Indigenous theology for a new earth

Russell Rollason, from the Australian Council of Churches, writes about how insights from Aboriginal theology can help us to reconnect to the land in a consumer culture.

Have you often reflected on the values that we, as Christians, offer the world? How do you explain God’s vision for the future of the world? Around 2700 years ago, the prophet Isaiah set out a vision for new heaven and a new earth:

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I am creating;”

Isaiah 65 :17

Isaiah spells out a simple but profound vision for a better world. Reflected by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer, this inspiring vision of a new earth is repeated daily around the world: ‘your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’.

Isaiah outlines (Is 65:8-25) what a good life would look like: health for young and old; the right to secure housing; the right to fulfilling work and to enjoy the fruits of our labour; and peace and security in national borders. Similar goals are reflected in contemporary language in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Each day when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we join our prayers for this simple vision to be realized in solidarity with those of the Church across the world.

We believe all are created in the image of God and the earth’s resources are to be shared. Isaiah spells out a simple but profound vision for a better world. Reflected by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer, this inspiring vision of a new earth is repeated daily around the world: ‘your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’.

Isaiah outlines (Is 65:8-25) what a good life would look like: health for young and old; the right to secure housing; the right to fulfilling work and to enjoy the fruits of our labour; and peace and security in national borders. Similar goals are reflected in contemporary language in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Each day when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we join our prayers for this simple vision to be realized in solidarity with those of the Church across the world.

We believe all are created in the image of God and the earth’s resources are to be shared amongst all people. We share a vision of a world based on love: a world where we care for our neighbours, especially those living on the margins of society, and live in peace with each other and with the environment.

But the god of Mammon still tempts us today with material possessions beyond our wildest dreams. The price of limitless consumerism is plain to see – environmental destruction, rising temperatures, air and water pollution, droughts, floods, bushfires, wild storms, rising sea levels, and the loss of millions of species of animals. If we want a kinder, gentler world, we will have to fight the dark side with its rapacious greed and inequality.

In our craving for ‘things’, we have lost our links to the ecosystem. We have been lax in caring for God’s creation.

Some observers point to Australia’s Black Summer of bushfires as a sign of our failure to care for God’s creation. In the discussion and reflection that followed the bushfires, many Australians have come to understand that uncontrolled wildfires were not common before European settlement. Our eyes have been opened to the different way Aboriginal Australians managed the land. They used fire to sustain the vegetation and wildlife, not to destroy it. And they did so for more than 60,000 years.

In rebuilding our relationship with the Creation, there is much we can learn from Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Australian Christians.

Rainbow Spirit Theology, a book written by Aboriginal theologians, observes that the God of the Scriptures is known as the Creator Spirit, who speaks through the land. The following quotes from Rainbow Spirit Theology provide a glimpse into a deep spirituality that has flourished in this land.

“Traditional Aboriginal people have a deep sense of responsibility for the welfare of the land entrusted to our care. The Creator Spirit is the true landowner, and human beings are like trustees, responsible to the Creator Spirit for the care of this land”.

“Our Aboriginal culture was already spiritual, more overtly spiritual than the European culture of those who invaded Australia. God was already speaking to us through the law revealed in the land”.

“Aboriginal Christians do not understand the Gospel in a narrow sense which focuses exclusively on rescuing souls from personal sin and arranging their transfer to heaven. Christ came to redeem lives, communities and, ultimately, all creation from the forces of evil at work in the world”.

“I feel a deep spiritual connection with the land. When that connection is broken, I suffer. Has Christ come to break that connection or to restore it?”

Aboriginal Anglican priest the Rev’d Glenn Loughrey in a reflection of Pentecost observed: “We, each, hear the Spirit in the land we live in, and it is unique, diverse, and we discover it is already there, embedded all around us. We begin to see, hear and act in sync with what has been there all the time.“

How might this vision of an inter-connected spirit help the church to address inequality and climate change?

  • Adapted from Climate For Change, Russell Rollason, Anglican Board of Mission, Australia, used with permission.

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