Friday, March 23, 2012

#7: God Imposed Restrictions on Our Use of the Natural World

We're continuing on with our top ten reasons that every Christian should care for the environment.  Specifically, these are scriptural reasons, that presume that the Bible has some form of authority over our lives.  We have, to date, seen that in the Bible there is a theme about the value of creation.  God declares his creation to be good; he blesses his creation; and he cares and provides for his creation.  These three points alone should be sufficient to cause Christians to re-examine their perspective on ‘rule’ in Genesis 1:28.  If God had given creation over to us to use and abuse as we see fit, then he would not be exercising his own rule over it, nor would he institute blessings that might not be in the best interest of our rule.  Today we will explore this in more detail, by looking at Old Testament passages and seeing that God put moral restrictions on our rule over creation.  It becomes increasingly obvious, the more we study, that ‘rule’ cannot mean ‘as you see fit.’

The first restriction is found in the same passage in which we are commanded to subdue the earth and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves along the ground: we are given the plants, and only the plants, for food.  This is a far cry from the dominion interpretation of rule, in which animals are valued only insofar as they benefit us.  Our connection to animals as a source of food is solely an instrumental one – that is, we value them because they nourish us, and not for what they are.  By placing this major restriction on our use of animals, there seems to be some sort of hint that animals are inherently valuable as well, and that our rule over them was supposed to recognize this intrinsic worth. 

In Genesis 9 there is a repetition of the Genesis 1 creation commands.  We are again ordered to be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth, and all of the creatures are ‘given into’ our hands.  But there is a major change as well – now they are given over as a food source.  It is beyond the scope of this posting to analyse why this might be (but Jesus’ understanding of Mosaic divorce is a good starting place).  Today I would just like to point out that, even under these circumstances, in which the world has been devastated by a Flood and Noah’s food options are limited, there is still a moral restriction placed on rule: they could eat meat, so long as there was no blood in it (Genesis 9:4).  The meaning behind this does not matter; all that matters is that ‘rule’ was not total.  Indeed, this restriction pales in comparison to the dietary laws imposed in Leviticus 11, in which certain animals, but not others, could be eaten. 

We see other, unusual laws in the Old Testament regarding our behaviour towards animals.  Exodus 23:19 says that we can cook goats, but we must never cook them in their mother’s milk.  In Deuteronomy 22:6-7, the law states that if we come across a mother bird tending to her eggs or young, we may take her offspring, but we must leave the mother alone.  This command even comes with a blessing on those who keep it: ‘that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days.’


In Habakkuk 2:17 God condemns a nation for their brutal destruction of cities and their disregard for human life.  Among their many sins, the prophet includes their destruction of lands, and says, ‘Your destruction of animals will terrify you.’  How they destroyed animals is not clear, but it would seem that God did not like their version of ‘rule’.

On the positive side, animals were often incorporated into the blessings of the law.  For instance, in Leviticus 25:1-7 God institutes a Sabbath year.  For six years the Israelites could farm the land, but every seventh year the land was to be given a rest.  Included within this blessing we find mentioned both domestic and wild organisms.  The Sabbath day, likewise, was to be a day of rest for the domestic animals along with the labourers (Exodus 20:10). 

God does give us the command to rule.  But the above passages show that this is a rule with restrictions.  Indeed, when we dig more into what ‘rule’ means, we will discover that these restrictions are really just guides to a much deeper, and more constructive, form of rule.

No comments: