The Spirituality of Sustainability

Given at the 16th Annual Affordable Comfort Conference - April 16, 2002

My Vision as a result of the Bible's View of Sustainability

Intellectually, my belief system is based on the indisputable fact that the Bible is by far the most reliable and accurate book that we have from antiquity.

Its integrity as a historical document recording historic events gives me confidence that it is God's communication to mankind.

Therefore, I can base my life on its teachings, and this is what it teaches about sustainability.

1. God created the heavens and the earth and the creatures and mankind.

2. When He surveyed it, He saw that it was very good.

3. Unlike any other animal, mankind was made in the image and likeness of God.

4. The creatures and mankind were vegetarians until after the fall.

5. God fully intended that man would be the manager or steward of all that God had created - both animals and the earth. This was truly a high calling.

6. Man's likeness to God involved his freedom to will and choose and do. Man could have chosen to eat from the Tree of Life and thus live forever in a mutually loving relationship with God. He would then have fully enjoyed the beauty and sustenance of the creation, and he would have found great significance in the high calling that God gave him of managing creation.

7. Instead Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Thus, mankind's likeness to God was tarnished in a costly way but not obliterated.

8. The result of Adam's autonomous choice to rebel against God's only rule was disastrous: the ground was "cursed"; thorns and thistles would thwart his work; and instead of his food being readily available to him, he would obtain it by painful toil and the sweat of his brow.

9. God's beautiful, glorious, good creation was subjected to futility, decay, and deterioration because of the rebellion of mankind against God.

10. In the future, all of creation will be fully restored to its original goodness, beauty and glory when God's children are fully redeemed and restored. However, it can be partially restored now. Jesus said of Himself: I am the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the true vine, the way, the truth, and the life, the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold I am alive forever more. Before Abraham was, I am.

11. Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection redeems and restores all people from the fall who put their trust and confidence in Him. The ultimate definition of a fully sustainable life is one that has health and peace now and lasts forever.

12. Metaphorically, a person's greatest opportunity in this life is to go back to the Garden and choose to eat from the Tree of Life, i.e. to follow Jesus. This is the beginning point of real, deep sustainability, and it only occurs within the kingdom of God (in the Garden) under the rule of the resurrected, powerful Jesus.

13. When a person chooses to eat from the Tree of Life, Jesus, he is restored to the position Adam had before the fall, and Jesus gives him the good work of participating in the restoration of creation to its former glory.

14. A follower of Jesus has the responsibility and high calling to foster redemption, restoration, and reconciliation: between God and individuals, between individuals, between individuals and the rest of creation, and between all parts of creation.

The redemption, restoration, and reconciliation of all things under Jesus will ultimately produce full and complete sustainability within all of creation.

15. As a follower of Jesus, the particular good work that God prepared in advance for me to do has to do with the sustainability of redemption, restoration, and reconciliation in three areas:

A) Encouraging and imploring others to choose a fully sustainable life by turning from their rebellion, returning to God through Jesus, and accepting God's free gift of deliverance and spiritual life.

B) Designing and building communities that can become spiritually, socially, and culturally sustainable, i.e. relationally redemptive and reconciling.

C) Designing and building communities and homes that are sustainable, conserving, and restorative with respect to the rest of God's creation - the environment.

What the Bible says about Sustainability

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.(In the Torah, the Jewish Old Testament scriptures, the verb "create" only has God as its subject. Humans never create). Genesis 1:1

Then God said: let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over all the creatures and the whole earth. So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:22-27(Note the repetition for emphasis)

God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and increase; fill the earth and master it. Rule over the animals. Genesis 1:26-28

God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. Genesis 1:31

In the middle of the Garden of Eden, God planted two special trees: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Genesis 2:9

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to care for it. And the Lord God commanded the man: "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."Genesis 2:15-17

Later, Satan, in the form of a serpent, said to the woman, "You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:4

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate it. Then their eyes were opened, and they perceived that they were naked… And they hid from the Lord God. When God called, the man answered: I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. Genesis 3:4-10

So the Lord God cursed the serpent because he had deceived the woman. Genesis 3:14

To Adam He said: Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you. By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food. Genesis 3:17-19

Fast forward now to Jesus' time.

Before there was any beginning, the Word (Jesus) had been with God, and the Word had been God. He was already in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the Word became what He was not before, a physical human being, and He lived among mankind…And His first followers beheld His glory, the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-3, 14

God the Father, so loved the cosmos (the whole world, including all things) that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in and trusts in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16

Jesus said: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I shall give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for you psyche (soul), for my yoke is easy and the burden I'll give you is light. Matthew 11: 28-30

Jesus said of Himself:

I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35
I am the light of the world. He who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12
I am the gate for the sheep. He who enters through me will be saved. John 10:7
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. John 11:25
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6
I am the true vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. John 15:5
I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and forever. Revelation 1:17
Before Abraham was, I am. John 8:58

God's children are also heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, since we share in Christ Jesus' sufferings in order that we may share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

All of creation (all animals, plants, and material) waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility… in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and deterioration and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning together and suffering the pains of childbirth together right up to the present time.

Not only is this so, but we ourselves who have the first fruit of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were delivered… so we eagerly and patiently wait for this redemption. Romans 8:17-23

It is by grace (the free gift of God) that you have been delivered - not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good work that God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10