Recently a friend of mine and thoughtful ecotheologian, Byron Smith, had an article posted on Eternity News, an Australian based Christian news site. It highlighted ten ways his family tries to love the planet, all grounded in the good news that God is incarnate in Jesus.
Oftentimes the comments can be 'disappointing.' One response I found curious, if not somewhat enigmatic. One Christian identified the ten commandments as their source of ethics. Did they mean to say that Byron's list was not useful, or biblical, or were they simply looking past the need to care for creation by returning to what they saw as a solid biblical handle for individual ethics? I don't know, but it did inspire me to think a little more deeply about the ten commandments and the creation.
Firstly, it is always worth remembering that the Law was given to Israel, so we have do some work to make it applicable for the church, a) because we are not members of God's one people within a national boundary (despite what some people think about manifest destiny) and b) we live the other side of the cross. Secondly, the ten commandments were addressed to a nation, not just individuals. It is about public and private, corporate and individual. And thirdly, love sums up all.
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
God is a saving god. We see in the plagues in Exodus the gods of Egypt powerfully defeated. In them, the Lord is shown to be redeemer, but in mastering the forces of creation, God is also seen to be creator. Genesis 1 for example makes this clear, and indeed in the Garden narrative we see a link between creation, human vocation, sin, punishment, and the need for the undoing of curses between humans, God, and creation. It's this story that moves through Genesis to the genealogy leading to Abram, which then comes down to the Exodus through his family. The calling of Israel then is not just 'to be saved' but to be the agents of blessing to the nations of the world, and working against the curses, including that of the Earth.
A word on caring for creation then. Often it is said that 'the environment' becomes a god for some Christians. Yet clearly throughout Scripture, to care for creation is to honour the God who made it, and will redeem it, and to fulfil the human vocation.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them
Christians concerned about caring for creation can be accused of making the environment and idol. Yet I have seen full time Christian ministry held up as the highest calling for Christians. An idol much? When you question the doctrine of the church or the opinions of someone's favourite scholar or preacher. An idol much? When you suggest that 'Western civilisation' has some issues with a racist and colonial past but you are being 'unAustralian.' An idol much? When you show that behind western capitalism is the idol of greed, and that this is a major driving of environmental destruction, the ruination of God's good creation, but you are making an idol of the environment? Calvin said the human heart was an idol factory, but this apparently only applies to those who worship the creator by considering the creation of high value!
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Attaching God's name to things that are our own agendas is a misuse of the divine name (this isn't just about cursing here). C S Lewis warned about 'Christianity and' and it is a warning we must take clearly. But this isn't exclusive to ham-fisted attempts to combine environmentalism to Christianity. Digging into the bible reveals a deep vein of valuing the creation. Same can't be said for the white supremacism that has been attached to the missionary movement in days gone by, Western colonialism, capitalism, Constantinianism, etc, etc. Christians often covet being at the centre of power, are happy the Lord's Prayer is recited in parliament while the same parliament vandalises creation, works hand in hand with crooked coal barons, and locks up innocent asylum seekers indefinitely. But saying the Lord's Prayer makes it all right and 'Christian.' Everyone has an agenda for God's name. Don't think that those who care for creation are the only ones at risk.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
The rhythm of life is grounded in a seven day pattern of creation. Human beings and domestic creatures rest from toil on the seventh day. Reliance on divine provision runs counter to the culture of endless work and acquisition, the very forces driving the destruction of the planet. Our desire to consume is killing us and everything else. This destroys the family. This destroys our mental and physical health. This destroys our planet. If you worship the creator, you don't run it all into the ground in the pursuit of what the world chases. That's idolatry.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
The value of family is central to Jewish and Christian thinking. I wonder if we honour previous generations if we trash the planet they enjoyed? Do we honour them if we pass on blindly their traditions and ideas of the good life that are ruining creation? To honour is not simply to follow blindly. And yet when previous generations (like my parents) remember rationing during war, maybe we honour them when we learn those lessons of frugality, self-control in the face of dire challenges, and the need to avoid conflicts at all costs, conflicts climate change might make possible.
You shall not murder.
Australia has seen years of TV ad campaigns against drink driving. Sure if you kill someone because you were irresponsible you might get off on manslaughter, but they died because of your alcohol fuelled lifestyle right? So if people are dying now and will die in droves now due to our fossil fuelled lifestyles, where's the difference? Plenty you say? But do you really understand the interconnectedness of the global economy and the planetary system? Australia's contribution is small? Not per capita. We are part of a culture of death – and need to change it and ourselves. Want to be pro-life? Be pro-climate, pro-conservation, pro-trees.
You shall not commit adultery.
Ok, I'm struggling to make this one fit. Social cohesion. Truthfulness. Faithfulness. All good and transferable. But here's one. We have been fruitful, and multiplied. Remember the animals are given the same blessing in Genesis 1. So we can stop being so fruitful – those in the west with the most highly consumptive lifestyles go first!
You shall not steal.
Dig it all up. Burn it all. Make the planet unliveable. Stealing from our children's future. Somethings are lost forever. You are stealing food, clean air, drinkable water, beauty to enjoy. Oh and in destroying it by land clearing, climate change, pollution, we are also stealing from the creator. Tell me again about having no gods before God or no idols?
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
I have lost count of the number of times Christians who don't understand the science bear false witness against climate scientists, who don't know the heart of those who care for creation but label them as heretical or brainwashed or lefties or any other slur of false witness. So many convenient lies about others because the truth of what we are all doing, particularly the privileged and powerful is too painful to face.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Ignoring for the moment this commandment treats women as goods, the whole edifice of advertising seeks to make us dissatisfied. Social media can drive the same thing. Covet. Want. Consume. God wants to bless you materially with money, social influence (but oh it's really for the gospel), etc. And this system is killing us and the creation (see above).