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Written by Jim Jordal   
Sunday, 06 September 2009

SABBATH ECONOMICS IN GENESIS

By Jim Jordal

In brief, the concept of Sabbath economics refers to implementing the Sabbath values of God-ordained rest, nurture, protection, respect, and restoration for man, beast, and the earth. Today it means an economic philosophy centered upon human welfare rather than corporate profits, production for use rather than monetary gain, an equitable sharing of the earth’s wealth, and the assessment of all human productive activities in terms of their ecological impact and possibility of being sustained over the long-term. The concept is perhaps best detailed by the Jubilee provisions found in Leviticus chapter 25 and in God’s instructions to Adam and Eve regarding their treatment of the earth.

The first few chapters of the biblical book of Genesis clearly reveal God’s plan for preservation of the earth and the betterment of its people. God intended that the earth should shelter and sustain humans in return for their respectful care and preservation of the earth and its natural systems.

Unfortunately, for centuries religions (mostly Christian) have spent too much time arguing over the why, when, and how of creation. Was the earth really created more or less instantaneously by God in 4004 BC (Schofield Reference Bible), or did it happen some other way? Were Adam and Eve really the first humans? Who was Cain’s wife? In our zeal for factual doctrinal accuracy we too often miss the more vital role of humans in creation--not how we got here, but how do we relate to the earth and each other now that we are here.

There are three relationships that together constitute biblical righteousness. They are (1) that bond or attachment existing between God and His human creatures, (2) interrelationships between people based upon justice and equity, and (3) the relationship between people and the earth. Today we will consider just the third one since it is so much in the news.

Unfortunately, modern capitalism misses the most important part of this instruction because it focuses almost exclusively on the most efficient ways of discovering, developing, and combining resources into "things," usually at the expense of human beings. The religious justification for this seriously erroneous value system often arises from a misreading of Genesis 1:26-28 where God gives humans the power of dominion over the flora and fauna, and commands them to "fill the earth and subdue it."

Thus was born the concept of human dominion over and domination of God’s creation, the consequences of which are now all too evident. Many classical economists argue that the only business of corporations is to make money for shareholders, and that any other concerns such as ecological damage or human suffering belong to someone else. That view helps create predatory outside-the-law (sometimes inside the law because they made it) corporations busily exploiting the people and wealth of the earth.

But there is a balancing view found in Gen. 2:15, where God specifies that the purpose of human effort is to "tend and keep" the Garden of Eden, and by extension, the earth. In this way dominion is seen, not as a license to loot and pillage, but as stewardship over the earth and its creatures. We are to joyfully protect and nurture the earth in exchange for the sustenance it provides.

Today we have massive global corporations raping the earth (and many of its people) in an entirely unsustainable struggle for profit. They pass the costs of this pillage on to future generations through what they call "externalization" of costs, or the refusal to count all social and ecological costs of production. The earth and its creatures matter little—profits are supreme.

So what to do? One thing we could consider is to rescind the original Supreme Court decision that corporations are to be treated as people, thus giving them all the legal and constitutional protections accorded to citizens. Another is to require them to add all costs of production to their prices. Another would be to stop giving them favorable tax treatment, which in some egregious cases rewards them for exporting the jobs of our people.

The Sabbath idea as developed in Scripture is to provide rest and restoration for people, farm land, animals, and resources of the earth. It’s to our own loss that we neglect this value, but the current economic crisis is, I hope, a call to recognize and change what we are doing to ourselves and to God’s creation. It’s about time!