Now is a time that people may be listening. What shall we say?
Rebuilding community and rural and agricultural environment: the absolute necessity of God’s sabbath renewing our world before we destroy it.
We have been experiencing a forced sabbath on the world. Many of us have been on the constant go, with at least two incomes in the family, trying to make ends meet, to accumulate more goods and holidays. In the Old Testament, the captivity of Israel in Babylon for 70 years gave the land rest from all the years of imperial exploitation. “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfilment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.” (2 Chronicles 36:21)
The Rule of Profits or Sabbath
Now we are seeing a decline in pollution. We should take the warning. Either we voluntarily give sabbath rest to our environment, or the rest will come upon us some other way. The creation has a way of fighting back, of overcoming exploitation so it can recover and flourish once again.
We don’t know the death rate of this current coronavirus yet, as we don’t know how many people are infected with it. In the 2014-15 flu season 28,000 people died in England alone. The death toll from the economic devastation, especially in places like Africa, from our response to this current outbreak could be far worse than the virus itself. We need to increase our medical facilities to treat the vulnerable, while not locking up the poor in hunger. This requires a genuinely effective use of global wealth stockpiles. Down through history, this kind of hoarding of wealth for personal or strategic reasons has been the occasion of most human suffering.
One thing that impacts all of us is a sense of insecurity, and this produces both greed and fear, which are the biggest drivers of our boom and bust economy, which in turn causes the most damage to people’s lives. This was the economy of Egypt, which the Wilderness wanderings were designed to take out of Israel’s heart, through their trusting in God’s daily supply and sharing it instead of hoarding it. The Nigerian government is doing its best and usually does take epidemics seriously. It’s the job of us all to help as many of those affected one way of the other, as best we can. “End-times” conspiracy theories we hear about this virus are nonsense.
The current virus reveals the different circumstances many of us live in. In some nations, many older people are the most vulnerable. In other nations, most older people died long before the virus hit. In one nation, some can afford the rest, still earning incomes at home. The main challenge might be boredom, which people are overcoming by pursuing interests and self-education online. Millions of other people, in the same nation, are losing jobs and their income. In other nations, millions of people are shut-up, unable to work for daily pay, unable to feed their families. This virus reveals our common humanity, but our massive disparity. We don’t ask the reasons for this disparity, not wanting to know the contributing role we and our own nations play in it.
The woefulness of our preparedness for this virus, despite the power of our economies, despite us knowing that a killer coronavirus was coming, shows our enslavement to profits over the common good. Vaccine development started for the SARS and MERS coronaviruses was halted when it was no longer profitable. It is more profitable to sell drugs for chronic health conditions, or cosmetics. The failure of many nations to prepare testing captivity to control the virus is largely due to “austerity,” while corporations go free of tax, without a sense of community responsibility.
Pestilences came in the Old Testament, termed “the judgement of God,” but they derived one way or another from our greed. As a friend said, “This virus has stemmed from the ill-treatment and abuse of animals – God’s creation,” whether or not the virus accidentally came from a Chinese laboratory. With regards to China, while nations need to be accountable, we don’t want to fall into escalating propaganda that supports our global economic politics. The World Health Organisation did get this viral genome out to all nations quickly, so tests could be developed if we were ready.
It’s good for us as the church not to treat this as a shift of operations from the building to the online meeting, trying to carry on as much as possible in the same way as we are used to. We need to look at how we can be the church without the big gatherings, even do weddings more cheaply, and gear most of our expenses towards the service of others. We like large crowds, like at football or other events. Service orientated assets are far more helpful in times of crisis (which is common for much of the world) than many of the assets and events we spend most of our “Christian dollars” on. It was this service that was the focus of the early church in epidemics and other crises, and which brought the church then the most growth. In some ways this virus has brought us closer together, being made to share our faith since we are no longer sitting in rows looking at the back of each other’s head. I am thinking of the crisis that scattered the early church from Jerusalem, from clinging onto the temple, to take the good news everywhere they went. Once again, we can look for the new and more diverse opportunities for fellowship and outreach God is bringing our way.
