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Politics of Scripture

Renewable Resources: The Politics of Manna (Exodus 16:1-18)

In the wilderness, the Israelites received manna, an abundant resource that couldn’t be exploited or stored in quantities beyond people’s need. Unfortunately for our planet, fossil fuel does not behave like manna.

It sounds like some of the Israelites tried to get into the manna business. After all, with such an abundant resource showing up time and time again, we would expect an enterprising spirit to emerge. The notion that some would gather more, some less, is not surprising to our ears. The surprise comes when God upends the scheme with this miraculous substance that cannot be stored and cannot be gathered in quantities beyond any individual’s need. The wilderness is something of a training ground, a space where slaves learn to be God’s chosen people, and here God is teaching the people how to depend on God’s bounty and goodness, how to anticipate abundance rather than fear scarcity, and how to calibrate their harvest to their needs.

Unfortunately for our planet, fossil fuel does not behave like manna. It is stored up in reserves, mined, blasted, and fracked out of the fragile earth with reckless abandon driven only by the profit motive. Transitioning our economy to rely on alternative energy sources, like solar and wind power, would be a faithful act, it would signal our trust that our reasonable needs can be provided for. The sun will touch our roofs each day as sure as the manna appeared like dew on the desert rocks. Our continued collection of fossil fuels, on the other hand, signals both greed for readily available profit and a failure to see the true costs of continuing this destructive course.

In his 2012 Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Bill McKibben offers the sobering truth that companies now have access to five times as much oil and coal than scientists think it would be safe to burn. In order to prevent catastrophic changes to the climate, oil companies will need to be persuaded to walk away from 2,230 gigatons of accessible fossil fuels worth roughly $20 trillion.

This math teaches us in the same direction as the story from Exodus: the people who must be confronted are those who are gathering too much. This is why the United Church of Christ joined with colleges and communities around the country by moving to divest from fossil fuel companies. Divestment is a moral condemnation stating plainly that the behavior of a company is so incompatible with the values of the church that profiting from its business would be unacceptable. As Jim Antal, the author and leading advocate of the UCC”s divestment resolution says, “people of faith have an opportunity to revoke the social license” of the fossil fuel companies who are wrecking the planet.

There is no doubt that humankind is in a wilderness of our own making. The question confronting us now is whether we can learn some new behaviors in this frightening wilderness. Can our economy become rooted in a faith in our earth to provide the energy we need to live comfortably rather than a mad-dash for easy money laying in the ground. God’s earth is in crisis because of human activity. Creation is groaning because humans have still not learned the lesson of the manna: take what you need, no more, God will provide renewable resources, each day, for our survival.

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