The Lord has multiplied his knowledge . . .
For there went forth a stream,
and it became a great river and broad;
indeed it carried everything, and it shattered
and brought (it) to the Temple.
And the restraints of men were not able to restrain it . . .
For it [the water] spread over the face of all the earth,
and filled everything.
Then all the thirsty on the earth drank,
and thirst was relieved and quenched;
For from the Most High the drink was given.
— Odes of Solomon 6:6-12 (in G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission)
Ah, mercy, mercy me,
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be, no, no.
Where did all the blue skies go?
Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east.
— Marvin Gaye “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” What’s Going On?
I’ve been on a Marvin Gaye kick lately. Seriously. Ever since I read that “What’s Going On” made number six on Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums of all time, I’ve been a devoted listener. The first single from that album was the title track. It hit number 2 on the pop charts, and number 1 on the R&B charts. That pretty much guaranteed that the second single would be welcomed with open arms. The second single was “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”.
I love the song. It was released in 1971, and spoke exclusively about environmentalism. It asked questions like, “What where did all the blue skies go?” and “What about this overcrowded land? How much more abuse from man can you stand?” Gaye was definitely ahead of the curve of public consciousness.
The church typically spits along environmental issues. It’s especially a sore spot in my traditions. I hear conservatives argue: focus on souls, not the environment—it’s all going to burn anyway. Still, the Bible has a lot to say about the environment. (Didn’t God create it?) This verse from Ezekiel speaks of the restoration that will come, not just to people, but to all creation.
. . .
Let’s look at the verse:
On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47:12, NRSV)
This river that springs from the temple will rejuvenate the land itself. To be sure, more than just the land is involved: the trees will provide fruit for food and leaves for medicine. However, let’s not jump over the fact that the trees themselves are products of a renewed environment.
Paul spoke about the environment:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom and the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21, NRSV)
The creation (read: environment) is suffering for our sin, and is eagerly awaiting that time when the believers will be revealed in glory and put an end to the environment’s suffering.
John picked up on the theme from Ezekiel too:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations. (Revelation 22:1-2, NRSV).
. . .
It’s pretty easy to turn on the news and see the manifold ways that creation is “groaning”, to use Paul’s word. I wonder: why have Christians have shied away from doing anything about it? Are we too afraid to be labeled as “tree-huggers”? Was Jesus too afraid to be labeled a gluttonous drunk?
The renewal of the land will happen, and we’re called to leave that future reality today. The Kingdom of Heaven has busted in to our world, and the environment should be tasting the firstfruits of the coming reveal.
. . .
Creator God, forgive us for not caring for your creation. Help us to lead the way in announcing your kingdom not just to humans, but the entire cosmos. In Jesus’ name, Amen.