Plutocracy and Demigods
In this time of crisis what kind of solutions do we hear offered for those in need? In some nations we hear of aid being given, but also of interest free loans for those in need. We hear of those who are cashed up buying devastated companies on the cheap. Before this virus hit, a company in the USA contracted by the government to make and stockpile ventilators was bought out by a billionaire and the contract was cancelled due to its lack of profitability. This level of monopoly (plutocracy) has been growing in recent decades, breaking down one of the most important traditions of democracy: the separation of powers.
In recent decades philanthropy is being used even more to grow corporate markets, with its products being advocated through educational bodies and global humanitarian agencies. Mixing enterprise with charity is seen as smart, as it as can give broader financial scope and sustainability to philanthropy. But it also makes it difficult to trace potential conflicts of interest and makes aid to the poor a business, which needs the continuity of poor regions for its ongoing success. What the poor ultimately need is justice, transformation, to become equal with others, not ongoing aid or dependency on foreign industrial interest. This is apparent in industries such as pharmaceuticals and agriculture. We will discuss agriculture a little more, further below. Aid should lift others out of dependency and free them to build workable communities.
I am for the kind of globalism that lifts millions out of poverty, but in the coming generation most of the world’s wealth will be inherited: the return of the rule of the aristocracy. When the economic recovery from this virus comes, those who already own half the world’s wealth will own a bigger slice. When the current coronavirus recedes, employees will be in a weaker bargaining position. This sounds like Pharaoh, who during famine sold food to the poor, eventually making the whole nation slaves. This is what happens in a crisis, unless something genuine changes in our hearts.
So what do we need in times of crisis? John the Baptist said, “Let those with two coats gives one to those who have none. And those with food, give to those with none.” This isn’t a loan. This virus crisis affords us the chance to look beyond our usual economic theories and see our common humanity. It gives us an opportunity to build a world on this new basis of solidarity rather than on competition. This is a very different world. The Torah called it jubilee (a broader application of sabbath: Leviticus 25:8–13): cancelling debts and returning property to those who lost it due to bad circumstance, even if those circumstances were their own fault.
This is what sabbath meant in the Old Testament: giving rest (restoration) to the broken. It was part of the Ten Commandments, giving rest to your maidservant, manservant and beasts of burden. It wasn’t so much about the rules of your own rest on a Saturday (as the Pharisees made it in their rituals), but about giving rest to others. It was primarily addressed to the overlord, about resting those from whom he profited. It was meant to be a way of restoring people’s lives and restoring the land/ environment from which we may profit. It was to humanise others and to respect and rebuild the creation. (Leviticus 25:4) It was a counter-greed, counter-pride or counter-Pharaoh measure, lifting his hand of exploitation off the vulnerable, the disempowered.
The Ten Commandments were in some ways a counter-Pharaoh measure, establishing a new economy that focused on the welfare of the neighbour. See how many times the word “neighbour” is used in the Ten Commandments. This is why idolatry is prominent in the Ten Commandments: idolatry rebuilds the economy of Egypt, as Solomon did. It is covetousness, idolising something other than God, usually ourselves, and this dehumanises us and those we exploit for the things we want. (Exodus 20:2-17) See also Isaiah 58 for a description of a sabbath kind of community and its massive creation renewing fruit.
This is the kind of world we need to build, on an international basis, not just on a local level. This makes relationships the centre of our lives, the key factor in giving us all a future, not our GDP. The virus crisis shows up the human competitive nature, grabbing for ventilators, taking medical personal from other nations in need: an accelerated brain-drain on poorer nations not cared for in such times. (Even the aid once given to such nations was little compared to what is siphoned from them.) The crisis shows us that competition like this is an animal instinct, and we are supposed to be humans who cooperate for the good of others. Breaking down the unity of our nations by not caring for each other puts our future in grave danger.
