Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wanted: a theology of mining (part 2)

This is the second of (what I see as) a series of three posts about mining.  In the first post, I quoted the lyrical description of ancient mining in Job 28, and suggested that it raises three groups of theological questions for us:

1.               The bountifulness of God
2.               The nurture of creation
3.               The search for wisdom
Second question. How are we to understand the mystery and beauty of creation? Is there a distinction between “fair use” and exploitation?  There is something very sensuous about Job’s description of the mining process.  The miners are explorers of a mystery, walking in the secret ways under the earth.  As they “dangle and sway” beneath the earth, even perhaps as they “assault the flinty rock”, they respect the gift that God has given them.  Contrast this with the present practice of coal mining by “mountaintop removal” in West Virginia and Kentucky. The process, a startling pre-emption of Isaiah 40:4, is as drastic as it sounds.  Vast quantities of explosives are used to strip the tops off whole mountains to get at the coal beneath.  The debris chokes adjacent valleys which are filled in.  Over a thousand tons of explosives per day – two Hiroshimas per month – are employed in these operations which will soon cover an area equal to that of the state of Delaware.  

 One should not romanticize ancient practices; given the tools, ancient peoples have shown themselves just as capable of ecological devastation as we moderns are. (Cf. Jared Diamond, Collapse). However, one must ask whether the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28 licenses MRM with all its consequences.  If we say that it doesn’t, on what do we base that response, and how do we judge similar cases in the future?

In his recent book The Bible and Ecology, Richard Bauckham attempts to answer this sort of question by locating humans as "participants in the community of God's creatures". He writes: "A major concern of this book is for us to recognize that there is much more to the Bible's understanding of the relation between humans and the rest of creation than the mandate of human dominion given us in Genesis 1... We need to rediscover those biblical accounts of the human place in creation that are completely unconcerned with dominion and that do not set humans above other creatures... No part of Scripture does this more firmly and effectively than the book of Job."

So what wisdom can we learn from Job? More next time...

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