We are so conscious of the lack of harmony in our human society and in our dealings with the natural world and yet we don’t always know how best to address these problems. Margaret Barker shows us in this article how there is a concept of "right balance" in the Scriptural teaching about creation.
Who determined the measurements of the earth? Surely you know!
Or who stretched out the measuring line upon it? (Job 38:5)
The pattern of Creation is determined by God, and described as ‘the statutes’, which means, literally, ‘the engraved things’. They were firmly fixed. When earth is in harmony with these divine statutes, the natural world and human society enjoy peace, shalom.
The exact measurements, proportions and roles of everything have been planned by God, and these are known as the ‘mysteries’ of the Creation. Everything we learn about the creation is something we find. It is already there. All the links and connections discovered by new research are what people observe about the webs and patterns of creation that already exist.
The knowledge we have is not our property to do with as we choose. It is entrusted to us, and we must use it responsibly. In our present situation, there must be fair compensation for the cost of research, but nobody can ever own or patent a process of nature. To have knowledge is to have power, and that must never be abused. The right balance between knowledge and power depends on how we understand our responsibilties. The stewardship of knowledge is one of the pressing concerns of our time. This is why it is absurd that entrepreneurs are trying to monopolise space tourism and compete to own space travel. The solar system cannot be made into a commodity in this way.
The creation story in Genesis says that God told Adam ‘to subdue’ the creation, (Genesis 1:28), but that does not give us permission to exploit and destroy it. The word means ‘to harness’, and so people were intended to harness the wonders of creation and use them for good, because human beings are created as the image of God on earth (Genesis 1:26-27).
It is godless folly to work against the patterns of nature rather than with them, by, for example, creating dams that destroy the ecosystem around them, or dredging access channels for giant oil tankers through ancient wetlands that protected the coast. Each culture’s ‘footprint’ should be judged by its impact on the creation.
God be in my head, and in my understanding
God be in my eyes and in my looking… (Composer: Sir Henry Walford Davies)
The exact measurements, proportions and roles of creation include fair dealing in weights and measures. The Bible is not only concerned with heavenly matters, but also with the earthly affairs of trade and business. Ezekiel linked patterns of worship to weights and measures. In Hebrew the word ‘iniquity’ is the same as the word ‘distortion’, and Ezekiel told the people that unfair weights and measures were shown in the distorted building of the new temple, (Ezekiel 43:10, Ezekiel 45:10-12). The same is true of the bigger systems that are the products of human ingenuity: global economics, patterns of trade, distribution of wealth, taxes and tariffs. When these are unfair, they distort not just human society but the whole of creation. We see this everywhere and we have a role to play in challenging this iniquitous status quo.
In the Book of Revelation, the devil is described as the great deceiver, (Revelation 12:9), and he has agents on earth called “the beasts”. They do his work. They control trade, and nobody can engage in trade unless he has the “mark of the beast”, (Revelation 13:16-17). His ‘mark’ if you translate literally, is the mark of his bite, and in the Hebrew underlying the Greek of Revelation, the word would also mean interest on money. When we think of the role of interest rates in our lives, and in the causes of poverty and injustice, they are indeed the “bite of the beast”: ‘for the love of money is the root of all evils’ (1 Timothy 6:10).
When earth is in harmony with the proportions of the divine statutes, all creation enjoys peace, “shalom“. But peace does not just happen; we have to make it happen, and the Bible shows us how. First there must be “chesed” , a Hebrew word that means loving kindness; this is the basis of everything. This leads to “mishpat“, which means ‘right decision’. A decision based on loving kindness leads to “zedaqah“, which means right action, and this brings shalom, peace. After the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples: ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another’ (John 13:35).
Jesus also said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God’, (Matthew 5:9).
St Paul explained this: ‘All those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God’, (Romans 8:14). The role of the children of God is to establish real peace, to set the whole creation free from its present disastrous state. It has become bound into a destructive system of futility and decay, and our role as children of God it to restore the right balance and proportions and to set creation free.
Reflection and Action point
There are many different motives which inspire people to care for the environment. What Margaret shows us is that, if we are to live our lives being faithful to the Church’s tradition – which of course includes Holy Scripture – we cannot ignore it and say “It’s someone else’s problem.” If we consider ourselves to be sons and daughters of God, then we must be peacemakers. By showing us that the roots of peace – both in our society and in our natural world – lie in loving kindness, right decisions and right action, she both issues us with a challenge and shows that the road to a solution lies within each one of us.
As an action point, you might set some time aside and ask God first to share with you his loving kindness. Then focus on one aspect of “disharmony” within either our human or our natural world. Ask God to show you how that relates to decisions you might have made in the past, or have to make in the near future. How would loving-kindness influence those decisions? Then choose one positive action – however small – that you can take in the next few days. Ask God to bless that action as you do it, that it may be the action of a peacemaker.
who entrusted the earth to men and women to till it and care for it,
and made the sun to serve their needs:
give us grace this day to work faithfully for your glory, for peace and harmony
and for our neighbours’ good.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ,