By Larry Rice
In the midst of a hurting world of homelessness, environmental destruction and hopelessness, a theology of inter-relationship is urgently needed. Such an inter-relational theology is reflected in the covenant God made with Noah following the flood. He declared, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you, the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you–every living creature on earth”(Gen. 9:9,10). A Biblical inter-relational theology caused the Psalmist to declare, “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).
Developing a relationship with the rest of creation including the poor, the fatherless and the homeless, involves the realization that all of life has value because of its relationship to God rather than its usefulness to the rest of humanity. After all as Psalm 24:1 declares, “the earth including all life on it is the Lord’s.” He created it (Genesis 1 and 2, Job 38:4, Psalm 19:1), sustains it (Matt 6:26) and redeemed it (Col.1:15-30). When a relationship is broken as a result of greed and sin, the result is pain. St. Basil who lived from 329-380 declared, “We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of human kind with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the Earth, which should have gone up to thee in song has been a groan of pain.” Adlai Stevenson said in his final speech,
“We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and the love we give our fragile craft, and, I may say, each other.”
There are two religions at work today in America. The first one is the religion of self-centered consumerism; the looking out for number one. The second is true Christianity which stands directly opposed to the false religion of consumerism because it calls us to seek first the Kingdom of God and not our own self interests. True Christianity takes Jesus at His word when He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal; But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt.6:19-21). This world has been designed to work only if humans are good stewards of one another and all creatures, and seek God’s will above all and store up treasures in heaven. As Christians we must realize that God so loved the world (the complete cosmos of all of creation) that He sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to redeem the world, reconcile it and restore it free from the destruction of sin. As followers of Christ we are to be a part of this same healing mission by caring for those in need and the rest of creation.
Calvin B. De Witt stated,
“A perplexing puzzle exists. Those who follow Jesus Christ largely neglect the claims of Jesus Christ on the world as Creator, Integrator, and Reconciler. Instead, many Christians overlook, neglect, and in some cases even despise Christ’s creative, sustaining and reconciling works in creation. These beautiful works of Jesus Christ are expressed in the beautiful hymn of Col.1:15-20. Jesus Christ is Creator, Integrator, and Reconciler yet many, who call on His name abuse, neglect and do not give a care about creation. That irony is there for all to see. Honoring the Creator in word, they destroy God’s works in deed. Praising God from whom all blessings flow, they diminish and destroy God’s creation here below. The pieces of this puzzle do not fit! One piece says we honor the Great Master! The other piece says we despise His great masterpieces! Creations degradation by those who confess the Creator while trampling, muddying, and degrading the Creator’s works remains a great puzzle. Why should those who love and honor the Creator act in creation as though they despise God’s masterpieces that are displayed across the great canvas of the biosphere and the heavens beyond?”
Creation is the manifestation of God’s work (Gen.9:12-17, Hosea 2:21-22, Matt 5:45). It is good and valuable (Gen. 1:31, Job 38-41, Ps.148:1-10 and connected to God by His word (Gen.1:3-9, John 1:1-5, Heb.1:3). Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Gen.1:26). Each and every human being is made in the image of God. It is for this reason that we are advocates of justice, working to help the poor, homeless, fatherless, widowed, elderly and others in need. We must never forget that each person regardless of his or her social status is made in the image of God. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”(Eph.2:10) We are God’s work of art, His masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus and given the opportunity to join Him in the work of creation through the good works He has prepared for us to do. What a privilege it is to serve the Lord by caring for God’s special people in need and God’s creation.
We cannot afford to ignore this privilege. We must realize that the destruction of creation affects the most vulnerable in society, the poor, elderly, sick and children the most. As resources become scarce and expensive, the poor are the first to experience the consequences of shortages as well as global warming. They don’t have insurance to cover disaster resulting from climate change. The elderly and needy are the hardest hit by rising fuel and energy costs. The low income are the first to be let go when cut backs take place on the job. They are the least able to protect themselves against the ravages of pollution as toxic dumps, landfills, open servers and contaminated drinking water flow through the urban ghettos and shanty-towns in the world.
