Archives For Theology, Reluctantly

It’s easy to write about what good stewardship of God’s earth looks like in the abstract. It’s another thing to live it out.

And it’s another thing altogether when you are trying to make a living off of the land, and your particular neighborhood happens to have grizzly bears.

That’s why it was inspiring to read this article by Kristine Johnson of the Food and Environmental Reporting Network. The article describes how ranchers in the Tom Miner Basin in Montana are raising cattle in ways that prevent predation on their cattle without killing the predators.

You’re probably inundated with information, articles, and books. Nevertheless, I urge you to take the time to read this article and ponder it. And if you can, do so before continuing below.

In the Tom Miner Basin in Montana ranchers are trying to live with grizzlies. (Photo used with kind permission of photographer Louise Johns – www.louisejohns.org)

Here are the traits of good stewardship of God’s earth that this story brings to the fore.

“They deserve to be here, too:” Fundamentally, this story of ranchers in Montana is about people who are living by the conviction that grizzlies are part of the fabric of that country. From their ethical perspective, it’s up to them to figure out how to make a living ranching while allowing the whole fabric to continue to thrive. And that means figuring out how to live with predators.

This parallels what we see in the Bible. In Psalm 50:11 we read: “I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.” Without doubt, predators are included in “all the animals.”

In Job 38:39-41 we read:

Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
And satisfy the hunger of the lions
When they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
Who provides food for the raven
When its young cry out to God
And wander about for lack of food?

In Exodus 23:10-11, we read of the Sabbath concept of giving a parcel of farmland a rest every seventh year which enabled the poor and wildlife to be able to gather food from that land.

And we tend to forget that God made a covenant with both humanity and the rest of life. Wolves and grizzles were included in that covenant as well.

Acting within Creation’s framework: I was struck by the words in article of Whit Hibbard. A rancher and the editor of The Stockmanship Journal, Hibbard is an advocate for low-stress livestock handling. These are techniques that more peacefully and subtly direct the cattle to do what is needed. Knowing how to get your goals accomplished without being a tyrant is the most obvious sign of a good steward. For ranchers that can mean how you handle your cattle and how you interact with your predator neighbors. For all of us, no matter where we are, that means paying attention to how the ecosystems and the animals and plants around you interact and naturally behave and then trying to fit your place, your activities in those patterns.

Apply our creativity: Genesis tells us we are made in God’s image. I’m convinced that one of the primary elements of that image is creativity. We worship a Creator God, a God who is amazingly imaginative and who has endowed Creation with its own creativity. And we are, similarly, inventive beings. Using God’s earth for our needs while purposefully enabling God’s earth to thrive and even regenerate is one of the most important and most challenging puzzles we face as a species and as communities and individuals. This puzzle should bring out in us our best, most thoughtful,and wisest innovations.

It takes a little extra: Doing the right thing is rarely the easy thing. In comparison to the long-time ranching approach of letting the cattle out on the range for weeks on end with little human presence, having someone riding the range every day takes more time, energy, and money. Seeking out specific breeds of cattle that are better able to fight off predators also requires an investment of energy and research. In page three of the latest newsletter of People and Carnivores, you can read of ranchers learning how to put up special fences with fluttering flags attached (a practice called “fladry”) to scare off wolves without harming them. This is another example of thoughtfulness translated into action.

It reminds me of the parable of the good shepherd. In that parable, Jesus reminds us that an attentive shepherd puts his heart into his task and will search out one lost sheep. That’s neither the easy or simple thing. It might not make pure economic sense. Creation is God’s flock. Are we willing to be the kind of shepherds God wants us to be?

You and I cannot be judgmental spectators of the challenges ranchers face. We should be going to the extra effort of supporting farmers and ranchers like these by buying their products, even if it costs a little more. We should also be good stewards of our own land, even if that is just 20′ x 30′ backyard.

Living with loss: I don’t know how I would react to the killing and consumption of an animal of mine by a wolf or grizzly bear. I know it would be wrenching. This is what makes the stewardship ethic of the ranchers profiled in this article so powerful. They are moving forward even as they know there is danger of loss. Somehow, we must be able to be vulnerable enough to accept some level of hurt as we work to be good stewards.

