‘How much more is enough?’ was one of the many perceptive questions asked by Marva Dawn during the weekend she spent with CCCI in November 2006.
The Bible gives us God’s perspective on life, the universe and everything. It begins and ends with big pictures about origins and endings. Genesis chapters 1 – 3 tell us about who we are, what our role is as image bearers of the Three-in-one, how we began to mess it up and the consequences.
Christianity takes a lot of flack for ruining the natural world and the environment, because for ‘rule’, ‘dominion’, we and others read ‘exploitation’. Christians concerned about ‘creation care’ are beginning to get to grips with what God meant by ‘… let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ Genesis 1: 26. For example, organisations like Tearfund encourage and equip us to live more simply so that others might simply live.
Even in the light of climate change and impending challenges over the supply of energy and water, materialism, the predominant spirit of the age, is endemic in our thinking whether or not we are followers of Jesus Christ. Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute claimed in his 2007 BBC Reith Lecture in Beijing that technology, economics and politics could ‘square the circle of environmental stress and economic development’. He argued that we could ‘have our cake and eat it’, that the pressures of increasing population and decreasing resources as well as environmental damage do not require that we in the wealthy west should change the way we live.
As Christians in Northern Ireland we have long been willing to be challenged by the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ In this globalised world where we jet off anywhere and everywhere for our holidays and much of what we wear and eat and compute on has been made elsewhere, we can see that our neighbour includes everyone on the planet. But it’s hard to adjust our day to day decision-making to take into account these neighbours’ needs, never mind those of future generations. The current scepticism about climate change gives us an excuse to get out of doing so for a bit longer.
So how much more is enough? Do we as God’s intentional community see ourselves as being accountable to Him for how we use the earth’s resources? Do we relish the opportunity to show by our distinctive lifestyle His Lordship? What would such a lifestyle look like?
On the journey from garden to city humanity has spectacularly failed to fulfil the creation commission. As God’s redeemed and restored people we should be on the inside track to do better but we have failed to see this as our responsibility and as an opportunity. Jesus talked a lot about the coming of the Kingdom. We are citizens of this Kingdom, living under His rule. But the extent of His rule is often limited – individual morality, individual ethics, perhaps, but relatively little thought is given to how as church we can obey the very first commandment He gave us as His image-bearers.
Ethel White is a research scientist in the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI). She has particular interest in crop interactions with the environment.