Do you know what a workaholic is? It is someone who instead of being controlled by drugs or alcohol is controlled by their possessions and their work. This addiction prevents them from caring for God’s people and God’s creation. It is as difficult to point out to a workaholic that they have a problem as it is to the alcoholic or drug addict that they do. The workaholic gets their fix from what they do and what they own. They think they are free when in actuality they are controlled by their possessions and their work. They can temporarily go off their addiction but they keep coming back each time for a bigger fix. The workaholic has to be in total control. They are incapable of communication when they are getting their fix because anything said to them is repudiated by the comment, “I’ve got my business or ministry to run that’s the way it is”. Just like the alcoholic there is always just one more drink but in this case it is just one more job they tell themselves. The fact is the workaholic will never really be free unless they give their total life to Christ along with everything they own and develop a self awareness of what they are doing to themselves and those closest to them as a result of their addiction. As they remain in their addiction like the alcoholic and drug addict they ultimately destroy all relationship as a result of this addiction and are incapable of allowing themselves to love or be loved. They view love and each relationship as competition to their first love of getting their next fix from their business at hand. The workaholic like the alcoholic or drug addict can never get enough. For the alcoholic it is alcohol, for the workaholic it is doing work, getting more and more done, and acquiring more and more things. They live by the clock and ultimately die by the clock. They define themselves by what they do rather than what they are. The workaholic is as sad and empty inside as the drug addict and alcoholic. They have convinced themselves that this is the price for success as the materialistic capitalistic society they live in affirms their addiction. Anyone and everyone they meet who in their mind are not living the same frantic pace they are living, and labeled in their workaholic mind as either being lazy, unsuccessful or misguided.
The workaholic has no real room in their life for a deep committed relationship to God, creation or anyone else. God is regulated to His place as well as friends, family and creation, to be used only when convenient. If someone even a love one appears at the wrong time it is considered as interference to the workaholic’s idolatrous worship of getting, gripping and hoarding and always achieving. The deep insecurities in the workaholic drive them to be a success, as they have defined it at all costs. Those closest to them usually become codependent either feeding their addictions through their affirmations of the workaholics achievement or they are shut out of the workaholics life all together. Luke 12 is a chapter where Jesus directly confronts workaholics particularly in verses 13-21. In verse 15 He declares, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions.”
When given a psychological test the workaholic will show they are prone to addictions. They find this hard to understand because they can’t bear the thought of being a drug addict or alcohol because they see how those addictions turn people into being what, in their mind, are worthless human beings. Workaholics can’t stand such people because work alcoholics get their fix from their work. That’s where their treasure and their heart are. With their treasure and heart there, everybody else including God who competes for their heart is considered a threat. Such workaholic individuals usually die every bit alone as the alcoholic or drug addict. In pursuit of their nest egg, which causes them like the man described in Luke 12:16-21 to build bigger and bigger and more and more they tell themselves, as in verse 19, that someday they will then have plenty of good things laid up for many years and can then take life easy, eating, drinking and being merry. God’s response found in verse 20, 21, is “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be for anyone who stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
The solution is given in verses 22-34. Freedom is found and specifically given in Luke 12:33 but very few workaholics do what verse 33 says. Instead they just take off looking for another fix as they tell themselves how they have a right to keep it all, after all haven’t they earned it through their hard work. The workaholic refuses the truth found in verse 33 and will usually shut out those who bring them such truth as they seek others who will affirm their workaholism and help them get that next fix.
This verse is a litmus test of who is possessed by their possessions. The possessed the workaholic cannot hear and apply these words of Jesus. They seem unreasonable out of date. Because of such they cannot truly care for God’s people or God’s creation no matter how much they may try. If one of God’s people becomes sick and can’t pay them what is owed, they become like the unmerciful servant in Matt.18:28-35 and demand payment, after all that business isn’t it. Compassion to the possessed is viewed as weakness. On the one side they like to think of themselves as environmentalist yet creation actually is only a resource they use to get more and more.
Jesus offers freedom for those who are so possessed with their possessions to the extent they cannot have a relationship with God, His people or creation. He at first says in Luke 12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” In order words, don’t be afraid. Let it all go. Let God deliver you and set you free. Then He goes on and tells us how to experience this freedom. It is so simple that the possessed often refuse to believe it. Jesus declares in verse 33, 34, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Only as we take literally the words of Jesus, and let Him deliver us from our addictions to work, can we be set free to have a true relationship with God, His people and the rest of creation.
As redeemed children of God we have been entrusted with His creation to manage for His glory (Genesis 1:26, Psalm 8:6-8, Genesis 2:15). We are called to be Earth Keepers, earth’s stewards, and protectors. We must answer to Him for our faithfulness in this calling. As we study the scriptures we see that when the seventh trumpet is blown, “the time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great for destroying those who destroy the earth”(Rev.11:18). This message of being a good steward of all that God has created and entrusted to us is repeated throughout the scriptures. (See Luke 12:42-48; 19:12-27; 20:9-18; Leviticus 25:3-5, 14-17 etc.) Jesus completely identifies with those powerless people that are most likely to be mistreated in His creation when he describes events at the last judgment in Matt.25:31-46 and declares, “As often as you have done it to the least of these even so you have done it unto me.” Rosemary Ruether explains,
“The environmental movement needs to be more than saving seals and defending public parks from lumber companies, although these are worthy causes. It needs to speak of environmental racism and classism, about the poisoning of the environments, where poor black, Latinos and indigenous people live in inner cities and rural areas. By dumping their toxic wastes in these areas, companies maximize their profits while passing along the costs to those assumed to be the most powerless. An environmental movement that does not make these connections across class and racial lives is escapism for hikers and not a serious call for change. The redeemed can no longer remain silent as countries like Africa are turned into toxic dumps for rich industrialized nations.”
Wesley Granberg Michaelson states,
“The urgency of the environmental crisis, the rise of green politics and the commitment to save the earth plead for an understanding of how economic life can be molded by ecological wisdom to sustain creation.”
Jeremy and Carol Rifkin go on to explain that,
“Judeo-Christian stewards are committed to a sustainable society in which the production and consumption of goods and services are made compatible with the earth’s ability to recycle wastes and stocks. A sustainable economy relies on appropriate technologies and production processes that sustain, rather than drain, the ecosystems from which all economic activity is extracted. In a sustainable economy, the rights of present and future generations, the needs of all our creatures, and the health and well-being of the Living Earth take precedence over the short-term whims and caprices of the marketplace and the self-interest of a privileged few.”
The time has come for us to recognize that Biblical justice is based on the deeper principal that equitable sharing of the earth’s resources stems from the fact that God is the source of all and desires His love to be shared with all. Every human being regardless of economic status is granted by our Creator with the right to pure air and water, adequate food and shelter that is uncontaminated and habitable, adequate energy resources, adequate clothing and health care with meaningful work that protects and preserves creation from which we draw our well-being. As the Psalmist proclaims, “The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”(Psalm 145:13-16)
As we try to understand the Lord’s faithfulness in the provision of creation and our role as faithful stewards Ron Sider points out that
“The environmental crisis is not a silly fiction created by mad scientists and political demagogues. There are dangerous holes in the ozone layer. Our water, soil, and air are polluted. Spreading carbon dioxide emissions from our cars and factories threaten to cause global warming that could raise ocean levels, flooding vast land areas and destroying some of our great coastal cities. In the last forty years, we have lost one-third of our rain forests. In the last forty years, we also have lost one-fifth of the entire world’s topsoil. Make no mistake: a spiritual battle is raging; Satan would love nothing better than to persuade modern people that the best way to solve our environmental crisis is to abandon historic Christian truth. The way to defeat Satan is for all Christians to become committed environmentalists and to ground their struggle to save the earth on solid Biblical foundations. To be honest with you, I don’t know how to plead with Christians forcefully enough to reject today’s affluent materialism. We have Jesus warning that if we don’t feed the hungry we go to hell. We pastors and teachers have the Biblical warning that if we fail to say as much about God’s concern for the poor as the Bible does, we are heretical, timid shepherds, responsible for our people’s materialism. We could do so much more. And I fear that we are losing the battle. Is it not true that most Christians today are more trapped in a practical materialism that treasures things more than Jesus? Were previous generations of Christians as captivated by materialism, as we are now? It would be especially hypocritical if we condemned New Age environmentalists for their worship of the earth and then continued rushing madly down our present path of ever increasing, idolatrous consumerism!”
Ron Sider goes on to say in his work, Tending the Garden Without Worshiping It,
“I’m afraid that one reason Christians fail to live more simply for the sake of the poor and the environment is one reason we persist in our practical materialistic worship of things is that we don’t really love Jesus very much. We substitute lukewarm faith and more tradition for a passionate love for the Lord and a radical commitment to worship and to obey Him at any cost. Colossians 1:18 says, Jesus is to have the supremacy. Is that true for you and me? Is that true for our people? This Jesus who calls us to save His creation, empower the poor, and work for peace is the Maker of the galaxies, the one in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. This awesome sovereign will not settle for one-fourth or one-half of our lives. He wants to have first place in everything we think and do.”
Does He have first place in your life? Is Jesus Christ your Lord and your Savior? Have you dedicated your life to serving Jesus by caring for His people and His creation according to the word of God? If so what are the results? The hour is late and now we must realize the reality of Jesus words when He said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt.6:24).
Who do you want to spend the rest of your life serving? If it is God than let Him work through you now to start caring for hurting people and His creation.