A delicate balance
‘“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.
‘“Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.”’
“When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?”
A little quiz for you! Who first said, “with great power comes great responsibility”? If you said Spiderman (or Peter Parker, to give him his full name) I’m afraid that although you demonstrate great pop culture knowledge, you’re wrong.
The earliest version of the maxim dates back to the French National Convention in 1793, and then it appears in another form in 1817 spoken by William Lamb MP. Wherever it originated, and whoever first said it, it’s a wise tenet – and one which can, or should, apply to so many aspects of our lives.
Because just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.
Just because I can eat a whole box of chocolates in one sitting, doesn’t mean I should.
Just because I can drive well over the speed limit if I know there are no cops or speed cameras around, doesn’t mean I should.
Just because I can buy products that I know contain non-sustainably produced palm oil, doesn’t mean I should.
Just because we can now meet in socially distanced groups of up to 30 [Ed: until Monday!], doesn’t mean we necessarily should.
Just because I can spend my whole day off watching box sets of Friends, doesn’t mean I should?
As humans, as grown ups, as citizens of a non-totalitarian country, as consumers with buying choices, we have great great power. And that power could, if all seven billion of us made selfish and unthinking choices, wreak huge damage not only to our earth, its bio-diversity, its flora and fauna, and its poorest peoples. It could… and it’s looking increasingly like it is doing, and even like it has already.
Are we surprised? We shouldn’t be: look at how we live.
Even those who don’t read the Bible, who aren’t part of the Judeo-Christian faith, should know, surely, that our planet’s long term health and fruitfulness needs looking after? We shouldn’t need to read Numbers 35.33 – Do not pollute the land where you live.
It should be obvious to us that cutting down trees isn’t a good thing to do, as Deuteronomy 20.19 tells us.
Do we need God to make a “if you will… I will” promise to us, as in Leviticus 26.3 to know that a healthy productive planet depends on us following God’s best rules for living?
And yet, here we are, facing not just Climate Change, but a growing climate crisis, or even emergency. We, as a human race, clearly can’t handle the great responsibility that our great power – given to us as those made in God’s image, the pinnacle of his creation – brings us. Our end of second millennium report card should very definitely have had Could Do Better written on it in big letters.
Just about every part of our lives require us to make wise decisions and good judgements. We’d rather it wasn’t that way – we’d rather it was all black and white and obvious.
It was relatively easy during full lockdown, wasn’t it? – we stayed in, and went for daily exercise – simples. Now it’s much harder – we have to make judgements about how careful we’re going to be in different aspects of our lives, so that we balance our own risk, and the overall risk in our networks and communities.
Meanwhile our planet is struggling so much with it own precedented times that our choices are becoming more limited. We don’t really, if we think about it, have a choice about the size of car engine to buy, or buying items in single use plastic every day, or wasting electricity, or using known insect-killers like glyphosate in our gardens. We know what the responsible choice is, how to use our power well.
We know, because not just in these three short quotes, but throughout Scripture, we’re reminded of our great responsibility, which we’re to exercise as widely as we can. We know, and let’s not pretend we don’t.
We can use these quotes today as a useful, easily memorable, summary:
God says, Do not pollute the land where you are. Do not destroy trees. Follow my decrees and my commands.
Today, this week, we can choose to exercise our great power with great responsibility. For the sake of our planet, for the sake of our fellow humans, for God’s sake.
(North East Hub)