Boundaries and solemn necessities: Any close relationship will have some friction and reasonable boundaries are needed. Some culling of the most aggressive individuals of predator species is a solemn necessity in places where people and nature live side by side, which is increasingly the future of conservation. Conversely, there must also be abundant preserves, reserves, and national parks where predators and other wildlife can thrive without pressure from humanity.

Right stewardship comes from the right heart: It is not stated directly in the article, but it’s clear from the words and actions of the ranchers that are profiled that everything starts from their hearts. Their actions are the fruits of what is in their hearts. Of course, I don’t know if many ranchers would feel comfortable using the language of “fruits of the hearts” to describe their motivations. Nevertheless, consider the qualities in Galatians 5:22-23 that describe the person in whom the Spirit of God has transformed:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”

I believe these ranchers and their families, regardless of their faith convictions, are showing us what the fruits of the spirit look like when applied to how we live practically on God’s earth.

Experiences of the world in synch: I became very interested in learning more about what values and family cultures compelled these ranchers to adjust their way of life and to put their ranches’ future on the line in the way the article describes. So I made some inquiries and was eventually able to speak with Andrew Anderson. Andrew grew up on a ranch in Montana and works on the J Bar L Ranch, which uses many of the predator-protecting practices mentioned in the article. He said something very interesting towards the end of conversation:

“When I’m on a horse, working with cattle, knowing that predators are on the land around me, it feels great to feel that I’m part of this natural system and not working against it. I love horses. I love working with animals in nonstressful ways. I love being connected with the landscape. And I don’t have to choose. I can have it all. That’s where the real satisfaction comes from.”

This might be one of the better descriptions of shalom, the peace that the Bible speaks about, the peace that is not just the absence of conflict but is all the elements of the world and life in synch.

Committing ourselves to creative Creation stewardship doesn’t mean our hearts will always be in a state of bliss and harmony. Far from it. This is a challenging, difficult world.

Yet, when we respond to God’s call to tend God’s earth, we will have the kinds of moments that Andrew Anderson does.

In two previous blogs (here and here), I’ve dived into the subtleties of John 3:16. This iconic verse, often used to convey the Gospel, has more nuance to it than is normally recognized. The words “believe” and “eternal life” and even “have” are translations that typically do not capture the full meaning. This epitomizes how easy it is simplify the Christian faith and lose its wholeness. And one of the ways Christians have been tempted to do so is by making Christianity only about individual people and their individual destinies beyond death.

It is with this in mind that I tackle one key word in John 3:16 – “world.” The argument I make is not conventionaI. But while I certainly don’t claim to be a theologian, I do believe we all should wrestle with what we read in the Bible and work to understand how it fits together as a whole. I encourage you to be the judge whether my reasoning is compelling or not.

What do most Christians understand to be the meaning of the word “world,” which is a translation of the Greek word “kosmos,”in John 3:16?

I’ve looked to answer that with an admittedly unscientific search online. And I’ve encountered what one often finds with Christian doctrine and key verses – a wide range of opinions with sometime fierce denunciations of others’ opinions.

Some of the dominant opinions one finds for answers to that question are

1. All of humanity

2. All of fallen humanity

Here’s John Piper’s take on the second understanding, which is representative of many other theologians I’ve come across:

That is the way John is using world here. It is the great mass of fallen humanity that needs salvation. It’s the countless number of perishing people from whom the “whoevers” come in the second part of the verse: “. . . that whoever believes in him should not perish.” The world is the great ocean of perishing sinners from whom the whoever comes.

3. The elect of God (of which there are a number of interpretations).

What I could not find was anyone asserting that world in this case actually meant the whole world of people, ants, trees, salmon, soil microbes, coyotes, and dung beetles.

Here are some reasons why I believe it makes sense to read “kosmos” as the whole earth:

The Gospel of John begins with the whole world: All too often we atomize the Bible, pulling together a set of verses plucked out of different books of the Bible to prove our case on a particular issue. In the process it is very easy to do violence to the wholeness of each book and to the complex wholeness of the Bible. When you begin at the beginning of the Gospel of John, you find John stating that Jesus was the Word and the Word was with God from the Beginning. And in John 1:3, John asserts that “Through him all things were made…” Would Jesus desire the spoiling and destruction of all the things made through Him?

The Bible itself begins with the whole world: In the beginning we see God creating earth mysteriously and through an orchestration of the creative capacities of the forces of nature. All of what God creates is good. When humanity is added in God’s image, the whole of Creation is judged to be very good. This is the context of the rest of the Bible.

The Bible ends with all of Creation: Gregory Stevenson, professor of New Testament at Rochester College, writes in this article:

Revelation presents God as the Creator for whom creation is a fundamental component of his identity and activity. He is both the divine benefactor who bestows creation upon us as a gift and the sovereign Lord who rules over that creation faithfully. As God will not abandon his people, he also will not abandon his creation. Furthermore, God’s vision for his creation is all-encompassing (from the alpha to the omega) and leading towards a predetermined goal – a goal which itself is all about creation.

Humanity is given a special and weighty responsibility: In the first chapter of Genesis, humanity is told to fill the earth and to subdue and rule over the living things of the world. How do we choose to read this? Christians have, unfortunately and tragically, tended to read Genesis 1: 26 in isolation and as license to kill, exploit, and tyrannize. This question needs more attention but consider these factors: (a) God has just said that all that God created is good, (b) look carefully at the original meanings of the Jewish words of subdue and rule in this blog, (c) in the very next verse humanity’s diet is defined to be plants, so what kind of rule is it when you are not given permission to eat animals?, (d) in Genesis 2, Adam is called on to keep and tend the Garden, (e) other verses and stories in the Bible make clear that all of Creation is of value to God, and (f) our model for ruling should be God’s rule over us which we see most fully realized in Jesus who showed anger at the misuse of power and who came and died out of sacrificial love.

“Kosmos” can legitimately mean “earth”: Here is what the commentary in the Today’s New International Version of the Zondervan Bible says about this Greek word: “Another common word in John’s writings, the Greek noun for “world” is found 78 times in this Gospel and 24 times in his letters (only 47 times in all of Paul’s writings). It can mean the universe, the earth, the people on earth, most people, people opposed to God or the human system opposed to God’s purposes. John emphasizes the word by repetition and moves without explanation from one meaning to another.”

The context of the bronze snake: In John 3:14, Jesus creates a parallel between the necessity for him to be raised up on the cross and Moses raising up the bronze snake while the people of Israel were in the wilderness. This comes from Numbers 21 where we read of God using poisonous snakes to punish the people of Israel for murmuring against Moses, which is essentially the doubting and questioning of God. In agony and fear, the people ask for the snakes to be taken away. Instead, God has Moses make a bronze snake and hold it up high. People who looked on the snake would not die.

This creates an interesting context for John 3:16. Here are several elements of this context we should allow to seep into our hearts. First, God used snakes for his purposes, and they obeyed, unlike the people of Israel. Second, God did not send the snakes away (much less destroy them) as God had been asked to do, Third, God used an image of a snake as a method of saving the bitten people who looked on it. Fourth,in the context of how the Bible tells the story of how sin entered the world, perhaps God is making a point of redeeming the conception of snakes in the bronze snake. Perhaps the challenge, in part, for the Israelites to decide to look on the bronze snake with faith was that it was a snake. In short, the reference to the bronze snake is steeped in sinful people, in sinful behavior, consequences for sin, Creation as part of the story, Creation serving God, and an unexpected symbol requiring faith and confession that will then lead to saved life in this world which will inevitably lead to changed behavior in this world.

Moses and the Brazen Serpent – John Augustus 1898

The challenging logic of the structure of the verse: However one chooses to read John 3:16, there is an interesting question that one must answer when reading it. How does the first part of the verse relate to the second part of the verse? Specifically, the first part begins with God’s love for the world. Whether “world” refers to the whole earth or just to fallen humanity, why does the verse end with individual human beings having the opportunity to have eternal life? How can God care about the whole set encompassed by “world” and offer a solution that is seemingly only effectatious for a subset of individual human beings?

