Thinking Green: Environmental Stewardship and the Psalms

Is it possible to be “Green” and be Christian? How should we interpret and put into practice Genesis 1:26? God created our planet, what is our responsiblity in maintaining it? Are there places in the Bible that speak about environmental stewardship? These are questions many Christians are asking themselves. And Arthur Walker-Jones, Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Winnipeg, believes the answers can be found in one of the most popular books of the Old Testament: the Psalms.

The Green Psalter: Resources for an Ecological Spirituality mines the Psalms with these very questions in mind. Walker-Jones explores the “Green” phenomenon in popular culture and current events—such as the movie An Inconvenient Truth and Hurricane Katrina—through a biblical lens, and discusses what role Christians might play in this global movement.  Walker-Jones makes his points with engaging prose and fresh and original insight on the Psalms. As one reviewer suggests, “he makes a convincing case the psalter is ‘greener’ than one might think” (Carol A. Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament, Emory University).

The Green Psalter is just one volume out of the eleven included in the Fortress Press Hebrew Bible Collection. Bringing together some of the top scholars on the Hebrew Bible, such as Walter Brueggemann and Marvin A. Sweeney, this collection will provide a solid foundation for study of the Hebrew Bible. And right now, you can pick it up for only $199.95 in Pre-Pub, a savings of almost 40%.

Comments

  1. Is the Bible really so lacking in meaningfull doctrine that we must now make stuff up?

  2. Dean Clark says:

    Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the 1sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth. Gen 1.28

    Define green from the Biblical mandate. I am all for the stewardship of the earth. I am for clean air, water, land and such. When one dives into the secular green movement there are groups for limits on population and going farther the use of eugenics. God said to fill the earth so therefore ANY limit on birth/population is NOT biblical.

    I am all for new sources of energy yet continuing to use and extract our current energy sources.

    I am not for the CFLs. Why? Mercury. If we want to talk about being good stewards of the earth then putting light bulbs into the ground that contain mercury is mutually exclusive from a good steward. They may reduce energy cost but pollute the earth.

    Have not read the book but do intend to. I do question the “greenness” of the psalmist due to the fact that the author is using 20th century terms and applying the terms to a person living well before Christ.

  3. When God told Adam and Eve (and Noah, Gen 9:1) to fill the earth, he did so at a time when there were a handful of human beings. I think an excellent argument can be made that we have now carried out that command: 7 billion human beings make for a full planet.

    By the way, don’t associate the nurturing of God’s creation with abortion, infanticide, genocide, eugenics, etc., etc. “Guilt by association” is a logical fallacy.

    • Dean Clark says:

      Gary wrote: I think an excellent argument can be made that we have now carried out that command: 7 billion human beings make for a full planet.

      Have to come back and say are you God? God will determine when we have filled the earth. God will determine when He is ready to end the present age.
      We do not have the mind of God so therefore we need to continue the biblical mandate:

      Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the 1sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth. Gen 1.28

      Nowhere in scripture does it say at 7 billion or 8 billion you got the filled thing down. This earth can sustain a whole lot more people. Do what God commands and He will let us know when it is time.

      • Dean, I am reading the same biblical text you are. In addition, neither you or I are looking solely at the Bible, since I have said that the planet’s resources are strained at current population levels and you replied that they are not – so we are both looking to contemporary non-biblical data to sustain our interpretation of Scripture.

        As I see it, there is plenty of evidence that 7 billion people are a mighty strain on resources, in particular with regard to limits on potable water and the loss of topsoil. We depend on a world economy that depends on infrastructure and electronic networking never breaking down. One does not have to be a “tree-hugger” to interpret the data in that fashion.

        My answer to “do I have the mind of God?” is, I hope that understand it to the extent that the Spirit allows me to understand his mind in the Scriptures. I’m not awaiting a new revelation about population figures.

        Are you awaiting a new revelation: “He will let us know when it is time” to curb population growth? How will that word come, through some new prophecy?

        I don’t believe that I am God, by the way; let’s not resort to hints of that sort to make our point.

