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Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis

Some people think the Bible concerns only humans and God. Yet from the first creation story to the end of Revelation, Scripture imagines a larger universe inhabited by many other creatures besides ourselves. The more we come to embrace our relationship with this wider sphere of creation—not just with the universe in the abstract, but with the animals with whom we share our homes, the cardinals we hear outside our windows, and the trees that stand silently all around us—the richer our inner world becomes as well.

Genesis 1 shows God’s pleasure with the earth and all its species—its plants, land animals, sea creatures, and birds—long before humans appear. The chapter exudes divine affection for nature’s profligacy, and teaches us our place as animals alongside many other species.

Genesis 2 pictures humans made from the earth’s dust, charged with the task of serving and preserving God’s garden, embedded in a teeming habitat of animals, trees, and edible plants. The story’s continuation in Genesis 3 and 4, as the first couple exits the garden and as their son Cain leaves the presence of God, emphasizes their alienation not only from God and each other, but from the ground itself, polluted through human disregard of our natural limitations.

The speeches of God in Job imagine nature as a wild place, barely understandable to people, yet adored by God, filled with creatures beyond human control, beyond human dominion, beyond human usefulness, admired by God for their beauty and magnificence. Psalmists and prophets alike see God’s glory reflected in the stars, the mountains, the rivers, and the earth’s verdure, as the “hills gird themselves with joy” (Ps 65:12).

At the same time as we come to terms with our ecological limits, we can reignite the imagination to see more clearly our place in creation’s intricate web, to cherish more actively its delicate beauty, and to relish our responsibilities to treat life—human and other—with respect and awe. Through both Scripture and time spent examining elements of nature, we can reclaim a spirituality of grateful care, of expansive hope that helps us address the ecological crises of our generation. To do so enlivens us, restoring us to our original vocation of serving and preserving the earth, relieving us of the burden of consumerism, and ushering in new, refreshing patterns for living each of our days on earth.

Join Columbia’s Center for Lifelong Learning with Patricia K. Tull leading us as we explore the recurring theme of nature in Scripture. The class will be held against the luscious mountain backdrop of the Montreat Conference Center, in Montreat, North Carolina, April 24-27, 2014. Click here for more information on this program. Credit will be given towards the Certificate of Spiritual Formation for those who complete the course requirements.