In other words, how does it make sense for God to love this larger entity if the benefit of those who believe is only for their individual souls beyond death?

It doesn’t.

As we’ve seen already, John is using the present continuous tense when referring to “have eternal life.” The proper way to read this is actually this – “go on having eternal life.” And what does go on having eternal life look like? I’d suggest that it looks like Jesus’ life, a life in deep synchronicity with God’s purposes right now and forever, before and after death.

When you and I go on believing and completely trusting in Jesus which leads us to go on having eternal life, we will begin to become the humans we were all meant to be. That will impact our relationship with God and with fellow human beings. We will share God’s love and the message of God’s love in Jesus. We will fight against the abuse of power.

It will also shape how we live out our mandate to be God’s image on this earth. When we become what we as humanity were intended to be, then Creation will also flourish as any subjects of a good king would flourish. This will bring God’s love for all of life to the earth.

So the puzzle of the structure of this verse is at least partly solved by the unspoken assumption it contains – an eternal, faith-filled life will be full of outward-focused love that prospers other people and God’s earth.

True eternal life leads to a rippling outward of God’s love to all that God has made.

Through us, God’s love is meant to go viral.

Painting by Julius Hubner of Martin Luther posting the 95 theses.

 

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation has been on my mind for weeks now. It was a turning point in Christian history and in the history of Western Europe. What should we make of it?

It is a legacy of growing up Lutheran that I continue to admire Luther’s willingness to stand up on principle. He was willing to challenge a massive institution and religious empire – the Roman Catholic Church – on points of principle about God. He was a rebel with a cause.

But was the Reformation’s legacy all good?

What I have struggled with is the battleground on which Luther largely fought the Reformation – theology.

My sense is that the zealous pursuit of a science-like, all-encompassing theology of God and Jesus has been given too much weight in Christian history. It is deeply ironic and shameful, for example, that Luther and other Protestant leaders went from being persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church to advocating for the persecution of others, like the Anabaptists.

When people are so consumed by a zeal for theological correctness that they lose the ability to love one’s neighbor as oneself, something has gone very wrong.

This is not to say that theology is not an important and valuable tool. It is. We are called to love God with our minds. Theology is one way to do that. And the diversity of the 66 books of the Bible calls out for some unifying ideas and ethics that will translate into how we live and think.

But speaking and reading theology about God can replace actual experience of God. It can, in its very form, make the Christian life too abstract and too left-brained.

I have had one profoundly spiritual experience in my life. It was an experience without words. I cannot describe it with any degree of accuracy using words. All of the theology and preaching I heard from the pulpit throughout my life did not prepare me for that experience. In fact, all of the theology and preaching I had heard had lulled me into believing I knew God through the words about God I had been taught.

We casually use words like grace, faith, forgiveness, resurrection, and salvation like they are distinct and quantifiable elements from a periodic table. They are, in fact, ineffable phenomena.

Interestingly enough, the humility with which we should approach words and names for the actions and essence of God is exemplified in the name of God that appears in the Hebrew Scriptures. As this well-written article by Rabbi Louis Jacob explains, we actually don’t know how to correctly pronounce the four-letter Hebrew name for God. It appears in the Hebrew Scriptures 6,823 times. But Jewish tradition long discouraged the actual speaking of the name and instead substituted “Adonai”, the Hebrew word for Lord.

In extreme theologizing we have too often lost the fear and awe of God and all that God is. We make God safe through theology. In some ways, theological constructs can even become an assertion of human power over God.

So how do we know if theologies and even church practices are on the right track?

Here is one of my suggestions – we should pay attention to their fruit. Jesus spoke often about good fruit being a natural product of a living faith in Him and of a good heart. Theologies and church practices can best be judged by their fruit. How do their believers and followers live out their faith in the following four areas?

 

ATTITUDE AND RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

Do you sense God’s love for you even as you are in awe of God and aware of God’s unwillingness to accept what is wrong in this world?

Is Jesus at the center of your faith and heart?

Do you seek out knowledge and experience of God like a person in a desert seeks out water?

When you pray do you not only seek out help from God open your heart to what God desires of you?

