The Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter on Ecology (Third part)

Today I comment another part of the pope’s encyclical letter where are offered biblical passages about ecology. Today I comment the paragraph number 67:

We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it” (Dt 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23).

The encyclical’s paragraph begins with very effective words: we are not God. The true sin that men and women can commit is to replace God with themselves. It is the illusion to do whatever I want to do, without limits and without regard for other people. This deadly illusion came from the “snake” that tempted the woman in the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3).

But we are not God. We are fragile creatures in need of Him. Everything comes from him, because he created all that exists (Gen 1:1). In the encyclical this truth is confirmed by quoting the text of Leviticus 25, which describes the law of the Jubilee. This text is the biblical foundation of all jubilees that are regularly celebrated in the Catholic Church. Today the emphasis is placed on the “debts’ forgiveness” (i.e. the “sins’ forgiveness”). But in the Bible the argument was the return of lands to their legitimate and original owner and the liberation of the slaves. This was to take place every fifty years. However the basic idea is that “the land belongs to God” and man cannot exploit its resources without limits (cf. Lev 25:23). 

For some people instead the Bible itself justifies the earth’s resources exploitations. In fact, in Gen 1:28 it is said that man has to “subdue” the earth. The verb “to subdue” – in Hebrew “radah” – also means “to trample “. It seems that God orders man to exploit the earth’s resources as he wishes. However it should be noted that the verb “to trample” doesn’t mean “to plunder”, but “to dominate” the earth, using wisely its resources as a good king does in his kingdom.

However there is another biblical text that eliminates any doubt about earth’s exploitation: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it“. (Gen 2:15 ). The meaning of the verbs “to work” (in Hebrew “avad”) and “to take care of” (in Hebrew “shaman”) is that men and women have to religiously respect the earth (the Garden of Eden). In the Bible the two hebrew verbs are used to describe an act of worship (avad) and the observance of a religious precept (shamar). Therefore working and taking care of the earth is an act of worship.

We comes from the “mother earth” (cf. Gen 2:7); so it must be respected and loved like your mother!

Simone Venturini


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