Law and Creation (2)
“When you besiege a city for a long time, while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; if you can eat of them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man’s food. Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, to build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it is subdued.” Deuteronomy 20.19, 20
War against creation
The violence of war often brings out the worst of men, and not just against one another. Often the creation itself becomes a victim of the savagery of combat.
One of the best-known examples of the wanton destruction of the creation in the name of war occurred during the American Civil War, when General Sherman instructed his army to burn a swath across Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah. Farms and lands were put to the torch. Animals that could not be eaten or used for work were simply destroyed. To bring the South to its knees, General Sherman extended the violence and brutality of war against the very creation itself. Prior to that, to reduce Stonewall Jackson’s effectiveness, Philip Sheridan burned farms and destroyed farmlands throughout the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
During the Second World War and the Viet Nam War “carpet bombing” of cities and jungles was justified as a military tactic. The use of “agent orange” to defoliate Vietnamese jungles was justified as necessary collateral damage. The wholesale destruction of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan was also regarded as being within the framework of just war theory.
My point is not to pass judgment on such tactics but simply to show how war takes its toll, not only on human beings, but on their culture and the creation that sustains them. The Law of God understands how easy it can be for those engaged in war to let violence get out of hand and become something more than just an aspect of military strategy.
Such wanton devastation of the creation is not limited to times of war, however.
War by other means
Other examples of the violence against creation in the name of human gain could be multiplied: the pollution of local streams and rivers by the discharge of corporate waste; slash and burn policies against pristine jungles and rain forests; strip logging and mountain-top coal extraction; overplanting lands until they become exhausted, overuse of certain fertilizers, carelessness leading to soil erosion in construction practices, the pollution of the atmosphere with excessive carbon-based emissions, and more.
Human beings can become so focused on maximizing material gain or personal convenience that we disregard or minimize the effects of our projects on the creation. In so doing we compromise neighbor-love and offend against the purposes of God by jeopardizing the fruitfulness of the creation for the generations to come.
God loved the world so much that He sent His Son for its redemption, to reconcile the world to Himself, deliver it from its groaning, and liberate the creation into the freedom of the sons and daughters of God (Jn. 3.16; 2 Cor. 5.19; Rom. 8.19-21). We fail in loving God when we make war, by any means, against His creation.
The Word of God, beginning with the Law of God, reminds us that we have a duty to steward the creation as conservators anddevelopers, and not merely as consumers, and certainly not as exploiters.
The larger purpose of creation
It is not enough, in considering the use we will make of the earth and its resources, to calculate the most efficient ways of maximizing convenience or wealth. We violate the Lord’s purposes for His creation when we fail to treat creation according to the overarching designs of God. His Law reminds us that fruit trees are not weapons for war; they are for sustenance. Similarly, streams are not for discharging waste; they are for beauty and provision. The creatures of the forest are not for decorating our walls, but for bodily provision in a chain of being supervised by the Spirit of God Himself (cf. Ps. 104.14-30).
Whenever human beings are planning a project that will involve significant interaction with the creation, more questions must be asked than simply, “What can we do to make the most money for the longest period of time?”
In recent years laws and codes guiding the development of lands for residential or commercial purposes have begun to reflect something of this awareness of the larger purposes of the creation. It costs more for developers to take precautions against erosion, to landscape in certain ways, to conserve wetlands, or to set aside portions of a development as animal habitat or simply for natural beauty. However, the long-term wellbeing of the environment requires that we develop it not merely for human interests but according to the creational interests of the land itself, and the pleasure of God Who owns it all (Ps. 24.1).
Such practices, albeit reluctantly adopted, reflect a concern for justice more than for the bottom line and thus demonstrate both the reality of the works of God’s Law being written on the hearts of all men and the viability of the Law of God as a guide to public policy. Since the public must exist in an environment, we do well to understand how God sees His world and what He expects of us in making the best use of creation’s potential.
1. Have you ever been troubled by something people have done to disturb or destroy the environment? Why did this bother you?
2. Are you aware of any local opportunities to contribute to caring for the creation? A conservation group? Zoning commission? Public parks department? See what you can find out.
3. What about that part of the environment God has entrusted to you? How conscious are you of using all your space and its resources for the beauty, bounty, and blessing of God?
Next steps—Preparation: Using some of the verses mentioned in today’s installment, draw up a prayer list to guide you in praying for God’s world.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.