by Revd George Otieno
Perhaps my title, “A moral pathway to a sustainable city” may seem an odd one, but I am concerned to invite you to join me in the thinking about what such an odd title may mean as opposed to what we already know about pathway to sustainability. To do that, my reflection has consisted of two basic claims and one suggestion. I have claimed that (1) we are currently in a state of disorder, and (2) one of the problems has been misinterpretation of our “ordered” place in creation as described in the book of Genesis. In order to reclaim that vital sense of the divine order, I suggested, instead, that we need to revise our understanding, we need to love nature and her generous produce as well as work and act morally.
Reading Genesis 1-3 from an ecological perspective may be irritating, but it can lead us to see the ultimate power of God above everything and a foundation for ecological spirituality. In it, we are shown the divine act of origination accomplished without any pre-existent matter and qualified by nothing external to God’s freedom. From this divine act, we have been placed in an ordered reality or put the other way round, we see the systematic principle of sustainability.
When the order of creation is viewed from the present day, at a time of ecological predicament, we clearly need to find a way of discovering God’s given pathway to moral consciousness and ecological sustainability. Ecological pathway is discovered not created and as city-based Christians we are called to discern and discover sustainable lifestyle. For that, I suppose, is the unsurpassed model of being and remaining sustainable city. With all we are, we must remind ourselves that God’s creation is reliant and finite. Moreover, that creation stands in continuing relationship with God. Therefore, that our overall duty is to make our ecology of mind, heart and body compliant to divine ecology revealed to the whole world through God’s gracious act of creation and incarnation (link Genesis 1 and John 3:16).
In this beginning, God created everything from nothing. Creation is independent of our presence here be it in cities or wilderness and our ability to perceive it (Job 38:25-27, 39:13-18). Within the six days of creation, God formed the world and the earth (day 1), the sky and the environment (day 2), dry land and all plant life (day 3), the stars and heavenly bodies including the sun and moon (day 4), birds and water creatures (day 5), and all the animals and humans (day 6). Although the place of “Humanity” has been over-emphasized throughout Christian history, a reading of Genesis reminds us that, humanity was formed last in the order of creation. But this order of creation was not without divine purpose, which I believe was, to be given an obligation to safeguard the integrity of her elder sister—“Earth” and all therein. This is also true for the Psalms, for instance Psalms 104.
Many contemporary theologians are uncomfortable with the classical biblical doctrines of creation in the light of the environmental crisis. For instance, Alister McGrath argues that abuse of the natural order can be seen to be rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition according to which the human creature is granted the role of subduing the earth. The mandate to subdue the earth is interpreted as giving a license for exploitative practice towards the rest of creation. Such interpretation of the text may have paved a way to modern mechanical understandings of the world and of dishonoring nature as mindless object without wellbeing. From such incorrect hermeneutics grew the violent attitude against non-human creatures regarding them as non-spiritual and therefore, have no ends beyond serving human desire. Such notions and misconceptions regarding nature are dangerous to environmental conservation and development.
Because of such classical understandings of the biblical doctrine of creation and the consequence of natural devastation, a renewed biblical and moral pathway to ecological sustainability is needed. One of them, I suggest, should be, rediscovering God through the natural world. Genesis 1:12, gives an account of the plants falling into two categories, small plants and trees. In 1:24 land animals fall into three categories livestock (domesticable), creeping things (small creepy-crawlies such as mice, lizards and spiders), and the beasts of the earth (larger wild animals). The earth is crowded and we can imagine how the earth brought forth vegetation, and animals appeared in their respective environments. It is true beyond reasonable doubt that, we who live in the city are the most beneficiaries of these ecological decorations. What would it look like if we were, for instance, in a city without, great walls, good infrastructure and shopping malls or having supermarkets without our favorite variety of foods? No doubt, that would have been chaotic and disastrous! But putting the question the other way round, have you have thought about how will it look like to our successive generations if they come to live in a city without similar choices as yours? God has all this understanding in mind when he ordered Adam and Eve to safeguard the integrity and sustainability of the creation for an equal benefit among the generations of humanity. This striking ecological truth, calls both individuals and the city church in general to reinvigorate their ecological spirituality.
The terms create and make are used many times in Genesis 1-3. Biblical scholars note that the verb “to create” (bara) appears in Genesis 1:1. 21, 27; 2:3-4. The verb “to make” (asa), all with God as subject appears in Genesis 1:7, 16, 25, 26, 31; 2:4, (and in 2:2, 3 as to do). They often denote the same activity as we can see further the way that Genesis 1:26 (‘to make’) is probably paraphrased in Genesis 1:27 (‘create’). Generally speaking, to create is to make and to make is to create as well. However, Collins, argues that the term create is used in the passage to stress that the product is some kind of fresh start, hence came out of nothing. Even the sea creatures (1:21) were new in the sense that, they are first of what creation account calls “living creatures” and humankind (1:27) is a fresh start because they are created after God’s image which is unique.
To follow from this, if to make is to work for, not to create from nothing, how, as we follow God’s example, can we make a city sustainable? It is surely not simply the work to produce material affluence, technological availability to enhance everyone’s consuming existence but effective moral accountability, adopting sustainable lifestyle that honour God and innocent wildlife while embracing unconditional relationship with the Creator of all things including yourself. This goes back to the understanding of the sustainability of life in creation in the Genesis account.
The book of Genesis provides a constructive ecosystem framework for how the world begins and has progressed over the past eras as well as the primary obligations entrusted to humanity for ecological sustainability. It signposts the moral path and roles that human beings had to carry on both in city and afield. The six days of creation in this passage are symbolic calling upon all humanity of every walk to continuous moral accountability to and evaluation of our work and deeds in the light of ecological integrity, ecological sustainability, and above all in submitting our wellbeing to God’s Son Jesus Christ through whom everything were created and in whom every creature is sustained. I submit that all our initiatives, innovations and professions are intrinsically connected with nature, thus looking after nature is everyone’s responsibility.
My reflections on this topic has been supported by several references
Collins, John. Genesis 1-4. New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2006.
McGrath, Alister. Modern Christian Thought. England: Blackwell Publishing LTD, 1993.
Elsdon, Ron. Greenhouse Theology. Kent, England: Monarch Publications, 1992.
by Revd George Otieno