The Kingdom as Ecosystem

What can ecology teach us?

The Disciplines of Knowing: The Sciences (4)

An understanding of ecosystems can help us in seeking and advancing the Kingdom.

And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4.26-29

Help with the Kingdom
For many Christians, “Kingdom of God” amounts to little more than an idea, and not a very well-developed idea at that. We are familiar with the term, but we seem to have little understanding of the Kingdom or how it operates, and we evidence little of its power for righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit (1 Cor. 4.20; Rom. 14.17, 18)

But since seeking the Kingdom of God is the Christian’s highest priority (Matt. 6.33; 1 Thess. 2.12), we should learn as much as we can about this heavenly domain – what it is, how it is ruled and makes progress, and how to live within its parameters. We need all the help we can get in this, beginning with the Scriptures, and including whatever the Lord may be pleased to reveal to us from the world of creation, where God is continually revealing His glory, and inviting us to discover and participate in it (Ps. 19.1-4; Prov. 25.2), and where, as Jesus indicated in His parables, many helpful insights may be found to help us in our Kingdom calling.

Science can help us here. Understanding creation, using the disciplines of science, can shed light on our Kingdom calling and project, particularly as we look at the ecosystems of creation, and consider what the Kingdom of God has in common with these ecosystems.

Ecosystems are those natural environments where a variety of components exist and interact so that life thrives and much good results. Interest in creation and ecosystems should come naturally to the followers of Christ, for three reasons. First, we are the heirs of a mandate to exercise responsible dominion and stewardship over the creation, to care for and develop our environment, so that its various ecosystems can abound with God’s goodness (Gen. 1.26-28; Ps. 8; Heb. 2.5-9).

Second, Christians should take an interest in creation and ecosystems because Jesus made such varied use of creation in His teaching about the Kingdom of God. He pointed to seeds, birds, lilies, farms, fields, trees, weather, and more to explain the mysteries of the Kingdom. The better we understand creation and its ecosystems, the more we may hope to realize the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God. Science can be a useful resource here to discover how to manage and develop the various ecosystems of the Kingdom of God.

Finally, and building on these two reasons, understanding creation and ecosystems can help us enjoy and communicate the Good News of the Kingdom. Ecosystems and their function is a subject of increasing interest in the world. Understanding ecosystems is so useful that ecosystem terminology has been adopted for describing various human systems, such as education, criminal justice, politics and government, and even global missions. People, it seems, find clarity by thinking in terms of ecosystems, so we should expect that understanding ecosystems will benefit our calling in the Kingdom and our ability to explain it to others.

We don’t typically think of the Kingdom of God as an ecosystem, but the etymology of ecology shows that this word applies not only to creation but to the Kingdom of God. The prefix eco is derived from the Greek oikos, meaning house, environment, or habitat. Further, the suffix -ology means “the study of.” Therefore, as natural ecology is the study of the interactions and relationships between organisms and their environment, home, or habitat, Kingdom ecology is the study of the interactions and relationships that exist within and among the various components of the Kingdom of God.

Ecosystems and the Kingdom
Examples of ecosystems – which are the focus of ecology – include forests, lakes, oceans, coral reefs, grasslands, ponds, mountains, tundra, and even the Yellowstone hot springs. As in the study of natural ecosystems, so it is with the Kingdom of God, the interactions and relationships between various components of an ecosystem are of central importance. In comparing natural ecosystems to the various structures that make up the Kingdom of God, many similarities emerge which can help us gain a better perspective on the Kingdom, clarify our roles and responsibilities within that domain, and aid us in seeking and advancing the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

The Kingdom of God is also made up of various ecosystems which, like the ecosystems of the earth, work together for the flourishing of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. These include the soul, where three spiritual entities – heart, mind, and conscience – interact and cooperate to shape and direct our lives. Each believer’s life and calling is also a kind of ecosystem, with lots of interacting components, pressures and stresses, and opportunities for doing good. The local church, and local churches throughout a community, are another level of Kingdom ecosystem that we must understand if we are to carry out Christ’s agenda of building His Church. Even the local community in which we carry out our calling, and the times in which we live, have characteristics of ecosystems, and are the setting within which all the ecosystems of the Kingdom seek to flourish and bring life to the world.

All these Kingdom ecosystems share features with natural ecosystems – such as structure, function, diversity, stressors, power, energy, and goods and services. By understanding the ecosystems of creation, we can exercise better focus on and care for the ecosystems of the Kingdom. Many resources exist within the world of science to help us appreciate the beauty, diversity, and value of natural ecosystems. These include books, journals, television programs, and even a wide variety of apps. Using these tools to understand natural ecosystems can give us insight to how God works to sustain His creation, and can open our eyes to a better understanding of how we may seek and advance the Kingdom of God and its spiritual ecosystems.

In the Kingdom of God, everything is connected. If your soul is sick, your walk with the Lord will suffer. You won’t be much help to your church, and your community will suffer. And when these Kingdom ecosystems are in distress, or are being neglected for any reason, the times in which we live will come under the powerful influence of the lie, leading to corruption, misery, disorientation, dissolution, and death.

You don’t have to become an expert in ecosystems to appreciate the beauty of them, and of how they interact with one another to foster a healthy planet. The same is true of the ecosystems of the Kingdom. But we must know something about caring for our spiritual ecosystems, how they interact and depend on one another, what causes them to decline and what enables them to flourish. Scripture is our main guide here, but – again, as Jesus indicated – understanding the world around us, and its many various ecosystems, can equip us with resources and guidance for fulfilling our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God.

For reflection

1. What is an ecosystem? Why are ecosystems a helpful metaphor for understanding the Kingdom of God?

2. How are the various components of the Kingdom of God – the soul, our lives, the church, and so forth – like ecosystems? How can understanding ecosystems help us to keep these spiritual entities strong and flourishing?

3. Do you think that being more mindful of the natural ecosystems within which you live would help you to think more consistently and constructively about the spiritual ecosystems of the Kingdom of God? Explain.

Next Steps – Transformation: Your soul consists of mind, heart, and conscience. How can looking at your soul as an ecosystem help you to pay more thorough and consistent attention to its wellbeing?

T. M. Moore

Today’s installment is adapted from our book, Kingdom Ecosystems, which is a detailed study of the topic raised in today’s ReVision column. You can order a copy of Kingdom Ecosystems by clicking here. Science has been taken captive by the secular temper of the times, and we need to understand how this has happened. Our book, Understanding the Times, is a valuable guide to understanding the world we live in and how we as Christians can understand how to live in it. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore