When I was growing up, I had a small collection of marbles. I delighted in their colours. It seemed to me that it must have taken an act of magic to embed the bright leaves of colour inside the glass. I played with them from time to time, though not in a competitive way – I quickly learned that my eye-thumb coordination was not good enough for competition. Marbles are very tough. True, from time to time one might chip, but very rarely did one shatter. There is a famous NASA photo of the Earth taken from space, in which the planet appears to be a brightly coloured marble. That image has come to mind several times recently.
Creative commons image of earth from www.pixabay.com
Why? I am writing this message from Boston where I am attending the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion. My contribution to the meeting is to assist in the organisation of the section on Ecological Hermeneutics (reading the Bible from the point of view of the earth and its non-human members). As part of this, I have been attending many presentations on ecology, religion and the Bible. Our planet, the earth, regularly features in the discussions. Our planet is changing. The image of our planet as a marble is no longer correct. A marble is strong, resilient. It does not change. We tend to think of the earth as a marble, because of things like the NASA photo, or the solidity of the ground under our feet, the persistent blueness of the sky, and so on. On the other hand, there is evidence of change on a massive scale. One talk noted that already two towns in the US have succumbed to rising sea levels. There are climate refugees already in the US!
Some talks presented information on the attitude of church folk to what is happening. Here, a distinction in language is interesting. Should the global changes be called “Climate Change” or “Global Warming?” It seems that the term used in part reflects a person’s beliefs. More conservative/evangelical Christians prefer the latter term; while Climate Change is used by those with a more liberal faith. (Of course, this is not the only factor.) Yet, as one speaker pointed out, even those who are less accepting of climate change still support care of the environment, such as dealing with plastics in the ocean. This contrasts with some views that are just plain weird, such as that of the evangelical who was reported as suggesting that though the Flood at the time of Noah was not good for many animals and humans, it had the positive side of creating the fossil fuels we use today. Along with this goes the view that since God has given us fossil fuels, not to use them would be to reject God’s gracious generosity. This view totally ignores the ethical perspective – just because we can do something does not mean we ought to do it.
One of the sessions dealt with Eschatology and Ecology. Eschatology is the fancy term for interpreting the biblical material that talks of the end of the world, the return of Jesus, etc. Traditionally, the “End” has been interpreted as a time of sudden and complete change, a disruption and cessation of the world, usually with dark threatening overtones of judgment and eternal punishment. Most of our talks, on the other hand, took a different tack, and emphasized the theme of continuity between the world now and the world then that is found in the biblical material. This has a practical implication. Talk of the end is not so much for the sake of the future, but to encourage living faithfully in the present. The imagery and concept of some future eternal life with God is not an excuse to neglect life in the present. On the contrary, it should provide the impetus and model for living in the present. One presenter drew on the Korean concepts of jeong and jugim to suggest that the opposite of living is not death but an attitude of violence opposed to the natural cycle of being. Life is characterised by the building of right relationships of love with others (not just neighbours but humans, non-humans and the earth itself).
Such a commitment is not limited by age, and encompasses and transcends biological death.
In December we move into a period of preparation for Christmas when we celebrate that commitment of God to living. May awareness of love and joy surround you in the weeks ahead. (Rev Dr Peter Trudinger)
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