However, at the same time, many are now working together, bringing relief to the sick and to neighbours in need, and many are building new community in the crisis. These acts bear witness to a new kind of world, and in Nigeria it was such acts between all neighbours, no matter our background, that overcame the greater crisis of terrorism, murder and displacement. The cross of Christ is at the centre of human recovery: he didn’t dominate others but gave himself for them. Our economic theory needs to reflect this, not being separated from our faith. The acts of community we see now are small in the overall scheme of things. They shouldn’t be temporary. They are signs that should point us to a new reality and take the lead in our policy making in the future. Neighbourliness should not only be deployed as a means of getting us out of crisis, but as our way of life, of peace, that prevents us from entering crisis.
This cooperation is needed at the political level as well. Competition/ opposition should not be the sacred cow of our democracies. We need governments built on cooperation and respect. In times of crisis, political parties form an emergency government of unity. Disunity is tearing our hearts and lives apart. The finger pointing and scapegoating that characterises our public relationships is probably our greatest danger. Every event is politicised. We have adopted the idea that democracy is best characterised by belligerent opposition. We have an evolutionary philosophy and an economic philosophy that favours the strong, the competition, the survival of self, and which justifies our separation from the suffering of others. Greek styled dialectics might destroy us before it saves us.
We now have an opportunity to change our hearts and shape our nation’s culture differently. Christianity teaches us to lay down our lives to transform politics, cultural customs contrary to Christ’s rule and our enemies, as Christ did, without returning insults. It is a strategy of taking the stone out of our own eye, the transformation of our own heart and of our Christian fellowship that spills over into our culture, reflecting the image of God for others to see. This, rather political point-scoring, is the battle we must win. We may say a culture of service instead of competition will demotivate productivity and advancement: not if we get a new heart. This then produces a GDP contained, sustained and flourishing within the culture of sabbath.
The inability for us to imagine a world in which neighbourliness can motivate resourcefulness far more powerfully than self-centred competition, shows how dead our world is, how opposite to the cross, the true power of life. The drive for others to be transformed filled every aspect of the incarnation, participation and death of Jesus into our sufferings. The desire to follow Christ in the fellowship of the sufferings of others is the genius of a new world. Our inability to take up the sufferings of others as the prime motivator for innovation and regeneration in our human and earthly conditions shows our blindness to true power and the depth of our human problem. Our response shouldn’t be to reject the cross’s call to our economic lives, but to ask God to save us. Faithfulness, not self-centredness, is the true power of life.
What would give us more economic growth than anything else today is not honing our competitiveness with other nations, but taking down the walls we have built against the sufferings of the poor nations, such as in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East, across northern Africa, and against Central and South America and working together to improve the lot of the millions upon millions of people behind these walls. The sufferings of these people are intense, and our global apathy to this is stunning and inhuman. If we don’t like refugees than this is the answer. People love their own country and don’t want to leave it, except for necessity of some kind. But it’s the oligarchies that prevent this, because they make more money in the present situation. The riches that would flow to us all in cooperation will far outweigh the riches that flow to some of us in competition.
Competition is no motivation for flourishment, economic, or any other kind. Some have misread the teachings of Jesus in this respect, like Jesus saying, “he who has will receive more,” or in the parable of the Talents, as though Jesus was endorsing our economics of disparity. This would have been the last thing Jesus would have done. Jesus was referring to the economics of the Pharisees, in which they took from others, saying they were more worthy to manage the wealth. Jesus turned this phrase back upon the Pharisees, by saying those who lacked humility to share would lose everything. And the parable of the Talents, in its first century context, was opposed to the greed of Jeruslem, not in favour of it. We have misread these teachings in our competition against others.
