Biblical environmental A – Z

A Adam

Genesis 1 v 27- 31 (GNB)

So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them and said, “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds and all the wild animals. I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat, but for all the wild animals and all the birds I have provided grass and leafy plants for food”, and it was done. God looked at everything he had made, and he was very pleased.

Genesis 2 v 15

Then the Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard it.

In these passages God is providing for the needs of all his creatures, and is putting Adam, or more widely humanity, in charge of his world. God trusted Adam and is trusting us to care for his world. Are we worthy of this trust?

B Blame

Genesis 3 v 12 - 13

The man (Adam) answered God, “The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit, and I ate it”.

She (Eve) replied, “The snake tricked me into eating it” (beguiled in the Authorised Version).

Neither Adam nor Eve accepted the blame for their actions. Adam blamed God (for creating Eve) and Eve, and Eve blamed the snake. In our care for God’s world, do we recognise our part in causing its problems, or do we try and shift the blame? (for example to the Americans, Chinese or our energy suppliers?)

C D Communicate, Distribute

1 Timothy 6 v 17 – 18

Charge them that are rich in this world, that they trust in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy, that they do good, ready to distribute, willing to communicate,

Paul is asking that those who have material blessings should share them with others, and those who have skills should communicate them. We have material blessings and technical skills – for the good of God’s world he intends us to share them.

E Earth and its fulness

Readings from three Psalms

22. v 24 & 26

God does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering; he does not turn away from them, but answers when they call for help. The poor will eat as much as they want: those who come to the Lord will praise him. May they prosper for ever!

23. v 1 (GNB)

The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.

24. v 1

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.

The world and all that is in it belong to the Lord.

The Authorised Version text from Psalm 24 is quoted on the portico of the Royal Exchange, and a “Make Poverty History” meeting took place there in 2005. The meeting and campaign urged us to examine the use we are making of God’s gifts to us, in particular how well we are sharing them.

In the familiar passage from Psalm 23 we can all agree with the sentiment “The Lord is my shepherd”, but we should recognise that while we in Europe and North America have everything we need, many of our fellows elsewhere in the world do not – if God is to give them the help promised in Psalm 22, he needs us to act as his agents, to make better use of what he has given us, and to share it more widely.

F Food miles

Proverbs 31 v 10 & 14

Who can find a capable wife? Her worth is far beyond coral. Like a ship laden with merchandise, she brings home food from far off.

These verses are part of a larger passage which describes superhuman efforts by a BC 700 capable or virtuous wife, whose searches in the markets were a great benefit to her family.

21st century (man or) woman has things much easier – with globalisation we have no need to bring home food from far off – we can find it at our local supermarket. We can easily purchase imported tropical foodstuffs and temperate foodstuffs out of season, but what we overlook is that there is a supply chain which brings them to us. They have come from further off than the BC 700 woman’s purchases, products which she was not aware of, from places she was not aware of, often airfreighted, a process she would have no concept of.

Agriculture then met the needs of the population which produced it, and the needs of our BC 700 woman and her family. Her carbon footprint was low or even zero.

Can we say the same with our globalised trading? Third world agriculture has developed to produce cash crops for airfreight to us, but their agriculture for their own needs is neglected. The carbon footprint involved is substantial. We should think hard before we follow the example which the capable or virtuous wife set in BC 700.

G God’s generosity

Matthew 6 v 11

Give us this day our daily bread

The Lord’s Prayer is one that all Christians use – we all address it to “Our Father”. We are asking God to meet our needs for today now – we are not asking him to address our wishes for the future. In our position of plenty we are pretty confident that God will answer these prayers. Other Christians praying the same prayer also have needs, which may be more pressing than our own. Should we be asking ourselves if there is anything we could do to provide daily bread to those who do not have it?

H Holy Communion

Matthew 26 v 26 – 28

During supper Jesus took bread, and having said the blessing he broke it and gave it to his disciples with the words: “Take this and eat it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and having offered thanks to God he gave it to them with the words: “Drink from this, all of you. For this is my blood.”

“Common Worship” uses these words of dedication:

“Through your goodness we have this bread to set before you, which earth has given and human hands have made. . . . . .Through your goodness we have this wine to set before you, fruit of the vine and work of human hands.”

At the Last Supper Jesus could have used foodstuffs such as fruit and milk, which need no processing, and are used in the form nature has given them. Bread and wine do not occur in nature, but are derived from natural materials, and have been changed from grain and grapes by the operations people have done on them.

Jesus used foods which represent co-operation between God and his people – natural products which people have transformed using the skills and insights God has given them.

In our wider life God calls us to use the skills he has given us to transform the materials he has given us, and to use them wisely to his glory and for the benefit of all of us.

I Insulation

Isaiah 58 v 6 – 7

What I am interested in seeing you do is sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad . . . .

Christian Aid once used the slogan “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for life”, which makes the point that short term solutions are all very well, but that a permanent solution to a problem is by far the best option.

In Britain each winter we hear concern about heating bills, the incidence of hypothermia among the old and the poor, and whether winter heating supplements on pensions are adequate. The Arctic Circle passes through Finland, yet they have no such concerns. They recognise the difficulty their situation presents and insulate their buildings well. Historically the standard of insulation in British buildings has been poor, and it is only recently that this situation has started to improve. “Faith in the City” drew attention to this in 1985 in its chapter on housing. It quoted one resident from an inner-city housing estate saying “people here have to live in a mistake” which had serious design faults, where “heating is all-electric and heat loss is excessive resulting in large fuel bills and frequently debt.”

Poor insulation has wider consequence than the social effects and damage to the building fabric which “Faith in the City” described. Poor standards of insulation necessarily require high use of energy, and a correspondingly high production of carbon dioxide and other combustion products. In Britain about 50% of all the energy we use is used in buildings, (with the remaining 50% being used in industry and transport combined). About one-sixth of the total energy (or one-third of that used in buildings) is used for space-heating and water-heating.

Isaiah’s statement on clothes for the poor, which Jesus also used in his teaching, is a very necessary short-term measure, but we should also have a long-term perspective. In a parallel to Christian Aid’s slogan we can say:

“Give people a winter heating payment and you heat them for a heating season, insulate their home and you heat them for life”.

J K James, Kings

James 1 v 2 – 6

Whenever you have to face trials of many kinds, count yourselves supremely happy, in the knowledge that such testing of your faith brings fortitude, and if you give fortitude full play you will go on to complete a balanced character that will fall short in nothing. If any of you falls short in wisdom, he should ask God for it and it will be given him, for God is a generous giver who neither refuses nor reproaches anyone.

1 Kings 3 v 7 – 12

Now O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king in place of my father David, though I am a child, unskilled in leadership. Give thy servant, therefore, a heart with skill to listen, so that he may govern thy people justly and distinguish good from evil. For who is equal to the task of governing this great people of thine? The Lord was well pleased that Solomon had asked for this, and said to him, “Because you have asked for this, and not for long life for yourself, or for wealth, or for the lives of your enemies, but have asked for discernment in administering justice, I grant your request; I give you a heart so wise and so understanding that there has been none like you before your time nor will be after you.

Solomon was aware of his responsibilities and limitations. He realised his need for judgement and wisdom as he faced new challenges, and asked for God’s help.

James also realised his followers would face new challenges, which were not covered by the scriptures available to them or their own experience. He realised they needed wisdom and guidance and saw that God would provide it.

With environmental issues we face new challenges, and have little guidance. We need to remember that the science which might help us may be incomplete or contradictory – it can form part of the challenge rather than being the answer to it. We need to recognise our need for wisdom and guidance and to see that God can provide it.

L Lebanon

Ezekiel ch 27 v 32 - ch 28 v 10 (extracts)

In their lamentation they raise a dirge over you, “Who was like Tyre, with her buildings piled off shore? When your wares were loaded off the sea you met the needs of many nations; with your vast resources and your imports you enriched the kings of the earth. Now you are broken by the sea in deep water; you have come to a fearful end and shall be no more for ever.

Clever and shrewd as you are, you have amassed wealth for yourself, you have amassed gold and silver in your treasuries; by great cleverness in your trading you have heaped up riches, and with your riches your arrogance has grown. Because you try to think the thoughts of a god you will die strengthless at the hands of strangers.

Ezekiel does not just address his strictures to Lebanon; he writes in a similar manner about Jerusalem in earlier chapters and Egypt in later chapters. The passages on Lebanon are particularly appropriate to us as Lebanon was a great trading nation, which benefited materially from being this early experience of globalisation. Other verses in chapters 27 and 28 show us the extent of Lebanon’s trade and material prosperity then. They give an inventory of materials; pine, cedar, oak, linen, purple cloth, silver, iron, tin, lead, bronze, horses, mules, ivory, ebony, garnets, brocade, jasper, coral, wheat, meal, syrup, balsam, cassia, sweet cane (sugar?), woollen cloth, lambs, rams, goats, spices, gold, brocades, rolls of coloured fabrics; and show the trade was with Tarshish (Spain), Rhodes, Damascus, Sheba, Arabia, Persia and elsewhere.

We are a trading nation, and our 21st century trade dwarfs that of Ezekiel’s Lebanon, both in the materials which we use, and in the trading partners we have. Ezekiel warned about Lebanon’s arrogance. How do we handle the obvious material prosperity we have? Are we humble about it and see it as a gift from God to be used wisely? Or are we as arrogant as Ezekiel’s Lebanon?