Do you approach God and Jesus with humility and mystery?

 

ATTITUDE AND RELATIONSHIP WITH PEOPLE

Are you forgiving and full of loving kindness for others?

Do you make the effort with the help of God’s Spirit to see and perceive other people the way God sees them?

Do you love your neighbor as you love yourself?

Do you have strong integrity, honesty, and a clear sense of what is right and wrong?

Do you struggle against evil and people consumed with evil without losing yourself to hate and blind anger?

Do you care about justice for the poor and vulnerable around you, individually and collectively?

 

ATTITUDE AND RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD’S EARTH

Do you see the earth as God’s and act appropriately respectful and compassionate towards it?

Do you and your community of faith balance the use of God’s earth with enabling it to thrive and prosper even when this requires sacrifices that others around you are not wiling to make?

Do you and your church pay attention to Creation?

Is being thoughtful stewards of God’s earth part of the fabric of your faith and life, including your civic life?

In your faith and life, do pigs, oak trees, and mussels matter?

 

ONE’S OWN LIFE

Do you love yourself at the same time you love others?

Are you honest about and aware of your failings and seek not only forgiveness but also seek to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit every day?

Do you seek to have your heart and your will reformed on a regular basis so that how you live is an eloquent statement about your faith?

Do you listen for God’s calling for your life? Do you do hard and challenging things when you sense that is God’s call?

Do you know your talents, enjoy using them, and use them creatively and energetically for God’s Kingdom?

 

If these are the widespread fruits of the theology and practices of your faith community, then God is a whole and living presence there.

Of course, all of us, individually and collectively, will fall short of what God offers us and wants from us. This is why God’s forgiveness is always needed.

This is why we will always need reformation that goes beyond words.

In a previous post, I began to look more closely at John 3:16 as a way to wrestle with this question: how are you and I to think about how the Gospel in the New Testament relates to how we relate to God’s earth? This iconic verse that is everywhere is, I’ve found, rarely understood in its full meaning. In this post, we continue to look closely at John 3:16.

We’re so quick to jump to conclusions, aren’t we?

When we come to John 3:16, we rush through its rhythm and ideas, knowing that it ends happily with eternal life. And we rush, too, to the automatic assumption that “eternal life” is talking about life after death.

The grammar of the verse tells us otherwise. And I’ve never appreciated grammar more than when I first understood from David Pawson’s uneven book Is John 3:16 the Gospel? (and confirmed by other sources) that traditional translations of the verse typically get the verse subtly wrong because they don’t convey the subtleties of the grammar.

Pawson explains that the Greek language has more nuance in its tenses than in English. A crucial distinction is whether a verb indicates continuous action or action that occurs and is then over at a single point in time.

The “believe” in “everyone who believes in him” is actually in the present continuous tense. So that portion of the verse literally means “everyone who goes on believing in him.”

The “have” in “have eternal life” is also in the present continuous tense.

So the real translation of this portion of the verse would be… “everyone who goes on believing in him will go on having eternal life.”

Later in John 10:10 we come again to this idea of eternal, abundant life which we will go on having.  Of the many ways there are to translate it, I like the New Century Version best. It reads: “A thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I came to give life — life in all its fullness.”

This idea of God offering a full and good life also hearkens back to Psalm 16:11: “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

Things get even more interesting when you look at “eternal.” Pawson notes that scholars are debating exactly what “eternal” means in this context. Some believe it relates to quantity – in other words something infinite without end. But others believe it relates to quality – “..life of a quality that makes every moment worthwhile.” Pawson writes, “I think the answer is both quantity and quality of life.”

The implications from understanding these elements of the verse more fully are profound:

First, we need to go on believing in Jesus and through Jesus in the God who Jesus reveals and the framework for what Jesus is all about from the Bible. As we highlighted in the last blog on this topic, this believing in is not about an intellectual assent to an idea but it’s putting the full weight of how we live our lives and what commit our heart to. It’s not a once-and-done situation. It’s entirely possible for us to stop believing.

Second, when we go on believing, we will go on having eternal life. Eternal life does not begin when we die. It begins now and continues through and past our death.

