I'm reading a book called Courting the Chaos: Navigating the Ecological Crisis with the Help of Jeremiah by Kevin Durrant. It's a compelling read, with much to say to us as we watch the aftermath of the catastrophic flooding on the North Island.
In his day, two and half millennia ago, Jeremiah and all of Jerusalem with him faced the threat of the advancing Babylonian Empire. In Jeremiah 7, we see him standing at the gate of the Jerusalem Temple delivering a sermon. His message was not a crowd-pleaser: "Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place." (Jeremiah 7:3). For the original audience, "this place" meant their city and beautiful temple. For us today, "this place" is our home planet.
In Jeremiah's day, the warning went unheeded and Jerusalem fell to Babylon. Seventy years of exile ensued. In the present day, we face an even more pernicious threat than the Babylonian army, one that threatens life as we know it on planet earth. There are a lot of people, sociologists included, who tell us that fear is a bad motivator, and I think they’re right. But we also need to face a stark reality.
Temperatures will continue to rise, as will the number of devastating cyclones. Some people in Aotearoa are already experiencing the exile of being unable to return to flood-damaged homes and farms.
Just as Jeremiah urged the people to take seriously their covenantal responsibilities, so too God wants us to take seriously our calling as divine image-bearers, tasked with caring for the garden of creation. Caring for creation means learning to live with, and not against, the grain.
Living with the grain of creation involves respecting boundaries and limits. This is the message from the beginning. Adam and Eve crossed a boundary - they ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil - and were exiled from the garden. The Torah has lots of instructions about how to live well in the land. The laws include extending sabbath rest to livestock and preserving soil fertility by letting land lie fallow each seventh year.
Our increasingly chaotic climate is in large part due to humanity's cumulative failure to respect the way the earth's ecosystems are finely structured and balanced. When we burn too many fossil fuels or allow too many methane-producing cows on the land, we upset the atmosphere's delicate balance. When we fell trees and don't deal properly with the slash, we see the damage that can ensue, especially in the wake of torrential downpours.
How can we learn to live with the grain? We can adopt a posture of humility, caution and restraint as we learn from those who live closest to the land. Tangata whenua, scientists, conservationists and farmers focusing on regenerative agriculture are our allies. We can also take seriously the line from Job 12:7-10: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?" Indeed, the earth still testifies to God’s glory and goodness.
In so doing, we anticipate the victory of Jesus Christ, who through his life, death and resurrection is bringing an end to all exiles, including the exile of alienation from the earth and her creatures.
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We have invited these writers to share their experiences, ideas and opinions in the hope that these will provoke thought, challenge you to go deeper and inspire you to put your faith into action. These articles should not be taken as the official view of the Nelson Diocese on any particular matter.