In the creation narrative of Genesis all humanity was made in the image of God and the sabbath rule of God on day seven points us away from a plutocracy kind of world to the individual value and care of each person. The Genesis narrative was distinct from the pagan creation stories of the ancient world, in which a certain class of demigods rose above and enslaved humanity to do their bidding. The sabbath enshrined in the gospel community has always been an emancipation from this pagan kind of creation. Whether in sexual morality, in care for the environment and in care for the poor, the gospel community puts others ahead of themselves.
Shifting to Sabbath and Jubilee
Areas where we must rebuild sabbath, restoration and jubilee:
- For the poor.
- For the weaker nations of the world.
- For nations and people groups caught up in war.
- For children without parents.
- For a culture that tears down the family for the pursuit of goods and hedonism.
- For a world that cares more about the business of weapons and war than building schools and hospitals for the marginalised.
- For the millions upon millions of refugees and displaced people.
- In supporting small business recovery.
- In shifting the tax burden off the weaker parts of the economy.
- In preventing purely speculative trading in stocks and in real estate, supporting home ownership for most people. Australia was more like this when I was younger. Prime Minister Menzies built home ownership, Malcolm Fraser opened the nation to refugees and Gough Whitlam greatly improved education and health for all.
- In breaking up monopoly powers and pharaonic claims of private wealth stocks. Jesus called it puling down our bigger barns to care for the strangers in need, building bridges instead to heal the world. Israel didn’t listen then and were destroyed. We aren’t listening today either.
- In forgiving debt to developing nations (as we forgave western banks in 2008), in returning illegally deposited funds in western banks to developing nations, in preventing foreign companies exploiting corruption abroad, and in closing offshore tax loopholes, which all costs millions of people in developing nations their lives.
- In reducing the profits in medical and educational industries to allow more people access
- In ceasing to treat the developing world as a global cash market for rich nations in agriculture, textiles and the dumping of other goods. Chemical farming and seed engineering are ways in which rich farmers have made large profits dumping agricultural product on poor countries, devastating their rural communities. Then these chemicals and modified seed are sold to poor farmers, who become further dependant on rich agricultural industries and further impoverished. The whole scenario is a corrupt racket. Chemical dependant farms in our locality have become so impoverished it is impossible for even the smallest income to be derived. It has also been a leading contributor to the breaking down of relationships and the rise of violence in many depleted agricultural regions.
- For our devastated natural world.
“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” (Ezekiel 34:17-19)
This is like the passage in Matthew 25 about Jesus judging the nations (which is going on now in this present world) by how we treat the world around us. It makes me think of the way our rich nations treat the world. Not only do we take the resources, we also sponsor strategic proxy wars in the regions that are plundered, destroying what little remains. The suffering this is bringing to many millions today is treated with indifference by the rich. There is a responsibility that comes with wealth. Christian ethics makes this clear.
Ezekiel spoke directly to the arrogance of aristocracy in Israel and the other nations. They called Ezekiel and the other profits traitors for doing so. Habakkuk asked why God said such things about the “godly,” when nations like Babylon were worse. God’s reply was like, “Each in their turn, but you are required to live in faithfulness to the shema (“you shall love God with all your heart and strength and your neighbour as yourself.”)” To “muddy with your feet” in Middle eastern culture means to dishonour the poor. It is the ultimate insult.
Most of us aren’t in a position to bring these changes in the corridors of power. So why mention them here? Because these are aspects of Old Testament jubilee, and the reason why Jesus came was to fulfil this vision through our fellowship of witness to the world. We are to live these polices in our fellowship. The church was born to fulfil the jubilee vision in transforming the world, because no one else would do it. Like it says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, the acceptable year (jubilee) of the Lord and return from captivity (meaning Israel’s enslavement in Babylonian styled empire)…” All the prophets claimed that spiritual renewal means a new neighbourhood, just as it did with Zaccchaeus. And to another disciple: “Go and sell all you have and give to the poor and come and follow me.” “In that day each of you will invite your neighbour to sit under your vine and fig tree,” (Zechariah 3:10) This “return” from Babylon is “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” fulfilled in our new lives. We may not be able to enact these policies in government, but we can live them, and this is the hope Jesus died for.
