Themes & Theology of Nature & the Environment
The Psalmist wrote:
When I behold Your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that You set in place, --
What is man that You have been mindful of him,
mortal man that you have taken note of him.
O Lord, our God, how majestic is Your name throughout the earth!
The vast expanse of the observable universe, its variety, the orderly cycles of astronomy and of animal and vegetative life as well as nature’s unpredictable rages and calms -- all these have occasioned astonishment and reflection among people in every society. The radical monotheism of biblical Israel, as measured against the other ancient cultures of the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin, led to a desacralized view of nature itself, making of it not a realm of gods, but the Creation of God.
For ancient Israelites and for Jews throughout the ages, observation of nature has occasioned praise and wonder at the workings of the Creator. Like the author of Psalm 8, Jewish writers have responded to nature as a reflection of an unfathomable power and, often, as the work of a benevolent sovereign.
Furthermore, as in the verses cited above, the place of human beings in the created universe is also a central concern. In most Jewish understandings of the relationship of that sovereign and the sovereign’s many subjects, custody of the riches of the sovereign’s physical realm has been bestowed upon humanity as a favored class among the subjects. The sovereign/donor has made this provisional gift for the benefit of the subjects/recipients, but at the same time charged them with responsibility for the care and upkeep of the natural world, and for the wellbeing of its other inhabitants. People are told that the earth’s abundance will enable them to sustain themselves and live long lives, but realizing the earth’s potential to provide for them will come at the cost of considerable toil.
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