Ultimately, we as a race should be more concerned about helping those in need than in whether or not an animal species goes extinct. At the same time, we are called to be stewards of this planet we call home.
And this is usually where tempers begin to flare and heads begin to butt. The dichotomies are formed at this point. The group the cares about the ending of extreme poverty accuses the group wanting to save the polar bears of being earth worshipers. And the “earth worshipers” accuse those concerned with poverty of not caring a lick about the world around them.
Sadly, to some extent, one of the stereotypes is correct. In light of Scripture passages like 2 Peter 3 and Isaiah 65, many Christians truly believe that we shouldn’t be concerned about environmental issues. And that is part of the problem. Of course, as the quote from Prince Charles from the last post makes clear, there is also an element of truth in the “earth worshiper” stereotype. Which is another part of the problem.
But I digress.
How do we do both? How do we simultaneously relieve poverty and care for the environment? The answer is found in the Old Testament Law.
For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the foreigner among you as well, may be refreshed…At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to another Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORD’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. (Exodus 23:10-12; Deuteronomy 15:1-2 TNIV)
During the Year of Jubilee, which was to occur every seven years, two major things happened. The land was given a rest and the people were relieved of the burden of the debt that they may have incurred in the previous six years. This amounts to a time every seven years when there was a major wealth and land redistribution. The wealth of God’s people, and I would say all of humanity, was to be evenly distributed.
However, there should be no poor among you… (Deuteronomy 15:4a NIV)
So, according to the Old Testament Law, balance was to be maintained at all times. Which explains the law about how it is okay to take eggs from a mother bird, but not the mother bird herself.
But, in this day and age, balance is pretty much a thing of the past. Humankind has already tipped the scales in the wrong direction. According to some scientists, it was humans who, more or less, caused the extinction of animals like the mammoth. And it is widely agreed that it was humans who almost entirely wiped out the Buffalo here in America. And it was humans who wiped out massive swaths of the elephant population in Africa simply for their ivory tusks.
So what are we to do? Can we achieve some semblance of balance in a world already wrecked in ways that are probably irreversible? I think we can.
It’s pretty cliche, but there is an old saying that says, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” I think this is key.
The way we tend to think of relieving poverty is by giving poor people money (or by giving rich bankers money and hoping some of it eventually trickles down to the poor). But this simply doesn’t solve the problem. There may be temporary relief for some, but definitely not all, and when the money is gone, everything reverts back to how it began. Rather, we must relieve poverty by teaching people how to provide for themselves. In a world like ours, with limited land, water, and other natural resources, it becomes imperative that that we also teach people how to provide for themselves in a sustainable manner.
The problem with this is that it flies in the face of modern western philosophy. A large group of people here in America argue that sustainable and renewable energy, for example, will kill our economy and our ability to produce. Another problem is that there is no one size fits all answer. Any solution to poverty via the method of “teaching a man to fish” must be subjective and utilize indigenous people and resources. Again, this is not always something that modern western philosophy encourages. But these are hurdles that must be overcome if we are to both relieve poverty and show proper care for creation. And as Christians, I believe we have the people, tools, and resources to do this. The question is: are we willing to take the risk?