Sunday, October 21, 2012

Eco-Law and Eco-Gospel

Saint Paul For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son...he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Thus Saint Paul, in the climactic eighth chapter of the letter to the Romans, surely the charter document of "Pauline Christianity".  For seven chapters, he and his readers have wrestled with what he calls the "Law": the revealed moral code which points toward a life of holy integrityThe Law, comments Paul, has strength indeed to condemn those who go astray (and that is everyone, with Paul at the head of the list), but it has no power to effect what it commands.  So, although it holds out the prospect of a new and fruitful life, all the Law actually achieves is to show us how inextricably we are entangled in a God-defying system of domination (which Paul calls the flesh): the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me (Rom 7:10)  Moralizing is not enough: the negative externalities of the Law outweigh its positive effects.  Who shall deliver us?

 As I've joined more actively in religious-environmental conversation over the last couple of years, it has struck me how often this dialogue takes the form of the Law. "Thou shalt not...": it would be easy enough to write an eco-Decalogue. In it, sound science and a passion for justice (both of them good things, just as the Law is holy and just and good) would point the believer toward a life of "creational integrity". Fair enough - but we are wary of speaking of any transformation that can bring to effect the commands of this new Law.  And such transformation is needed, if we are to have a hopeful message to share.

In Romans 8, Paul's words are radiant with confidence that transforming power, such power as the Law did not possess, has been unleashed through the coming of Jesus. It is that confidence which propelled him in his extraordinary travels, in his preaching and writing and "sabbaticals" in various jails.  Not a new Law, but a new life.  He is like the man Jesus speaks of in Matthew 13:44, who finds hidden treasure in a field: "then in his joy he goes and sells all he has, and buys the field."

Do we (should we) have an eco-Gospel? A vision for a new way of living that is so attractive that "all you have" is not even a difficult price to pay? A transformed consciousness that empowers human beings to begin to live at peace with creation?  I don't know.  But I think that we sell our faith short if all we believe is that it can make us more effective preachers of eco-Law.  "Ethics interprets the Law as the form of the Gospel" says Barth, "i.e. as the sanctification that comes to humanity through the electing God." (CD II.2, 36, thesis).  I want to interpret the eco-Law as the form of the Gospel too

No comments: