Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Living in the Old Testament

One time during the 1990's, California was having particularly ghastly weather: earthquakes, floods, fire. A friend of mine said, "It's like living in the Old Testament out there."

Now, alas, many more of us are familiar with this feeling. The reports out of Russia are ghastly, with its record high temperatures combined with fires. Many people across the U.S. have endured one more of the hottest summers on record, coming just on the heels of a tough winter with record breaking snowfall followed by a hotter than usual spring.

During these times of strange weather, we begin to hear people link current events to the weather and God's judgment. But there's a more scientific reason: we've changed the planet, and the one that many of us knew growing up is no longer the planet that we have. We probably can't change it back; Bill McKibben's latest book Eaarth makes that compelling point and argues that we need to learn how to live on this new planet.

If God wanted to be mad at us, I suspect that God would be more angry about how we've changed the climate than about issues like gay marriage. But really, what do any of us know? Perhaps God is angry about something that wouldn't bother most of us.

Except we know that we were made in God's image. Can we then say that what would bother us is likely to bother God? It feels like a slippery logical slope to me.

We do have another source for knowing God, and it's not the weather. We know God through the Bible, and the Bible reminds us again and again of our stewardship obligations. Most of us have not been very good stewards of the planet.

We know that there are far more passages in the Bible that talk about economic justice than passages that talk about sexual morality. I count about 12 passages that deal with homosexuality, and none of them uttered by Jesus, the one who Christians believe points us most clearly towards God. I can't count the number of passages about economic justice; I don't have that kind of time. However, pastor and writer Jim Wallis did a count. In God's Politics, he notes, "We found several thousand verses in the Bible on the poor and God's response to injustice. We found it to be the second most prominent theme in the Hebrew Scriptures Old Testament--the first was idolatry, and the two often were related. One of every sixteen verses in the New Testament is about the poor or the subject of money (Mammon, as the gospels call it). In the first three (Synoptic) gospels it is one out of ten verses, and in the book of Luke, it is one in seven!" (emphasis in original, page 212).

We may be headed for Old Testament justice, but it's not because of the possibility of gay marriage. It's because we've watched the rich get richer as the poor get poorer, while the middle class joins the ranks of the poor. We watch increasing income disparity, and we do nothing. We watch the planet cry out in anguish, and we do nothing.

The God I believe in is merciful. Alas, the laws of nature, laws of physics and chemistry and biology, are not very merciful at all. And these planetary problems will just exacerbate our problems of economic injustice.

These thoughts could lead us towards despair, the attitude which many theologians tell us is the greatest sin of all. Again, we must turn towards the Scripture, which reminds us that God can work any matter of wonders and miracles. I pray daily for the redemption of creation, which means something vastly different, I suspect, to me than it did to my spiritual ancestors.

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