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Review: The Green Bible

Published by Harper-Collins, The Green Bible has a cover of 100% all-natural cotton-linen, symbolizing its Earth-nurturing orientation.  The translation used is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), 1999, but  the volume’s contents offer more than just another version of the Bible itself.  The Green Bible is a “green-letter edition,” the green font serving to highlight those portions of the text that feature creation, God’s relationship to creation, how all the elements of creation — land, water, air, plants, animals, humans — are interdependent, how nature responds to God and to human dysfunction, and how we are called to care for creation.   The main idea behind it all is that what God created belongs to God, and it is therefore the responsibility of human beings, as faithful stewards,  to protect and care for Earth.

Prefacing The Green Bible are twelve scholarly essays written from twelve different perspectives, but all with a “green” approach to theology and to understanding the Bible’s intellectual and moral grounding: respect for creation is seen as respect for ourselves and the earth, as well as for God.  This edition of the Bible has value for the contents of its prefacing essays alone.  The writers cover a wide spectrum of Jewish and Christian thought, but because this is a Bible featuring both the Hebrew and the Christian texts published in a single volume as commonly used by Christians, it is more weighted towards the Christian perspective.

A thought-provoking commentary on biblical word-play explains that the name of the first man, Adam, means “man” in the sense of human being.  God formed Adam into an earth-dwelling creature from adamah which means “soil.”  So, now imagine the Genesis creation story being recited orally, as it must have been in the earliest times of the Hebrew people: the choice of these two words adam and adamah when heard together by the listeners would have evoked a semantic-poetic relationship between humans and the earth — a relationship evincing the notion that humans belong to the earth, and not the other way around.

Permeating several of the prefacing essays is the motif of “the suffering earth.”  Theologically, this motif is a powerful symbol of human beings being out of communion with the will of God.  One passage that illustrates this is from the prophet Isaiah:    The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants,  for they have transgressed laws, violated statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.                                                                      

The idea that humans have the ability to devastate the earth by either willful or thoughtless behavior — as anyone who knows the story of Noah understands — is hardly a new one.  It follows, then,  that we must rethink our values and change some of our ways in order to preserve a healthy earth, an idea that is also not altogether new; a turn, or perhaps a return, to ways of life that respect nature is glorified in many verses of the Bible, most notably in the Psalms.  In the following verses from Psalm 65, nature is personified as filled with joy at being treated respectfully by human kind:    The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy; the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain.                                                      

Implicit in these two verses is that when Earth is healthy, humans prosper; the relationship is, to borrow a term from biology, symbiotic, or mutually beneficial.  Such an outlook sees sustainability and morality as intertwined in its vision of a healthy planet — incidentally an outlook promoted by the Roman papacy in its encyclicals.

Following the biblical texts, in addition to the usual topical index — in this case a “Green Subject Index” — The Green Bible offers a guidebook for studying the Bible through a green lens.  “The Green Bible Trail Guide” is divided into six sections: two based on the goodness of creation, and one each on connectedness to the earth, social justice, sin and redemption — all of them as regards our relationship to the earth and, similarly, to all of our fellow human beings.  Each section poses questions that remind readers of their role in the larger picture of the health of the planet and how to fulfill that role by living simpler, more thoughtful lives.

Finally, The Green Bible contains a section entitled “Where Do We Go from Here?”  This section offers practical advice for individuals, families and faith communities on how we humans might conduct our daily lives so as to lessen the burden each of us puts on the earth because of our presence here, especially in a land of material prosperity and inducements to excess.  Some of the suggestions — fifty altogether — are humorously quaint but still relevant, like Grandmother’s advice: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” and the Depression-era penny-wisdom of turning out the light when we leave a room.   Planting a vegetable garden is the ultimate in eating local produce, while another suggests that we test our purchase of “needs” by waiting, and then by spending the money necessary to purchase an item of quality that will last a long time.

While there are many versions of the Bible, The Green Bible offers a path to Bible study and daily living that envisions our human behavior playing a vital role in sustaining the health of the earth.  The prefacing essays demonstrate that such an interpretation is consistent with the values of both the Hebrew and the Christian testaments.  Here, in The Green Bible, aided by passages highlighted in green font, readers can find a biblically-grounded spiritual, moral, and practical guide to sustaining the health of our earth.


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