Third, eternal life is not an escape from this world but a radical engagement with it and a radical enlivening of ourselves that begins to give us the true life we were meant to have.

What does that eternal life, the eternal that we can go on having now and forever by continuing to believe in Jesus, look like? Here is my take on that from what I’ve read, seen, and experienced:

Beginning to know the majesty and mystery of God.

Knowing each of us matter and that we are loved by God.

Knowing how much God hates evil in all its forms.

Knowing that our past sins are forgiven, that death and evil are not to be feared, and that God can give us the power to overcome our ongoing habits of sin.

Seeing the God-given value of people and all of Creation.

Finding purpose in using our unique talents and creativity to share God, mend the woundedness of people and Creation, fight evil, and create joy.

Sharing and giving.

Finding peace and strength.

Being filled with the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Becoming part of a larger whole – God’s kingdom and the Church – and knowing that the good we do is part of a large movement.

Being called to forgive and being able to do so.

Knowing what matters and what doesn’t.

Jesus came not just to avoid sinning and be the perfect sacrifice for our sin but to also model for us what this eternal life in God looks like and is to be lived. This is why we are called to make disciples of all people.

I can’t help but mention, and this may reveal my Norwegian-American Lutheran background, that there is little sense in the Bible that following God’s ways will automatically translate into perpetual happiness, at least not in the light and fluffy sense of the word. There will be suffering. We will be called to do hard things. Rosa Parks and Willliam Wilberforce are just two examples of people whose Christian faiths called them to difficult paths that did not translate into casual happiness.

In fact, if our lives are easy and comfortable all the time and we fit in perfectly with the general culture around us, then we’re probably not living a complete Christian life. We’re probably following a Gospel that doesn’t reflect the present continuous tense.

We see the whole context of what experiencing true and ongoing eternal life is all about at the beginning of Genesis and at the end of Revelation – God, people, and Creation together in the relationship they were meant to have.

In this sense, life in all its fullness that we begin to grow into through ongoing faith in Jesus cannot help but lead to a different relationship with God, people, and God’s earth.

How should Christians think about regulations and limits?

it’s a topic that needs addressing more than ever on this Earth Day, especially when President Trump plans slash environmental regulations and gut the Environmental Protection Agency. But if we’re candid, we must admit that Christians have long had blind spots the size of Texas when it comes to thinking about limits and regulations on our treatment of Creation and protecting the vulnerable in general. Too often Christians have come close to worshipping freedom more than we worship God, except when we’ve called for severe resrictions on a few highly emotional and very tangible matters like abortion and homosexuality.

I’ll start this brief (by my standards!) meditation by calling your attention to the story of Adam and Eve.

In Genesis 2:15 we read the story of God telling Adam and Eve that they are free to eat the fruit of any tree in the garden with the exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

This was an environmental regulation. This was a limit on the use of Creation, It was a limit to protect Adam and Eve, and, because of their charge to rule God’s world, the limit also served as protection for Creation.

As you read on, we find in Genesis 3:6 that Eve was particularly tempted by the fruit’s appearance that promised culinary pleasure and by the wisdom that she would gain by consuming it. There, in a nutshell, are the two factors that drove the Fall as Christians understand it and what continue to tempt people today.

Our appetites. Our desire for power.

Today’s technologically-amped, Internet-saturated, self-gratification-focused, sacrifice-allergic, corporate-dominated world provides more options to act more impulsively on our appetites and desire for power than has ever been seen history.

This, in turn, makes the question of freedom for individuals and institutions an ever more challenging one.

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we are as tempted by our appetites and desire for power as Adam and Eve were. Limits are needed to prevent all of us, in our worst moments, from ignoring what is good for ourselves, our neighbors, and God’s earth.

Efforts to remove all limitations and permit everything ignore what the Christians call the Fall and Original Sin. Ironically, the design of the United States constitution is based in large part on an awareness that people will be drawn towards selfishness and acting on their worst passions. Its designers wanted to do two things – provide some idea of where the dividing lines between state powers and the federal government’s powers were (orderliness includes limits) and to frustrate the ability of majorities of people to easily use the tools of government to harm the interests of people outside of the majority. Checks and balances exist to contain and frustrate sinful people from doing the worst that they can do.

