Realm of earth, rule of Heaven

Bodified faith and environmental activism

by Ken Sehested

        The greatest failure in the history of Christian thought is the separation of souls from bodies, spirit from soil, the wrenching of hearts from habitation—all representing the abdication of the realm of earth from the rule of Heaven. It is the great anthropomorphic heresy: that redemption is for humans alone, and then only for some ethereal essence: no bodies, no biology, no hills or dales, neither minnows nor whales.

        As Tom McMillan has noted, for 200 years we've been conquering nature. Now we're beating it to death. To be saved we must cultivate a bodified faith.

        Mostly, communities of faith, along with others, have largely acquiesced in the profiteers’ auction of oceans and forests, fields and fowl, to the highest bidder. Among its elite are the environmental gangsters and their bankster backers in the fossil fuel industry. (Though, forego all moral posturing—we all drink from a common pool of blindness. The focus of repentance is not punishment but reparation.)

        The result, in the vivid language of Leviticus, is that the land in its fury has begun to “vomit out its inhabitants” (18:28). Our ecosystem would prosper if Homo sapiens were extinct; but if ants and bees and bats are gone, so are we.

        If we are to reclaim a theological vision sturdy enough to sustain the integrity of creation, to restore the created order to its rightful place in redemption’s destiny, we must reread Scripture in a way that does not effectively empty the text of its fleshly preserve.

        Be forewarned, however. A lot of money is at stake, not to mention the human fetish for consumption and convenience. Resistance will be intense. Advertisers are already adept in their “greenwashing” techniques—the disguising of degradation under the cover of shallow sentiment. Recycling and Prius purchases are little more than spitting in the wind of nature’s squall against human presumption. (This is not to despise small, incremental practices—we need to take every such step as possible, for the retraining of our wayward desires.) The bottling of air and the rationing of sun are but the latest market maneuvers to avoid environmental accountability.*

        Our textual eyes need recalibrating and refocusing. Here are a handful of passages we need to bring back into our field of vision.

        •In the beginning, starting in Genesis 1, God’s admonition that humankind exercise “dominion” (v. 28) over creation is not a license to kill. The Hebrew word for dominion is more akin to the work of a gardener than a monetizing CEO.

        •Then, in v. 31, the “good” that God experienced is more than a nice feeling—the word is more like “delight.” (With poetic license, “magnisplendificent” would work.) God’s delight is the first doctrine of Scripture, not the “Fall” text of chapter three. In spite of the agony through the ages, God’s delight has never been annulled.

        • When covenant faithfulness is ruptured, thorns and thistles abound (Genesis 3:17-19); rain is withheld (Deuteronomy 11:11-17); the land languishes and mourns (Isaiah 16:8, 33:9; Hosea 4:3); the stone cries out from the wall, and the beams from the woodwork respond (Habakkuk 2:9, 11); light disappears from the heaven, mountains waver, hills palpitate, gardens become wastelands (Jeremiah 4:23-26); the earth itself withers (Isaiah 24:4).

        •On the other hand, when righteousness and justice abound, mountains drip sweep wine (Amos 9:13); rough places are smoothed (Isaiah 40:4); the sun lifts its hand in praise (Habakkuk 3:10); the seas roar and the fields exult (Psalm 96:11); fire and hail, snow and frost, fruit trees and cedars offer praise (Psalm 148:8-9); the wilderness shall be glad, the desert rejoice and bloom (Isaiah 35:1); trees will clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12) and sing for joy (Psalm 96:12), the firmament echoing such ovation (Psalm 19:1).

        •The covenant of peace will free creation from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21); beasts and birds and all creeping creatures are heirs to this covenant (Hosea 2:18); the earth shall be satisfied (Psalm 104:13); sabbath applies even for cattle (Leviticus 25:7); the leaves of the trees will provide healing (Revelation 22:1-2).

        •“If [my people’s] uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then will I remember my covenant with Jacob . . . and I will remember the land” (Leviticus 26:41b-42).

        •At the very beginning of Jesus’ petition, the hallowing of God’s Name is preface to “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

        •In his cosmic announcement to the church at Rome, Paul insisted that “from the beginning” God’s provenance has been on display in “things” (1:20).

        •Possibly the greatest confusion we experience is caused by the word translated as “world” in the New Testament. On the one hand, as John’s Gospel notes, “God so loved the world (3:16). . . .” On the other hand, as the epistle of First John says, “Do not love the world ” (2:15). In the former, what is meant is the cosmos, the created order. In the latter, the world represents that complex web of brutal, unjust arrangements and powers which now agonize the earth. Living at odds with the world is the direct result of immersion in God’s Genesis-to-Revelation purpose, promise and provision for creation.

        •In general, remember that the Hebrew words for “compassion” and “womb” are derived from the same root. God’s birthing of creation, as with human birthing, is accompanied by water and by blood. As such, we ritually affirm environmental commitments in baptismal and Eucharistic practice.

        •In the end, God does not suck us up to heaven but establishes heavenly terrain amid bodified life. Here we linger beside “the river of the water of life,” whose monthly harvest is our provision and whose leaves are for the healing of the “nations” (the Bible’s code word for the cosmos).

        Here every terror-bred tear is dried, every mournful voice comforted, every pain eased, and death itself comes undone. Here the realm of earth is sheltered in the rule of Heaven. Here we linger ‘neath the throne of God, and of the Lamb whose reign came by means we humans consider defeat: The Vanquished become Victorious by means of relinquishing the logic of domination (Revelation 21:3-4; 22:1-2).

        The Lord who unravels all lording is our host. The Spirit and the bride say "Come.”

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*A Canadian company is now selling bottled air in the Chinese market. Many utility companies in the US are heavily taxing, even prohibiting, local solar power initiatives.

©Ken Sehested @