Much of our learning is 20/20. We do something and then look back a week later, a month, or even years later with the sickening realization that we have fallen into our own pit. In the pursuit of learning truth, facts are our friends and the stories of our histories are our friends too. The tragedy of an unexamined life is that we fail to learn or to even take an interest from learning from the data available and the history available. The tragedy of our human experience may be that we continue to dig pits and then fall into them without learning anything.
I was reminded of this aspect of our human experience as I read this morning from Exodus 20:33-34. “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.” On the surface a reading of the Old Testament social code may sound archaic and outdated to our ears. However, I believe these pages contain an ethic we need to hear. If I dig a pit and another is damaged by my neglect or lack of due diligence then I bear some responsibility for their restoration.
As I read the Torah I find a compelling argument for a moral reckoning when it comes to the matters of water, soil, and air. Our treatment of water, soil, and air matters to God. Some of our activity may be called immoral. The Creation mandate in Genesis is not for the destruction of the Creation but for the just stewardship of Creation as humanity continues to increase in number. The Genesis account lets us know that enjoying the good blessings contained in Creation will require both rest and work. The Creation possess a wildness that will require work. The Creation also possess a blessing from God that requires our rest from work to actually enjoy it with Him and people.
The stuff of earth was never meant to be divorced from our conversation of relationships. The manner in which we steward the earth has great implications for our relationships with God and people. Jesus summarized all the Law and The Prophets in these two commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Matthew 22:34-39 Loving God and loving people requires that we become thoughtful about life and our relationships. These two commands require repentance and a deepening understanding of God’s provision of grace and power to us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But for this article I’m left with this: the way I handle land, water, and air must be informed by the mandate to love well.
With every word I’m aware that the mandate to love well seems to over simplify the complexity of the land, water and air conversations filling our newspapers and blogs. However, this simplification is not necessarily a bad thing. If we use economic models as our guide we have fewer reasons to move ourselves, our family, our nation, out of the centre and therefore we lack the capacity to choose certain limits for the benefit of others. If we use the mandate to love well as we steward the Creation then I must be thoughtful and perhaps restrained about the pits I dig. When I dig a pit I must take due diligence to prevent harm of others. And if others are harmed by the pit I dig then I must compensate them.
While the Gospel of Jesus does position the followers of Jesus to anticipate His return, we are never excused from the thoughtful application of love to our decisions regarding the stuff of earth and other people. The myriad of social concerns that arise is dizzying. As our growing fellowship (Born for More & Origin) at UBC develops I have been delighted to meet followers of Jesus in the University setting who are tackling social concerns with the best knowledge and research available to them while simultaneously seeking to apply love and the Gospel to their decision making processes. Their passions of study are not divorced from the call to love God and love people.
In Canada we are digging our share of pits. The ones on the forefront of our news are called out as tarsands, pipelines, mining, Agriculture Land development, logging in watersheds, fishing, energy development, and treaty negotiations. Its no wonder that British Columbia and Vancouver is the birthplace of Greenpeace. Yet, I fear that our affection for nature increasingly lacks a developed ethic of love. And therefore we lack the capacity to help other people come to the discipline required for a moral reckoning and the internal motivation to accept limits as good.