In a recent article on the Lutherans Restoring Creation website, LRC Director Dave Rhoads writes about “giving voice to nature in Biblical interpretation”. An excerpt from his article:
The biblical motif of identification with the least and the oppressed could be extended to encompass nature. Matthew declares that “Insofar as you have done it unto the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me” (25:40). Mark declares that, “Whoever receives one such little child receives me.” Luke states that Jesus “came to seek and to save the last” (19:10). Luke’s overarching theme is about God’s “preferential option for the poor.” Why not include trees, animals, air, and water as oppressed, exploited, dominated, and marginalized creatures with whom God identifies? What would it mean to live with nature in such a way as to serve nature? What would it mean to care for the most vulnerable and endangered species in creation? How would our humane treatment of the least in nature redound to our care for the least of our brothers and sisters? Can we even think about the liberation of humans without also thinking about the liberation of the whole creation in which we are embedded?
Another motif that might be extended is Paul’s concept of justification. Justification by grace meant that human beings do not justify themselves by their works, by their usefulness. Rather, they are justified by God’s gracious act of acceptance in Christ. They are valued for their own sake. And it is living out of such free acceptance by God that human beings can live up to their own nature as beings who act righteously toward others. Similarly, could we not ask what it would mean that other creatures and plants of the earth and the earth itself do not justify themselves by their usefulness to humans. Rather, they are valuable in their own right and should be delighted in for their own sake. As such, delight would be the right basis for our use of them. Such an acceptance of nature “for its own sake” on the part of humans would in turn lead humans to treat nature in such a way that the earth and its creatures would be able to thrive by living up to their natures as well.
Finally, we may consider a concept that could be reframed for relevance. The Gospel of John and the first letter of John make much of the incarnational theology that Jesus became flesh. The first letter of John places it as a theological test: “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (4:2). Here is a biblical affirmation of the full humanity of Jesus. Yet when we read and interpret this, we generally think of the divine becoming a human being in isolation from the rest of nature. However, when we reframe this in our contemporary environmental context, we have a different understanding of being fully human. To be human is to be a biological creature, to be counted among the animals as a homo sapien, a higher primate, a mammal. It is to recognize that we are all emergent from and dependent on the web of nature. To say this of Jesus, then, is to place him squarely in the context of the whole natural world. To say “Jesus was a mammal” changes the way we think about Jesus and how we think about incarnational theology. God now not only takes the form of a human, God is at the same time taking the form of creatures of the earth and making Jesus a part of nature. God’s incarnation and solidarity are now not just with humans but with all of creation. In I John, the test of whether one believes Jesus came in the flesh is directly related to the capacity to love other people who are in the flesh. In the same way, a test today declaring Jesus to be fully human leads us to measure our love of all creatures of the earth and, indeed, all of nature.