Do I think that positive change is going to come from this period of coronavirus crisis? I am not sure. The two areas Old Testament sabbath/ jubilee pointed to, lifting the poor and renewing the natural environment, I don’t see as a primary focus in some churches today. It’s like these concerns aren’t considered to be true spirituality. The “gospel” in some churches still focuses around personal blessings. Where we live in Nigeria, as in so much of the world today, lifting neighbours in need and restoring farming conditions are essential to stemming future violence and crisis and building Christlike community.
When we seek to restore lives and reach out to thousands from among our enemy with genuine hope for the future, suddenly the gospel we preach takes on flesh: it is clearly understood. The cross is enacted in a renewed motivation in our relationships, where self is no longer the foci. They ask the question Peter spoke of: “Why do you treat us like this, and not with the vengeance of the world? We don’t recognize this unusual hope.” (1 Peter 3:15) Preaching the gospel is meant to be the answer to this question. Something must inspire this question first. This is how Peter said the church is to evangelise/ disciple the world. The hope of evangelism is our truly new community. Some say our neighbour can’t change until their sin is changed by the gospel. This can happen when they see sin changed in our own lives first.
This jubilee is Pentecost. The reason the Spirit brought Jew and gentile together in the book of Acts was so they could restore each other’s lives. When we get through this virus, we can’t just return to the default of restoring our own group, securing the wealth, privilege and protection for ourselves, as some in Jeruslem in Jesus’ and Paul’s day tried to do. Through the church, the Spirit is brooding over the waters of the deep, bringing a new word of life for a new creation, stilling the pagan waters of selfish destruction.
Restoring Land on the Sabbath
On this last point above, about the devastated natural world, the way our lack of sabbath may show up the most is in agriculture. Our use of chemicals to maximize profits is devastating our soils, meaning we have to clear more forests to farm new lands. The lack of holistic management of our agriculture is causing deforestation, loss of natural habitat and desertification on all continents. This is already bringing crisis, which will massively increase in the future. It is already a larger crisis and causing more death than the current coronavirus.
Some estimates are that we have between 30 to 60 years before our global soils become infertile. We mightn’t think that, looking at our supermarket shelves, but in Nigeria this has already happened and is the source of much of our violence. Unless this is turned around with regenerative eco-repair there is no future here. This means diversity in cropping and animals, rebuilding soil health. This also strengthens our relationships between crop farmers and cattle herders, which is a necessity. This is the way relationships used to be some years ago, but chemical companies told us we could “go it alone,” with terrible consequences. Study the work of people like Allan Savory in this field.
One thing that would turn this around is deurbanization. Since the urbanisation of the industrial revolution, rural regions are more and more being turned over to large scale corporate interests, that are destroying holistic management of our natural resources. Devastated rural communities mean there is no one there to restore the land when the corporations have moved on. It is now proven that holistic management can restore forests, turn around desertification and restore natural habitats and biodiversity. If we are concerned about the carbon dioxide level in our atmosphere, then bringing biodiversity back to our soils is proven to be the number one method of sequestering carbon dioxide. But there is no large market in this solution, no new product to sell, so it isn’t promoted. But no other solution to our environmental problems will give us rest.
Re-establishing biodiverse communities will turn around the current increase in urban related diseases, partially by strengthening the human immune system. These diseases weigh heavily on our health systems. Deurbanization, properly managed, will not only restore our natural environment, but allow families to flourish in rural areas, bring down unemployment in urban regions and turn around the huge costs of increased welfare in broken urban living.