M Management

Luke 7 v 6 – 9

The centurion sent friends (to Jesus) with this message: “Do not trouble further, Sir, it is not for me to have you under my roof, say the word and my servant will be cured. I know, for in my position I am under orders, with soldiers under me. I say to one, “Go” and he goes; to another, “Come here”, and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this” and he does it. When Jesus heard this, he admired the man, and, turning to the crowd he said, “I tell you, nowhere, not even in Israel, have I found faith like this”.

The centurion’s experience of life was that things ran smoothly and that things worked. His working life was well organised and managed. It worked first time, without chasing, reworking things, or needing to send things back, with work being delivered on time. His computer was never down. He did things once and did them right. He had faith that Jesus could act in the same way as he experienced in his working life, and Jesus admired him for his faith.

The Wesleys adopted an organised, disciplined and methodical approach to their life, were chided for being “Methodists” which gave the name to their church.

All aspects of our 21st century life, in particular in our care for our world, can be scatty, disorganised, frantic and very different from the experience of the centurion and the Wesleys. Can we organise our time and efforts to be more like them?

N Neighbour

Leviticus 19 v 18

Luke 10 v 29, 36 – 37

You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

“Who is my neighbour?”

“Which of these three?” - “The one who showed him kindness.” – “Go and do as he did.”

The Good Samaritan met “the neighbour” he was to benefit on the road to Jericho, and we have many opportunities to be good to neighbours as we meet them.

If we fail to care for our world, we can damage it in many different ways. All of these may affect our fellow humans, perhaps straightaway, or perhaps by doing long-term damage whose effect comes later. These are likely to be people we have not yet met, or will never meet. We need to recognise that they too are our neighbours, and that we should treat them as kindly as the neighbours we do meet.

O Ox

Exodus 21 v 33

When a man removes the cover of a pit or digs a pit and leaves it uncovered, then if an ox or an ass falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make good the loss. He shall repay the owner of the beast in silver.

We do not have an ox or a pit to look after. What we do have is the world that God has given us – we should look after that.

P Psalms

Psalms 8 v 3 – 6, v 9

When I look up to the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars set in their place by thee, what is man that thou shouldst remember him, mortal man that thou shouldst care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than a god, crowning him with glory and honour. Thou makest him master over all thy creatures; thou hast put everything under his feet.

This wonderful psalm and another passage in Psalm 65 v 9 - 13 show the glory of God’s creation, the way he provides for his people’s needs, and the trust he is placing in mankind to cooperate with him in running it.

Q Questions

Matthew 11 v 2 – 5

John was in prison and sent his own disciples to Christ with this message: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect some other?” Jesus answered, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind recover their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the poor are hearing the good news – and happy is the man who does not find me a stumbling block.”

In many of Jesus’ interactions with people he teases a response from them, often in the form of “what do you see?” – “what do you deduce?” – “what are you going to do about it?” This exchange with John’s disciples has very much this form, but Jesus gives them the answers to his own question.

We may not have answers in scripture to many of the problems we face in our care for the world God gave us, but the first step to deal with them is to identify them – to answer the question which Jesus used to many whom he met – “what do you see?”

R Responsibility

Deuteronomy 22 v 8

When you build a new house, put a parapet along the roof, or you will bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if anyone should fall from it.

What God is doing in this passage is putting the responsibility on resolving a problem with the person who has the means, the materials and the opportunity to do so.

Collectively, mankind has the means, the materials and the opportunity to take proper care of the world he has given us. Are we taking the responsibility for doing so?

S Sahara Desert

Psalm 107 v 33 – 37

He turns rivers into desert and springs into thirsty ground; he turns fruitful land into salt waste, because the men who dwell there are so wicked.

Desert he changes into standing pools, and parched land into springs of water. There he gives the hungry a home, and they build themselves a city to dwell in; they sow fields and plant vineyards and reap a plentiful harvest.

The Psalmist describes how God can create deserts, and restore them.

Both parts of the Bible have many references to deserts – but not to the Sahara. The Sahara is larger than the deserts described in the Bible, but they all have much in common. In the 21st century we are concerned about the Sahara, that it is spreading further south, and that once fertile land is becoming desert.

In the 21st century we have technology which enables us to change deserts into standing pools etc., and agriculture in modern Israel and golf courses in Spain, North Africa and the Emirates show this. We also have the ability, particularly if we take no notice of what we are doing, of turning fruitful land into salt waste.

Which of the alternatives in Psalm 107 are we going to follow?

T Technical needs

Deuteronomy 8 v 7 – 10

For the Lord your God is bringing you to a rich land, a land of streams, of springs and underground waters gushing out in hill and valley, a land of wheat and barley, of vines, fig-trees, and pomegranates, a land of olives, oil and honey. It is a land where you will never live in poverty nor want for anything, a land whose stones are iron-ore and from whose hills you will dig copper. You will have plenty to eat and will bless the Lord your God for the rich land that he has given you.

