Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

The Light Doesn't Negotiate
distributed 12/20/13 - ©2013

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Reid Detchon of Bethesda, Maryland.. His generous support helps make this publication possible.

A core message of the modern environmental movement meshes closely with a beloved Christmas proclamation of the church. Both speak the same truth.

We Christians haven't done well at seeing the resonance between the two, but the connection is definitely there. Our declarations of good news -- voiced at Christmas and at all times -- will be stronger and more relevant when we are able to tie together our theology and truth of the natural world.

"The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." (John 1:5, New International Version)

"Mother Nature doesn't negotiate. She just sets rules and describes consequences." (Paul Gilding, TED 2012)

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The Gospel of John was written during the first century after Jesus, several hundred years before a doctrine of the Trinity was formulated. Aspects of God that Trinitarian theologies have separated still are unified in this gospel. The wonderful prologue in John sees the incarnate Word of God as the creating power of God.

The very intentional phrasing of John echoes the opening verses of Genesis 1, where light and order are the starting points of creation. John's proclamation of incarnation and salvation is part and parcel of an understanding of the created order. The Logos and the light are the basis of creation, and that ordering light shines, even in the darkness.

That light, says John, came into the world in the person of Jesus, but the world did not know him. His own people did not accept him. But that does not diminish or negate the truth of the Logos. The light shines, no matter what.

The intention of God -- according to the prologue -- is for that Logos to be present among us so that we can recognize it and understand it. The mission of the Church, it then seems clear, is to continue to testify to that creating, ordering, and persistent Logos. We do so with gratitude and humility, because we are part of the human community which has lived in darkness, which has not recognized or understood the light among us.

The God of creation, the God who orders all things, the God who brings life into being -- this is the God of the incarnation. This is the God that we celebrate at Christmas. And we rejoice that the light of God shines on, even in the darkness of our incomprehension. We find grace and hope in the comprehension of God among us, and in all creation.

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The science of ecology has revealed to us that we have not understood the way creation works. Especially in this modern, technological era, we have not comprehended the ordering principles of life.

We live in a world, in a universe, that is inherently relational. All things are connected. No part of creation is separate from, or independent of, other parts of creation. We are rediscovering how thoroughly humans are part of that interconnected web of life. We are not a species that somehow is over, or above, or isolated from the rest of creation. We are creatures, and we are utterly dependent on a healthy and functioning biosphere.

That's not the way that we have understood our place and purpose in creation. We have thought that we are of a different kind, and that we stand apart from "nature" -- which we've defined as everything other than us. We've looked at nature as a set of resources for our use. We've looked at the world as a thing that we can abuse and modify however we wish, without consequences. In those sorts of beliefs, we have been wrong. When we have set ourselves apart, when we have put ourselves in control, we have not comprehended how the world works. We have not perceived the basic rules of creation.

Our misunderstanding does not change the facts of creation. Our desire to be in control of it all does not make it so. The rules of creation don't change because we want them to. The light shines in the darkness, even when the darkness does not understand it.

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Theologian Sallie McFague's made a statement in her book, Life Abundant that helped to re-center my theology. Very early in the first chapter, she wrote, "I finally understand what life is about. It is, quite simply, acknowledging how things are -- living in the truth. And the truth is that God is the source and sustainer of everything. ... God is reality, the breath, the life, the power, the love beneath, above, around, and in everything." (pp. 9-10)

Acknowledging that God sets the rules isn't wishful thinking. It isn't a debatable political or economic philosophy. It is a recognition of how things are. It is living in the truth.

The beliefs that are contrary to that truth -- the notions that we are separate from creation, that we can shape the world to our own whims, that creation is just stuff for us to use as we wish -- those are the lies. In those beliefs we find the darkness that has not been able to comprehend the Logos which orders creation. But that darkness does not overcome the light. Our willful ignorance does not change the truth.

Bill McKibben used scientific language to make that point. "It's not Democrats negotiating with Republicans, or environmentalists negotiating with business interests. It's human beings negotiating with chemistry and physics, and chemistry and physics don't really do much in the way of bargaining." Chemistry and physics and ecology are ways that we describe God's ordering Logos, and the Logos does not bargain about how the universe works. The light shines in the darkness. It doesn't negotiate with humans about what the rules will be.

We might find it profitable and convenient to fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses so that we can have lots of cheap energy. We have thought that it is OK to turn rainforests into plantations, or to pull all the big fish out of the sea, or to release thousands of artificial chemicals that are toxic and bio-active. We might like it if we could do those things with impunity. But we cannot.

Mother Nature does not negotiate. The light that is the ordering Logos of creation shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

The darkness in John's prologue is not the seasonal night that reaches its maximum at tomorrow's winter solstice, a darkness that is overcome when the days get longer. John speaks of a persistent darkness of ignorance and greed which denies the light of creation. His good news about the even-more-persistent light is a direct challenge to those among us who prefer the darkness of self-interest and convenience.

The Good News that we proclaim at Christmas is an ancient expression of the truth now spoken by scientists and environmentalists. The structure of the universe, the ordering Logos of God's creation, is not subject to negotiation. When we comprehend that truth, when we accept it with joy, we will find grace and we will find healing for all creation.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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