The restoration of our families brings down our overall debt levels in the wider community. Our families, our soils and environment, our health, our overall welfare and our nations’ balance sheets all improve. The family and the community care for its members, not the government. Redistribution of income costs through welfare, a major cost of modern governments, are largely gone. With a freedom of knowledge, with a reduction of patents (the great impoverisher of the industrial revolution), learning and wealth are shared in mutual support. This is turning around the “nanny state,” putting power back into the local community: democracy. With higher levels of industrial automation, with the internet and other modern services, now is the time to deurbanise and rebuild holistic rural environment and community. All this is taught by the sabbath principles of the Old Testament.
This sabbath principle is enshrined in the life and teachings of Christ, who called the children to himself and taught us that our futures are not made good by a focus on the high and mighty things, but on the small things that create the foundations of true life. Restoring the rural community is one of those despised things of our modern age. If we don’t do this, we will end up in a sci-fi movie, where we fly cars and make our food in test tubes, because there is no living soil on the planet. Today, you hear people speaking of this sci-fi kind of life as though it was progress. Next, we will be looking for another planet to inhabit to save ourselves, because we have destroyed this one. In our history, empires fell because they lost the fertility of their soils, focusing instead on their might.
Larger scale urbanisation began in the early seventeenth century, when British acts of parliament began to privatise the commons land. This led to the modernisation of farming but left the common people disinherited, many of their descendants still are to this day. This would have been unthinkable to the sabbath/ jubilee traditions of Moses. But it handed over a huge work force for the industrial revolution at low wages, which empowered British expansion, and enabled massive enlistments into the British global army. We once visited a museum near Adelaide and read a document from the nineteenth century, where a member of the British aristocracy advised the South Australian government to enforce urbanisation to keep wages low. It was then in the interests of empire. It is now in the interests of prime shareholders.
If we continue structuring our economies so that people must gravitate to cities, our disconnect from nature will not bode well for our health, for our relationships or for the soils and ecosystems that enable us to exist. The distance we put between ourselves and nature in the modern world will destroy nature and it will come back to bite us. Adam and Eve were made from the soil and if we try to sever that relationship then this may be our biggest identity crises. Despite the need for cheap labour in cities, ecosystems and deserts don’t return to life on their own. They need human presence, with loving stewardship/ management, as in the biblical mandate for creation. Isaiah restores our identity in the gospel, steering us towards rehabilitating the poor, our rural regions and our waste lands. He saw our weapons decommissioned and the resources used for the common good. This is the church’s vision in this broken world.
Today, we worship the “mighty things” in our celebrities – business, sports, entertainment or political celebrities – whether inside or outside the church. This pantheon is not unlike the pantheon of gods in the Old Testament, or in the Greek world. It’s the meekness of Christ that is to lead our way into the good land. He was rejected for the power of Rome. We are to put our hope in building genuine reconciling and redemptive community, the way Christ taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, not putting our trust in exploitive economics or military strength.
Building up rural community develops holistic management of the environment and local markets which gives residents meaningful work that contributes to the local fabric and relationships. The modern economic theory of “comparative advantage” means that large corporations mass produce in some regions, while depleting other regions of local economic development. This has basically been Africa’s story, as well as former industrial regions in western nations. This is not developing flourishing community, but using people as mere factors in temporary production, until capital moves elsewhere, seeking higher rates of return. This kind of world must change, by developing local holism as a new theory of life. This includes cooperative models of business, which don’t make labour the property of capital. When capital owns labour this demeans the image of God in humanity, producing another version of the pagan creation story, rather than of sabbath community.