        • Dean Clark says:

          Great response Gary and I apologize if I have offended. I am sorry. I am all for us to develop new energy resources and such that are greener. I have been trying/wrestling with solar for the home for several years now. My question would be at 7 billion people on the earth… how do you curb the population? Limit birth? Euthanasia? How?
          God has revealed His word to us and the Biblical mandate is: Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the 1sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth. Gen 1.28
          It says to subdue it… learn about it and harness the resources given to us by the One True Living God. We can’t second guess God but look to His word. His word says to multiply and fill the earth.
          We have done a poor job of reaching the nations for Christ… the only way to salvation.
          Also Gary in a previous post you use the words… I think. I am all for thinking and growing intellectually, problem is when man says that we have achieved a mandate from God. Our ways are not His ways nor are our thoughts His thoughts. God is in control of everything to include the population of His creation.
          I would like to know about the How to curb population from your perspective if we don’t employ the things listed in your previous post without limiting the desire and freedom to procreate.
          Thanks Dean

    • I am an airline pilot. I fly for a major US carrier and fly all across the United States, and the world. Anyone who thinks the planet is overpopulated need only get on an airplane in Los Angeles and fly to New York. They will find that there are vast stretches of uninhabited wilderness yet to be populated in the United States. The same can be said worldwide.

      A Wiki of the United States gives an area of 3.8 million square miles for a population of 312 million people. If we were to divide up the land area of the United States equally among every man, woman and child, that would yield 82 people per square mile of land are in the United States.

      Similarly, the earth has a habitable land area of 15.6 billion acres to spread among its population of approximately 7 billion inhabitants, giving every man, woman and child over 2 acres of land each to inhabit. My family and I live in a 3 bedroom house on half of that (one acre of land), and get by quite nicely. In fact, the area that we live in is quite rural and my neighbors have similar demographics and living conditions.

      There are many places in the world where people live in cities with much denser living conditions and get along just fine. The idea that the planet is becoming overpopulated and unable to support itself is incorrect, and anyone who is unsure about that need only look out the window of the airplane next time they fly across the country.

      • Harold, I’m not a pilot, but I’ve looked out the windows and don’t see anything different than what you do. In fact, the areas you fly over are not inhabited precisely because they are not habitable. Drop 80 people in a square mile in the middle of the Sahara desert or Death Valley or in the Rockies or in Alaska and you’ll see what I mean. The “vast stretches” you speak of often don’t have sufficient water and must import it from other areas – places where other people are already living and need the water!

        The statistical point that every man woman and child could have 2 acres to inhabit is one I’ve looked into. It’s a parlor trick, and not serious mathematics. Give every person 2 acres, that that means that you would not have potable water, electricity, coal, gasoline, farmland, factories. One question: do you grow your own food? produce your own power? produce your own clothing, computers, cars, furniture, etc.? In fact you do NOT live quite nicely on 1 acre, not if you need natural, agricultural and produced resources that would have to be taken from the acreage of other people in the world.

        I’m from Rhode Island, which on the average has about 1000 people per sq. mile and is considered one of the most densely populated of the 50 states. Nevertheless, the population is not and cannot be distributed over its 1000 sq. miles, much of being swamp or otherwise not inhabitable. This means that there is a very dense urban area, which is not self-sustaining. Lose power for a couple of weeks – as could happen with a major hurricane for example – and there would be general starvation.

  4. Eddie Tech says:

    Gary, you make a wise point. In both cases, the earth was not populated but only consisted of the family of individuals God was addressing (first, Adam and Eve, and then Noah and his family).

    I’m all for good stewardship, but we must not lose sight of what’s most important. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus instructed his apostles to make disciples of all nations. Paul determined to know nothing else except Jesus and Him crucified when he came to Corinth. Peter told us to be prepared to make a defense for the hope within us (which is the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Christ). The gospel of salvation is our call.

    Paul also instructed us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, showing ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Jesus affirmed that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor, upon these commandments, all the Law and the Prophets depends. Likewise, when John wrote the letter of 1John, his focus was upon discerning good from evil, with the key elements being love and obedience.

    Quite frankly, not once in all the Law given to Moses, nor in the commandments given us by Christ or His disciples, is our stewardship over the land emphasized as our priority as believers. The land is a wonderful testimony to God’s creative powers, and we should embrace that as a foreshadow of what’s to come in heaven. However, while there are many in this world who are striving to save a temporal world, our focus must be upon the salvation of eternal souls. The ministry of Jesus our Lord and His apostles was centered upon people, not land. If we are to be imitators of Paul as he is of Christ, then let us strive to bear the fruits that they bore.

  5. Eddie Tex says:

    Dean, I think we’re missing the forest from the trees. The earth’s population today continues to multiply without any additional effort needed on our part. Procreation is a natural desire given to the majority of mankind.

    We can’t lose sight of the much greater and more important biblical call towards the gospel of salvation. Jesus told us that we love Him, we’ll obey His commandments and yet, none of those commandments involve populating the earth. Jesus called Peter three times to tend to the flock. His final words to His disciples before ascending into heaven was to make disciples of all the nations. When visiting the church in Corinth, Paul determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Peter said to be prepared always to make a defense of the hope within us… which is the grace to be brought to us at the future revelation of Christ.

    When Paul discusses relationships in 1Co7, he makes a good case for those who chooses to remain single, even saying it’s better if someone is able to do this. He never once mentions the inability to procreate as a negative consequence (nor as a positive consequence for those who do marry).

    In the bigger picture of this thread regarding being green, I’m all for good stewardship, but we can’t lose sight of the eternal by over-emphasizing the temporal. God has provided all with the natural revelation of His creation, and we should enjoy that, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that our true citizenship is in heaven and that our hope should be centered upon the salvation brought by the blood of Christ.

    Someone implied that you can’t be Christian if you’re not “green”? Really? Paul says if anyone preaches a different gospel than the one he has preached, they are to be accursed. Last I checked, that gospel has nothing to do with the earth and everything to do with the salvation of souls.

  6. I’ll respond to Eddie Tech and Eddie Tex at the same time – if in fact you’re two people :)

    I think the implication of 1 Cor 7 is correct, that procreation is not a necessary or primary manner of serving God, beautiful as is having a family.

    Absolutely, we are to put first things first. Love God, love our neighbors, disciple all nations, absolutely. I believe that being stewards of the planet should not replace these necessities or push them to one side, but that it is one manifestation of loving God and our neighbor. As the Lord said, “It is these [weightier matters] you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” WITHOUT neglecting. Hence I cannot accept that God’s word for us “has nothing to do with the earth and everything to do with the salvation of souls.” God’s plan is to redeem his creation (Romans 8), not flush it. N. T. Wright’s books on Surprised by Hope and After You Believe are excellent on this.

    In my experience, Christians have a long way to go before it can be said that they are pushing aside evangelism in favor of environmentalism.

    • Eddie Tex says:

      Gary,

      This will be my last post on the matter. First, I want to clarify that my statement you quoted (“nothing to do with the earth and everything to do with the salvation of souls”) was in regards specifically to the gospel and not, more broadly, God’s word as you stated. The gospel, after all, is the driver behind what Paul does (1Co9:22-23)… and it is the gospel message where Paul divides (Ga1:8-9). Additionally, there is no command that I know of from Jesus or His disciples that relates to environmentalism. Your reference to Ro8 (which I assume you’re referring to vv. 18-25) includes no such command for environmental action.

      Don’t get me wrong. I do not advocate that people abuse their resources to their own pleasure and I agree that being “sustainable” (when practical) reflects good stewardship… but across both the New Testament and even the Old Testament, we see many condemnations of sin and many failures to love and obey God, none of which ever mentions our care for the environment… in fact, all of the citations of sin and disobedience that I can think of centered upon man’s relationship with God and/or other people, which is exactly the focus of both the Mosaic Covenant and the commandments of Christ and His disciples. Christ said in Mt 22:38-40 that upon the two greatest commandments of loving God and your neighbor “depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Thus, when Christ told us not to neglect the less weightier matters, I would question if it really applies to the environment if indeed ALL the Law and the Prophets depend upon those two commands.

      You may be right that we’re not at the point of pushing aside evangelism for environmentalism, but I’ll argue that we’re placing a focus upon environmentalism that was never intended in the first place.

      Be green. Be environmentally friendly. I think that’s fine and good, but let’s not make this into something bigger than what Jesus and His disciples would have made it.

  7. Well its not that all don’t want to be good stewards of the resources God has given its just that the green movement in general seems to focus on worshiping the creation rather than the creator. As a result, I have an issue with persons who block jobs and put gnat catchers and saving harp seals over saving babies.

    Our focus and command in Acts 2:8 is to become fishers of man and make disciples for Christ not go forth and save the ozone layer (which is important but we can’t control China or others developing industrial nations).