Podcast S1E4 - Faith & Soil

Amidst a culture fostering skeptical apathy and fatalist visions of our planet’s future, how can we begin to strive toward a renewed creation? In this fourth episode of “Language of God”, our producer, Colin Hoogerwerf picks up the microphone himself and talks to Dr. Steve Bouma-Prediger, Dr. Dan Richter, and Dr. Norman Wirzba in order to gain a richer view of these complicated issues. Colin invites these experts to reflect on how the role dirt has played in our lives has evolved since biblical times, and how this may be connected to humility. They examine etymology, reflect on the biblical call to be stewards of creation, and review findings in soil science to confront these questions with an eye for hope. The result—a fresh vision of our human relationship to the Earth.

Find this episode at: https://biologos.org/resources/language-of-god-faith-soil
All the others are at: https://biologos.org/podcast

What are your thoughts on the topic?

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6 minutes in so far, and I have some concerns. Genesis 2:15 doesn’t say to serve and protect the earth, it says to serve and protect the Garden of Eden, presumably from the forces of nature. See this article for more information.

Still, I agree that the notion of the Image of God is intended to mean that we are to represent God on earth, presumably to the animals. Genesis does call for subduing and ruling the animals, which I see as referring to taming and domestication of all animals (so that they may come into contact with God through man), but the Bible does also call for proper treatment of animals such as with giving animals rest of the Sabbath, and holding their lives in regard, as in the Book of Jonah.

Here is a good verse for creation care: (Leviticus 25)

The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.

If only there were many animals capable of domestication. Leastwise that was one of my takeaways from Guns, Germs and Steel. I’m afraid the only way we’re going to keep around what remains of large fauna is by setting aside land for them and for viable populations they need more than zoological parks. But will we be willing to dial back our ecological footprint? I don’t think we’ll ever exercise responsible dominion over life on earth until master our own appetites.

I cannot say that I enjoyed this as much as the first three. It was a little over the top in its soil-centrism and soil-enthusiasm. But I can share a number of criticisms and a point of interest.

A couple of Biblical and linguistic homonyms or etymological connections are shared showing the link between our own identity and that of the ground or soil. These are presented as “puns” probably to offset the weakness of an connection made by etymology and the sound of words.

  1. The first is between the Hebrew word for man or Adam and the word for ground, as used in Genesis. God makes Adam from the dust of the ha’adamah.
  2. The second is between the “humans” and “humus” which is a component of soil. And the connection is also made to the word “humility” as a remembrance that we come from the dirt. From which is launched the idea that sin comes from pride.

I may not agree with equating “image of God” with being a representative of God in the world, but I certainly agree with the understanding of Genesis 1:28 as giving us a stewardship responsibility over the earth, because power and responsibility always go hand in hand. We alone of all the species of the earth have the capacity to understand all the other species and the ecological balance and well being of the earth and with that understanding naturally comes responsibility.

My first point of contention or skepticism is to point out that rather than soil be the source of life, like 20% of our atmosphere, it is a product of life. And my second is to point out that undervaluing ourselves can be just as big a problem as valuing ourselves too much. There is after all a important role of pride in the work we do – a matter of doing a good job. My third objection is to this idea that our ecological mess comes from thinking of ourselves at the center rather than God, when most would find fault in Christianity and theism for too little respect of nature and leaving too much in the hands of God.

But… as the discussion progresses, my last objection is addressed with a recognition that Christianity has misled with regards to our ecological responsibilities. Though I hardly think that soil erosion is any where near the top of the list of ecological concerns. It seems to me this is a one of the ecological concerns we have had a better handle on than others. To be sure in some areas of the world the expansion of desert areas are proving to be unstoppable but in other areas we have had considerable success in converting and reclaiming deserts and damaged lands.

The topic shifts to eschatology as one of the areas in which Christianity has been unhelpful to ecological concerns. However, while I am very sympathetic to the opposition to this idea that God is going to destroy the earth anyway, I have to say the argument that 2 Peter 3:10 is wrongly translating a word as “burned” rather than “found,” is pathetic, dishonest, and out of context. Instead I would go back to that covenant with all creation in Genesis 9 previously mentioned and point to the promise made at the end of chapter 8 where God said He would never again destroy the earth because of man. But this doesn’t rule out destruction of the earth either by man or a destruction of the earth because our own failing to fulfill our stewardship role. I think that a judgement of God covers these situations as well as divine intervention. There are three rather obvious possible causes for a destruction of the Earth by fire:

  1. Nuclear war
  2. Asteroid impact
  3. A change in the sun.

The last of these is probably something we can do nothing about, but it is also the least likely for a very long time. But the other two are things we can and have been taking some responsibility for. To be sure it hasn’t and will not be easy but these are perhaps within our ability.

Thanks for this podcast. All the podcasts have been good so far, and this one helps us delve more into the “so what” of our faith - getting our feet on the ground, so to speak.

I appreciated the call to turn away from cynicism and toward faithful action and hope. Very badly needed today, as always, I’m sure. I also now know what a “soil horizon” is (not from the podcast itself - but because hearing of them, I had to look them up.)

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