The Sabbath and Ecology

The lanky minister walked slowly towards the podium, as over 10,000 people waited in anticipation for his sermon to begin. Before reaching the lectern, he stopped, leaned over, and picked up a piece of paper that someone had carelessly littered on the floor. Dr. Herman Hoeh put the scrap into his pocket, arrived at the speaker's stand, and paused, as the audience sheepishly squirmed in their seats. Before opening his mouth, he had "preached" one of the most powerful messages I have ever "heard." It is a message that few professed Bible believers will heed.

Nearly two thousand years before this scene in Canada, Jesus taught a similar lesson near the Sea of Galilee, John 6:1-14. Multitudes had followed Him around the lake, and there was no food for the five thousand men and their families. Nothing except five barley loaves and two little fish freely contributed by a small boy. Jesus had everyone sit down, gave thanks, and broke and distributed the pieces of this little lunch. Miraculously, everyone was filled. Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost" verse 12. Twelve baskets remained. This incident teaches us several things: that an unselfish act of giving is blessed and greatly multiplied; that Jesus is the bread of life that we need more than physical food. These and other deep spiritual lessons can be gathered from this account. Yet there is a more obvious physical lesson as well. The Modern Language Bible translates verse 12, "Gather up the fragments that are left over, in order that nothing may be wasted."

The Creator is not wasteful. He teaches us that thrift and economy, rather than waste and wantonness, is the right way of life. Resources are precious, not to be thrown away with no thought of tomorrow. Likewise, our time is valuable and not to be wasted. Everything is to be used judiciously, in a wise and careful manner, not thoughtlessly discarded.

"He that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster." Proverbs 18:9. Why waste your life doing only that which produces more material goods to be thrown to the garbage heap? Dedicate yourself to that which is truly important: following the will of the Almighty. Don't be like the prodigal son who "wasted his substance with riotous living" Luke 15:13. Don't let God accuse you of being an unjust steward who wasted His goods, Luke 16:1-2. "He that wasteth his father, and chaseth away his mother, is a son that causeth shame, and bringeth reproach," Proverbs 19:26.

From the rubble and ruin of giant "tels," successive cities built upon the ruins and garbage piles of older cities, to our modern "throw away" society, mankind has left a sorry record of wasting this earth's resources, and life itself.

"A lazy man won't even dress the game he gets while hunting, but the diligent man makes good use of everything he finds," Proverbs 12:27 (Living Bible). "There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up," Proverbs 21:20.

The message of Jesus feeding the thousands from a few loaves and fish is the same message of the minister who picked up the litter: conserve and wisely use the resources of food, money, time, talents and material goods the Almighty gives you. Be efficient. "Make it do, do without, use it up, wear it out."

That is why even the simple practice of recycling is the "Christian" thing to do. I would put it even stronger: if you are not doing what you can to conserve the earth's resources through such basic practices such as recycling your aluminum and steel cans, old newspapers, kitchen food scraps, and limiting the volume of your "throwaways," then you have not even grasped the fundamental concepts of the Eternal's ways of life!

Granted, this society produces too many material goods of inferior quality that have to be thrown away after brief use. Useless packaging alone is a sickening waste of this earth's resources. We live in Babylon. We must come out of it as much as possible. If we are not even attempting to lessen this stampede of waste from our effluent society, over the areas of which we have control, then we are certainly not following the Creator's code for righteous living.

Most people are lazy about doing what is right. It is so much easier to toss a can into the garbage, than to crush it, store it, and later take a whole pile of cans to a recycling center, if you can find one, which usually isn't easy. If you zealously recycle, you might be ridiculed as a "garbage man."

One of the great lessons that the observance of the Sabbath should teach us is an admiration and respect of nature. Samuele Bacchiocchi in his book, Divine Rest for Human Restlessness (pages 204-214) demonstrates how the Sabbath holds the key to the solution of the ecological crisis facing mankind. On the Sabbath day, the Christian must leave nature untouched. To change it by building on it or by destroying it would be a violation of "rest." The Sabbath is the day not to alter nature, but to admire it as an expression of the beauty and glory of God's handiwork, Psalm 19:1.

Instead of plundering natural resources, the Sabbath teaches us to cease pollution, to appreciate and respect God's creation, and especially other human beings. As Bacchiocchi quotes another writer, "What people do to, for, and with others and their environment depends largely upon what they think of God, nature, themselves and their destiny." The Ruler created the universe. It is His. How we dress and keep it, Genesis 2:15, shows what we think of Him. If we can't be faithful in even little things, how can He entrust us with rulership of the universe? Luke 16:10-12.

"Sabbath keeping is an exercise in responsible stewardship of the whole earth . . . . The acknowledgement of God's ownership, expressed on the Sabbath by surrendering the right to use gainfully human and natural resources, affects the Christian's general attitude toward God and the world. It teaches a person to view himself not as a predator but as a curator [guardian, protector] of God's creation."

The Sabbath presents a vision and a foretaste of "another day" Hebrews 4:1-11, beyond the present day when "the earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth," Isaiah 24:5-6 (RSV). Happily, the Sabbath points to the millennium, when "They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain [government]." Isaiah 11:6-9. The creation groans and awaits, Romans 8:21-22, the "new heaven and new earth" Revelation 21:1-4, II Peter 3:11-14. The time when we shall "build the old waste places" Isaiah 58:12. This concept is directly related to the Sabbath, verses 13-14. How can we "repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations" Isaiah 61:4 if we are guilty of causing this pollution?

Abraham Joshua Heschel states in The Sabbath, Its Meaning for Modern Man (pages 28-29), "on the Sabbath we live, as it were, independent of technical civilization: we abstain primarily from any activity that aims at remaking or reshaping the things of space." Instead, we stand back from and admire the creation and its beauty. To litter, to waste by throwing away garbage, is totally out of place on the Sabbath, or any other day.

The Sabbath should teach us respect for and reverence of the Almighty's world. That is why the simple act of crushing and recycling a metal can is for me a religious act. It is one small thing that I can do to show my appreciation for the natural resources God gave us on this good earth. It shows I do not want to waste what God has given me. Metal cans probably should not be used at all, but I have no control over this. I do have control over my use and recycling of cans.

Recycling is not a new idea. The Eternal Himself is going to conduct the most gigantic recycling campaign of all time: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war [or pollution] any more," Isaiah 2:1-4.

Give a hoot, don't pollute! Learn this important lesson of the Sabbath and the feeding of the five thousand. Respect and honor God's creation and you will inherit all things.

Additional Articles:

Why the Sabbath is Important, Part 1
When Does Your Sabbath Begin?
Keeping the Sabbath in a Non-Sabbath World
How to Keep the Sabbath Holy
The Sabbath and Service
The Truth About Sabbath and Sunday
The Good News of the Sabbath
Sabbath Facts
Jubilee and the Sabbath Year
The Sabbath: A Divisive Issue?
A History of the Saturday Resurrection Doctrine Among Sabbath-Keepers
Chronology of the Crucifixion and Resurrection According to Ancient Texts
A Look at The Pope’s Pastoral Letter, "Dies Domini"
Review: The Sabbath Under Crossfire
Sabbath Quiz

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Written by: Richard C. Nickels
Giving & Sharing
PO Box 100
Neck City, MO 64849
United States of America

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