Toward Biblical Ecological Eschatology in the Palestinian Israeli Conflict
By Yousef Kamal AlKhouri
There are many facets for the Palestinian Israeli conflict. The political, economic, and social ones get most of the attention. Yet, the ecological challenge usually is disregarded, although it is indisputably important. Israel and the Israeli settlers systematically exploiting the land and endangering the ecosystem in the Palestinian Territory. Thousands of Palestinian fruit-filled trees were uprooted or burned,[ii] dozens of water wells were poisoned, and chemical weapons were used. Besides, the construction of new highways for settlements and the separation wall have significantly caused to an already-present ecological crisis. In an article, Miriam Deprez for the Middle East Mentor, frankly states, “… [The wall] divides ancient ecological corridors; the Wall has a devastating effect on the environment and the population of land-dwelling mammals.”[iii] Imad Atrash, a Palestinian Wildlife expert and the Director of Wildlife Society, also states “The flora and fauna in Palestine are threatened not only because of the Separation Wall, but also the bypass roads and the Israeli settlements…”[iv] However, such an ecological crisis has rarely been part of any theological discourse related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In a recent research I have written for a theological conference, I have argued that the evangelical eschatology that has been influenced by premillennial dispensationalism has shaped the ecological concerns in Palestine adversely. Dispensationalism fundamentally looks to the world as a sinking ship. At the end of times, the earth will be annihilated and God will abandon the world. Hence, the Church must look and work for an escape place, which is, the heavenly home and it has to detach itself from this world. That is what many scholars call unearthly, otherworldly eschatology. It encourages Christians to neglect their ecological mission. They view the material world as evil and the spiritual heavenly as good. Sadly, many Christians sing in worship songs hymns that promote this view. An Arabic worship song, for instance, reflects it. It states, “Anā ḏāhab, ll samā’, anā ḏāhab, ll samā’ mabsūt. Anā ll moḫlṣ ḏāhab, ll samā’,” translated, “I am going to heaven, I am going, to heaven rejoicing. To the Savior, I am going to heaven.” Such a teaching would have been considered dualistic and Gnostic[v] by the early church. The well-known New Testament scholar N.T. Wright makes a very provocative statement disagreeing with dualistic eschatology. He states, “The irony of this position [annihilation of the creation] is that the idea of the end of the world is neither biblical nor Jewish nor early Christian.”[vi] The view of the end of the world as catastrophic is foreign to Judaism and early Christianity. Then, the question might be, what could be a solid biblical eschatology that cares for ecological issues?
Foremost, the Christian faith is constructed on an unquestionable fact that is the goodness of God. . A good God creates a good creation. The creation and every creature within it created to reflect the goodness of the One who through whom everything is created (John 1:3). From Genesis to Revelation, creation has been actively worshipping God, as the Psalmist declares (Psal 19:1; 96:11-12, etc.) as well as Paul in his epistle to the Church of Corinth (1Cor. 10:26). God invites us, the Church, to rejoice and enjoy His goodness and love through the creation. “We care for creation because we love the God to whom it belongs and because we long to see God’s glory enhanced through creation and God’s pleasure in creation served through our loving care.”[vii] In addition, despite humankind’s fall, the command of God does not lose its validity for humanity. The command to care for God’s creation never fails. Caring for God’s good creation is a loving act of worship.
The covenant of God with Abraham and ancient Israel was always interested in the wellbeing of humanity and creation. The law of jubilee is an important example to illustrate God’s immense concern for the land. The ancient Israelites and the Old Testament prophets never anticipated an annihilation of the world at the eschaton, the end times. On the contrary, they have anticipated and longed for a restorative consummation, when God restores the heavens and the earth (Isaiah 65:17). Similarly, Jesus and the disciples envisioned the consummation to be the presence of God’s Kingdom coming and expanding on earth. The message of Jesus, since day one of his ministry, is “repent for the Kingdom of God is here, at hand” (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1: 12). He is referring to the Kingdom’s redeeming presence on earth. He uses the coming of the Kingdom in terms of now but not fully yet. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he does not urge them to escape earth, but to pray for God’s Kingdom to come, ‘on earth as is in heaven’ (Matt. 6:10).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is another significant example of how God intends to renew His creation and the cosmos. The resurrection of Jesus is a prototype of the restoration of the creation, N.T. Wright in his Jesus is Coming states, “… the resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation.” The resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit empower the Church for the mission of expanding the Kingdom of God, with the anticipation of God’s act of redemption to all of creation.
Moreover, the Revelation of John envisions a restorative consummation at the end of time. He anticipates a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-2). Surprisingly, John in Revelation 11:18 warns that the destroyers of the earth are subjected to God’s judgment and destruction “the divine judgement is for the destroyers of the earth not the earth itself.”[viii] The final consummation is more striking as a New Jerusalem descends from Heaven and God comes to dwell in the midst of his people. Instead of being raptured to heaven, God comes to live in the renewed earth (Revelation 21:2-3).
In conclusion, escapism does not reflect God’s plan to renew and restore all things to Himself. Caring for God’s creation is a crucial part of the Church mission that must not be neglected. The whole world, in general and the Palestinian environment in particular, are awaiting and groaning for God restorative redemption (see Paul in Romans 8). It is a message of hope, a good news, not of despair. It is our mission to care for the Palestinian land and environment and speak out against any Israeli exploitation of the Palestinian environment. At last, we are not called to escape, but for life. A life worthy of living that glorifies God through an active worship through advocacy and caring for God’s people and God’s creation. Let us pray together, “May your Kingdom Come” to Palestine and to the Whole World.
[i] This article summarize a research titled “eco-eschatology in the context of the Palestinian Israeli conflict” presented by AlKhouri at the CWM conference in Taiwan in June 21, 2019.
[ii] According to The Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem ARIJ conducted a study, which documents that Israeli settlers and forces had uprooted 1,405,658 trees from September 2000 to December of 2006.
[iii] Miriam Deprez, “Even animals are divided by Israel’s Wall and occupation threats to the local environment,” Middle East Mentor, August 20, 2018, accessed Feb 5, 2019, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180820-even-animals-are-divided-by-israels-wall-and-occupation-threats-to-the-local-environment/
[v] Gonstism is one of the early Christian heresy that the early church rejected.
[vi] N.T. Wright, Paul: a Biography (New York: HarperCollins), 686, eBook.
[vii] Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 127.
[viii] Catherine Keller, “Eschatology, Ecology, and a Green Ecumenacy,” In Reconstructing Christian Theology (326–45, 1994): 87, accessed 19 March, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001208831&site=ehost-live