Balancing freedom with limits on the use of power is a very Christian approach.

That balance is seen, for example, in regulations God gives to the people of Israel for how they will live in the Promised Land. Consider Exodus 23:10-11. It reads, “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 is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.”

This forced fallowing would have limited the freedom of a landowner to maximize profit from a piece of land but it would have benefited the poor and local wildlife while also allowing the soil itself to renew itself.

Notice, too, how in a way similar to the description of the Fall the interests of God, people, and Creation are interlinked. This is common throughout the Bible. You cannot love God nor your neighbor if you trash God’s earth.

So pay attention to the words leaders use when they speak of rules and regulations and limits. Ask these questions:

What values do advocates for reducing or eliminating regulations directly or indirectly appeal to in their rhetoric? Is it love for God and love for our neighbors? Or is it freedom for the powerful to pursue their appetites and power in ways harmful to the the vulnerable and the commonwealth?  

Do the advocates for eliminating regulations accept one of the fundamental elements of the Bible – the Fall and our continued tendency to do wrong, individually and collectively? If they don’t, you have an approach to life and policy that is not Christian in its fundamentals.

Is the push for reduced regulations driven by corporations or people representing the interests of corporations? What complicates matters in thinking about limits and regulations today is the increasing complexity of our world and the dominating role that corporations play. Because corporations are increasingly seen as the vehicles for meeting our personal appetites and desires for power, we are tempted more than ever to give them as much power and freedom as possible.

And, like bacteria that adjust their environment to make conditions more conducive for their existence and less conducive for others, corporations strive to manipulate the regulatory environment to allow them to prosper as much as possible. The more powerful corporations get the more they either seek complete freedom or, perhaps worse, shape our legal frameworks in ways that work for their benefit.

Are those advocating and supporting the elimination of limits in the economic realm equally open to the elimination of limits in other areas of life?

The poster child for someone who called a spade a spade and then was slapped down is Tomi Lahren. This young conservative social media sensation said earlier this month:

“I am someone that’s for limited government. And so I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think that the government should decide what women do with their bodies. I can sit here and say that, as a Republican, and I can say, you know what, I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well.”

The blowback from conservatives was fierce, and she was fired from Glen Beck’s Blaze TV network. They accused her of being shallow in her conservatism. But, in fact, she was only saying aloud what a radical devotion to freedom in other areas of life would naturally lead you to conclude about abortion – limits on it restrict one’s freedom and do so in an area most intimate to a woman’s life.

It is fundamentally hypocritical for Christians to advocate for strict limits on the application of power against vulnerable life in one area and to go along with the wholesale elimination of limits on the use of power against vulnerable life in other areas.

For example, this article highlights that testing in 2005 and 2006 found that the average baby just out of the womb had an average of 200 industrial chemicals in its blood. Scientists at one point had thought the placenta shielded developing babies in the womb but this is now clearly not the case. And a young, developing infant is more vulnerable to harm from these chemicals than an adult. Where are the Christians fighting to protect the unborn from a chemical onslaught? Did you know that only a small minority of the industrial chemicals being used today have been tested for their safety because of the laxness of the Toxic Substances Control Act? Logic would dictate that Christians calling for limits on abortion should also seek out limits on what the unborn (and the rest of Creation) are exposed to.

Are the regulations and limits in question overdone and crushing goodness and creativity? Fallen people running governments are also tempted, sometimes even out of good motivations, to extend the power of government too far and too oppressively. Business influence can also shape the framework of laws and limits so that they favor the interests of large-scale industry.

It’s time for Christians to be coherent in what we believe so that how we act in society is also coherent. All of life is filled with meaning by God. God is on the side of the vulnerable even as our creativity also comes from God. We need to recognize how strongly our appetites and our desire for power tempt us. We should not only accept balances between limits and freedom where they are needed to protect all that God values, especially the vulnerable, but also advocate for that balance.

We should, like the Psalmist in Psalm 119:97, recognize our fallenness and welcome limits that guide our energies in right ways:

“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.”