and concern with the wider Creation. The Exodus event sets the tone for Israel's ethical thinking vis-୶is humanity: there is not getting around God's preoccupation with the liberation of oppressed human beings. But the 'pagan' concern for nature in its own right is also reflected and affirmed in the Old Testament and must be held in balance and in tension with the more distinctively Old Testament concern for human liberation. We need further to keep in mind that Israel also saw the Creation as a means and the medium through which God worked to bring about this historical, ethical liberation of human beings. I would suggest this balanced account be used as an interpretive framework for gauging the significance of Old Testament passages about Creation. We can then look at Psalms, Wisdom literature, the Genesis stories etc and do our detailed study of these texts with this sense of their place in the overall shape of Israel's thinking about creation and redemption. This will also give us a sense of the wider significance of themes like stewardship, dominion over the Earth, and being made in God's image, to the larger picture of Old Testament thought.

This also points to the need to look closely at the notion of a bipolar ethic for our Christian concern for the world. We need to be concerned for both human liberation and the preservation of the Creation.
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