The Environment and Resurrection in Judaism and Christianity

A rare thing occurred today: I saw an article in the newspaper that made me proud to be a Christian.  It was the article Environment a Growing Cause Among Christians from the Sunday edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  It tells the story of Leanna Stitt, a young woman who’s learned to integrate her faith with her passion for the environment, and is now teaching others to do the same.  Read this article and pray that God will bless her ministry.

Unfortunately, the fact that this story is considered “news” means that our culture has until recently seen people of faith as unconcerned with the well-being of the environment.  Many Christians will argue about how the earth was created, but avoid caring for God’s creation.  But what if our Christian obligation to steward the earth has much deeper historical roots than today’s environmental movement?  What if concern for creation was actually something we Christians inherited from Judaism?

Earlier this month, I finished reading Jon Levenson’s Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel.  In it, he traces the development of the doctrine of an eschatological resurrection of the dead in the history of the Israelites.  The doctrine was first explicitly articulated (i.e. Daniel 12:1-3) in the second century B.C.E, but has antecedents throughout all the Hebrew Bible, as Levenson works hard to demonstrate.  Most interesting for me, though, was that in the final chapter of the book resurrection is connected to God working within creation to bring new life out of death within the created order.  Resurrection is an environmental event.

Levenson writes, “the religion of Israel did not effect a radical separation between history and nature or pit the God of history against nature.  Quite the opposite: the order that we call ‘nature’ (a term with no counterpart in biblical Hebrew) is closely bound up with God’s action in history, and when his kingship, so often challenged in history, is finally secure, nature flourishes richly along with the human community that does his will” (Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel, [New Haven: Yale Univ. Press  2006] pp. 207-208).  Chew on that quote for a while.  The healing of creation, resulting in resurrection of the dead, is the ultimate consequence of the Kingdom of God coming on earth!!!  Levenson goes on to speak of the image of the “Divine Warrior” in Jewish tradition, a messianic figure who brings the reign of God on earth, healing human disabilities and ultimately conquering death (pp. 207-216). 

As Christians who believe that the Kingdom of God was inaugurated on earth in Jesus Christ, we have to recognize that our confession that Jesus is the Risen Lord implicitly demands that we seek the well-being of the earth over which He is Lord.    Creation-care is inherently Christological: environmental activism is thus a practical outworking of a belief in the resurrection of Christ.

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