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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eco-Theology.Joel


The book of the prophet Joel is about bugs.  Mainly, it is centered on a plague of locusts that descends upon the land and devours every living thing in sight.  The descriptions are vivid and tragic.

What Joel describes is another manifestation of a repeated biblical pattern:

1) The people fall into idolatry, worshiping gods other than YHWH.

2) The worship of these other gods leads the people to enact systems of economic injustice in which the poor suffer and the rich increase their wealth.

3) Injustice leads to an intolerable imbalance in society, and in their relationship to nature, such that eventually an awesome and horrible catastrophe occurs.  This may be a political/military disaster, like a war.  Or it may be a “natural” disaster, like a plague of locusts.

4) YHWH restores what is left of the people with healing and forgiveness; the people turn back to YHWH.

Interpreting this pattern in Joel is not difficult.  But as I was reflecting on it this time it occurred to wonder about the locusts.  We who read the Scriptures automatically identify with the victims of such catastrophes, the one addressed by the prophet. 

But in our context, I wonder if we aren’t better identified with the locusts.  After all, one way of looking at human history, particularly over the past few centuries, is as a plague that descends upon the land and devours every living thing in sight.  Didn’t Tacitus, the Roman historian, say something like the empire makes a desert and calls it peace?  Is this not the point of “mountaintop-removal” mining, off-shore oil drilling, and clear-cutting of forests?  Is it not apparently the goal of human economies to devour every living thing on this planet?

But the text has no redemption for the locusts.  They end up crashing and burning after their gluttonous, drunken orgy.  Joel sees their dead carcasses piled up in stinking, rotting mounds.  There is no eventual good news for them, just as there is no hope for the Babylonians or any other engine of destruction that flourishes at the expense of God’s people for a time.  They all collapse in death and annihilation.   

Better to turn to God in confession, repentance, and renewed allegiance to the covenant, establishing reformed institutions promoting peace, justice, equality, and healing in society, according to God’s Word and Spirit, than to continue in the destructive ideology of the locusts.

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