Environment and ethical lifestyles

What does this have to do with being a Christian?

Among much of the church, especially the church in the West the widely held view is that Jesus will return to destroy the world and that, basically, we will all just go to “heaven”.  The concept here being that heaven is an entirely separate place from the world that we live in.  There are a number of problems with this view – mainly that it has its roots in Greek philosophy and not the Bible.  The view of heaven being a separate place comes from Plato and Socrates as does the idea this “physical” world is evil and that we will be in some way “freed” from it at death.

This view is, in many senses, an easier view to hold (arguably why it is so prevalent in the west) because it makes very few demands on our lifestyle.  If we believe that “it’s all going to burn anyway” then there is no point in taking care of the earth; there is no point in doing anything for justice or for the poor and there is no point in healing the sick.  The only thing that matters is to get people to heaven when they die.  This gives us permission to do anything as long as we get people to heaven.

The problem is that this is not the radical discipleship of the bible.  That is not the discipleship that Jesus taught or modelled or lived.  Neither is it the story that Jesus was part of and inviting us to be part of.  The “big story” throughout the bible is one of God restoring his creation and not destroying it.

Also, the whole concept of “heaven” is not one of a separate place but that the heavens surround us and that realm interacts with us and we with it.  In the story of Elisha in 2 Kings 6, Elisha asks God to open the eyes of Elisha’s servant so that he could see the heavenly forces surrounding their enemies.  The forces were there all along; his servant just could not see them.  The realm of God (the kingdom of the heavens) surrounds us but we just cannot see it because at the fall, we became separated from God’s rule.  The significance of the curtain in the temple being torn in two at the crucifixion was that it spelled the end of the separation between the realm of God’s rule (the heavens) and our realm.  The New Age will be one were that separation is completely gone.  We live in the time in between at the moment where we see the gaps appearing in the curtain but not the whole thing pulled down.

Heaven is not a separate place but all around us.  When we pray, “our Father in Heaven”, we are not praying “our father a long way from us” but the opposite, “our Father so close to us that you are surrounding us”.  So, you see the idea of us “going to heaven” is not biblical.  In fact, the bible teaches that heaven (God’s rule) will come to this world.  The whole understanding of scripture is that those who are dead in Christ will be raised to join those who are still living when Jesus returns.

It is important to understand the limitations of English in the translation of certain words.  The NT does talk about the Old World passing away, but in the Greek, the word used can only mean time. For example, the morning passes away and then it is the afternoon, as opposed to this house being destroyed and a new one replacing it.  The idea of the Old World refers to the “age” as opposed to the physical world.  In other words, if would better read, “the Old Age will end and the new one begin”.

Our Role in all this

So, the big story is one of God redeeming this world and not destroying it.  So where does that leave us?  What does that mean for our discipleship?

In the beginning humanity was given the role of looking after creation in partnership with God.

Gen 1:26-28 (NLT)
Then God said, “Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life–the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals.” So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them. God blessed them and told them, “Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the fish and birds and all the animals.”

God saw his creation and it was excellent.  Humanity chose to reject God and from that moment until his return, he has been instigating a plan to heal the world of the damage done to it.  This was the understanding of the Jewish people, Jesus’ contemporaries and Jesus, himself.  The expectation was always that he would return and that those who had already died would be raised to live in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  The final scenes from Revelation describe the New Jerusalem (representing God’s rule) coming to earth, and not the other way round.

Rev 21:1-4 (NIV)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

So, God appointed us as stewards over His creation.  When we turned our backs on that, He then set in motion a plan for the redemption of his creation, culminating in the final destruction of all that is evil and the restoration of humanity in full relationship with God under his rule as he walks with us.  In other words, back to how he originally created it!

Where does that leave us? Well, if we are serving him, if we are following him, if we are obeying him then we need to be about doing the same thing that he is.  What are the implications of that?  Well, we need to be taking part in God extending his rule (kingdom).  That must mean making disciples, that must mean healing the sick, that must mean casting out demons, it must mean setting the captives free, it must mean releasing the oppressed, it must mean doing all that we can to relieve poverty.

Basically, I think that this can be summed up in two things that Jesus said:

Matthew 7:12 (NLT)
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT)
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

But what does this have to do with the Environment?

Whilst the Bible does not speak specifically about “the environment”, it is hard to ignore the whole thrust of scripture.  To do so would mean that we have to avoid a crucial question:

If God is in the process of renewing this world, are we working with him or against him?

Our children or our children’s children are in real danger of inheriting a rubbish dump with unbreathable air and no wildlife.  Already, it has been declared that there is no place anywhere on the planet that is not polluted.  Would Jesus have taken part in the gradual destruction of the world?  I don’t think so!  We have managed to think of the environment as being an “entity” and not actually affecting people but it does affect people now and it will even more in the future!

If you believe that God is restoring this world then you have to see actively pursuing the good of the environment as part of being a disciple.

Ethical Consumerism

Would I give money to a slave trader?  Would I give money to someone who is systematically mistreating people?  Would I give money to an arms dealer?  Would I give money to a company supplying pornography?  Presumably the answers to those questions is “no”.  But the reality is that as along as there is a step in between them and us, then most of us do give money to all of those things!  As long as we cannot see the person who is suffering then we are willing to ignore it!

Would Jesus do that? I don’t think so.

Is this a peripheral issue just for a few extreme lefty, weirdo people to bang on about? The only real question to ask is:

Who is my neighbour?

Is your neighbour a child slave in Africa?  Is your neighbour a child labourer in India?  Is your neighbour a victim of an oppressive regime on the other side of the world?

If you believe that Jesus tells us to love our neighbour then you have to see “ethical” consumerism as a fundamental part of being a disciple.

So what?

The basic problem is that we live in a culture where convenience and personal gain are the highest goals.  The thing is that we can only have so much if some one else has less!

We can only be richer, by someone else being poorer.  Until we begin to go against that culture then things will only get worse.  If you want more, then it all needs to be cheap, but the only way that it is cheap is that someone, somewhere is not getting paid enough.

It will cost us to start taking this stuff seriously.  Of course it will!

Here is the bottom line.  You cannot live the way that this culture dictates and do this.  I do not think that you can live the way that this culture dictates and be a follower of Jesus.  Full stop!  My understanding of Revelation is that the very systems of the world are inherently demonic and that those who have the “mark of the beast” are those who live by, profit by and are dependant on those systems.  Those with the mark of the lamb are those who live by a different set of rules – God’s rule!

It will cost.  It will be a hassle.  It will be inconvenient.  Maybe, some of us even need to question whether we should continue to work for the company that we work for?  Maybe you can have an impact from the inside?  I don’t know.  Ask God what HE wants to do with you.

Maybe, in terms of disciplines we should add some environmental or ethical things into the mix?

What would Jesus do? What is the right thing to do?

Some easy ways to be more ethically conscious…

Some easy ways to be more environmentally conscious.