In the Holy Land God is providing food for his people, not just the basic necessities to keep them alive, but pleasant foods to enrich their lives, in plenty. God is not only providing for their need for food to stay alive, but is also providing materials they can transform into metals to meet their technical needs, and to use for his glory.

In the developed world we now have food for our needs, and many more possibilities of transforming God’s raw materials into products which meet our needs (and often into flippant luxuries). Are we using them to meet the needs of all humanity, wisely so that they will continue to do so, and for God’s greater glory?

U V Unless, Vengeance

Deuteronomy 8 v 11 –

Take care not to forget the Lord your God and do not fail to keep his commandments, laws, and statutes which I give you this day – remember the Lord your God; it is he that gives you strength to become prosperous.

If you forget the Lord your God and adhere to other gods, worshipping them and bowing down to them, I give you a solemn warning that you will be destroyed.

My Sinclair Spectrum was a simple computer which enabled me to produce simple computer programs. It included IF and THEN keys. If you produced a program using the IF key and did not complete it with the THEN key, it would not continue – it put a warning about IF but no THEN on the screen, and waited for the THEN response.

Our passage shows the same thinking – it has the form

IF (virtuous course of action)

THEN (favourable consequences), but

IF (sinful course of action)

THEN (dire consequences).

We could shorten this to

UNLESS (virtuous course of action)

THEN (dire consequences).

We could call this vengeance – not a comfortable concept for 21st century Christians – it feels very Old Testament. We perhaps forget that there are plentiful references to vengeance in the New Testament.

As we consider environmental damage, we could very well conclude that we face catastrophe at some time in the future as a natural inevitable consequence of unwise actions we are taking now. More robust generations would use the V-word.

W X Workmanship, Exodus

Exodus 31 v 2 - 5

I have specially chosen Bezalel, son of Uri. I have filled him with divine spirit, making him skilful and ingenious, expert in every craft, and a master of design, whether in gold, silver, copper, or cutting stones to be set, or carving wood, for workmanship of every kind. . . . . . . . .I have endowed every skilled craftsman with the skill which he has.

Mark 6 v 3

Earlier verses tell of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, and the reaction of the townsfolk.

How does he work such miracles? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?

The other Gospels mention Joseph as the carpenter, and leave us to deduce that Jesus helped Joseph in his work. Mark makes the clear statement that Jesus worked as a carpenter in his own right.

Carpentry is the use of structural timbers in building. Now we have the technology to build buildings without using structural timbers, but they are very much the exception. All buildings in 1st century Israel would have contained structural timbers, so the working skills Jesus had would have been vital for all his neighbours’ lives then.

Our Old Testament passage is the start of work on the Ark. Later chapters 35 – 39 describe how it was completed, and a similar passage (2 Chronicles 2 – 5) describes how the Temple was built. They both describe work conducted for God’s glory, and show how God valued skills and workmanship.

Together the passages show how God has given his people skills, which enable them to transform the materials he has given us, both for our benefit and to his glory.

Y Year of Jubilee

Leviticus 25 v 2, 8, 10 & 23

The Lord God said: “When you enter the land which I give you, the land shall keep sabbaths to the Lord. You shall count seven sabbaths of years, that is 7 x 7 years, 49 years – you shall hallow the 50th year and proclaim liberation in the land for all its inhabitants. You shall make this your year of Jubilee.”

Intermediate verses describe a leasehold arrangement for the sale of land, based on the period to the Jubilee.

“No land is to be sold outright, because the land is mine, and you are coming into it as aliens and settlers.”

The sabbath year is a procedure for land to lie fallow – something akin to medieval crop rotation or modern set-aside.

The Jubilee year is akin to leasehold property, and the concept is a very forceful reminder that the earth is the Lord’s – we might have the use of it, but it is God who owns it.

Z Zechariah

Zechariah 11 v 1 – 2

Throw open your gates, O Lebanon, that fire may feed on your cedars. Howl, every pine-tree; for the cedars have fallen, mighty trees are ravaged. Howl, every oak of Bashan; for the impenetrable forest is laid low.

It has taken 2500 years, but mankind now has the shortsightedness, greed and technology to fulfill this prophesy. Deforestation is now a reality – this threatens some timber species, reduces the biodiversity of tropical rain forests, is a major source of carbon dioxide production (i.e. more than industrial activity), affects rainfall and (perversely) makes the country concerned more vulnerable to flash flooding.

We are not just fulfilling Zechariah’s prophesy – what we are doing is much worse than he could ever envisage. We do have the ability to reverse what we are doing – do we have the will?