When God called Israel out of Egypt, he released the slaves and reintroduced the sabbath, which from the creation narrative of Genesis 1-2 meant that through Israel, God was returning his kind of government to renew the creation. This is the government he wishes to bring through the church: lifting the yoke off one another, supporting the widow, the orphan, the dispossessed, the broken, even the stranger, the foreigner and the enemy. This kind of rule brings peace to our world: “The fruit of justice (the justice of mercy) will be peace and its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 32:17) But the kings of Israel did not listen. They built more fortresses, impoverishing the rural regions, and were destroyed
God’s sabbath is the government of the church, through which the pagan waters of chaos shall be turned back, as shown in Isaiah 11:
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord – and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”
The Spirit that hovered upon the waters in creation now hovers over Christ and his church. Why? For a re-enactment and a transformation of the creation. This is what Jesus walking on the waters meant at the Sea of Galilee: the coming to life of the pagan nations, to become a people of care. It meant he is king of a new world order of neighbourliness. This is Hebrew creation language, not Greek escapism. The “sevenfold” Spirit, meaning the Spirit at work in the seven days of creation. And how is this creation made new, what kind of government does the Messiah bring?
“He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”
His rule is not partial to anyone’s personal or national interests. His rule is in bringing relief to the needy and poor, the sabbath/ jubilee rule. He smites the nations: which means he allows us to reap the consequences of our greed, in which we bring the results of our exploitation of others upon our own heads, so that the creation may be renewed in sabbath. God fulfils his promises of love and faithfulness to humanity and to the creation. And what is the result?
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
This is relationship and agricultural renewal: a garden of Eden, a renewed earth in the presence of God. This is the image we see at the end of the scriptures, in Revelation 21-22
A Creational Theology
For too long we have taken sabbath away from our world by labouring under false dichotomies: competition verses socialism, or right verses left. We now have an opportunity to change, to make a major shift for our future wellbeing, by framing our decisions differently. We must recover a theology of life, or a creational theology. Our Greek-orientated theology, about our personal spiritual escape to heaven, makes this world’s exploitation and its poor rather irrelevant.
Our inherited Hebrew calling is Adam and Eve’s commission, for this world to be filled with the goodness of God, now through the church, and finally in the resurrection of our body. Our bodily resurrection is something much of the church has almost forgotten today, because it doesn’t have a creational theology anymore. Therefore, the poor don’t matter, and care for the environment makes no sense. A “spirituality” divorced from this world is not spiritual, it’s an abdication of our calling.
A theology of life, a creational theology, means we restore the poor, the homeless, the refugee; we restore the environment; we have a pro-life view in abortion and in war, in the rehabilitation rather than the execution of the criminal; we work genuinely to reconcile with and build peace with our enemies; our sexual and family ethics are pro-life, where “love” is what is best for others; we take down hierarchy to build service into our governments, corporations and family lives, just as God became a human, a slave, and gave his own life to serve us. This is both right and left. This is Christlikeness.
The governments and corporations, on the whole, will likely not make great changes after this virus crisis passes. They may for a period, but we usually forget what happened and return to “business as usual.” But the church must not forget. If we lose this saltiness, then there is no salt for the world. It is our task not to follow the spirit of this age, but to live together as one family, to be witnesses that break down ethnic, social, political, economic, gender and nationalistic barriers, not separating or withholding genuine solidarity for any personal advantage. In this we are to be witnesses to real mercy, which comes from the renewed heart and spills over into truly daily transformed lives.
William Wilberforce and his friends did overcome the commercial interests of slavery, so we can overcome the self-centredness of our own hearts and of our world, as Isaiah depicts it. If they could stop slavery, so essential to the commercial interest of empire (despite everyone saying it was impossible), then we can stop arms trade and the arms race and decommission our weapons of war, before they destroy us all. Don’t say it can’t be done or say it can only be done in eternity and not now, because this is what they said to John Newton.
The early church forbad any involvement in war or killing for any believer, not because of the particular evil of the Roman army, but because the church is a creational people. And the way they brought new creation wasn’t through arms, but through suffering, through the cross, by which the redemptive act and heart of God could be shown to the world. This alone transforms our lives and relationships. It means talking up our cross, and this is the part of discipleship that matters the most. Without the cross there is no new life, no resurrection from the dead, for us, or for the creation we are stewards over.