A Theology of Recycling

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Teens Picking Up Trash in Field

I suppose every generation is enamored with what’s new. Christians aren’t an exception. And a quest for what’s new isn’t always bad at all. The Psalms speak often of singing a “new song to the Lord.”

Creating something completely new is a healthy aspect of the creativity God has given us. In the context of work, the creation of something new—sculpting a new piece of art, finding a new way to manufacture a product, creating a new way to deliver goods to customers—is reflective of the creative nature of God.

But there’s also a form of creativity and ingenuity that is available for those of us whose jobs aren’t on the cutting edge of innovation. Specifically, there’s the aspect of recycling old things or even mending things that are simply worn out.

Themes of redemption and transformation lie at the very heart of Christian theology. Applying these themes to the area of work begins to sound quite a bit like the tasks of mending and recycling. And there may be a special connection with God we can come to experience as we mend, repair, refurbish, and recycle while at work in the marketplace or at home.

There’s a kind of good feeling that comes with fixing a broken machine, or with mending a fence or piece of clothing, or with making a children’s piece of art out of used wrapping paper, some discarded buttons, and an empty cereal box. It’s a much better feeling than buying these items new. I think that’s interesting and worth reflecting on.

This feeling is not connected merely to the knowledge that we’re saving money, or that we’re being good stewards of the environment, or even that the end product can be tangibly traced to the work of our own two hands. The good feeling we experience includes all these things—but seemingly more. It’s hard to put a handle on why it is that we should experience such a deep and unique feeling when we take a used item of little value and recycle it into something genuinely useful and appealing.

The Bible from beginning to end records God ‘recycling’ people. That is, he takes people of little instrumental value and does great, lasting things through them. But there’s at least one big difference between us and objects.

When we recycle objects like buttons and cereal boxes, there is still the recognition that their original design was for something else. Interestingly, when God recycles people by changing their hearts and, at times, their situations, it is the final product which is the true design God has for us.

So maybe part of the feeling we have when we refurbish and recycle is that we ourselves are finding out something new about God’s original design for us. We’re finding out something new about God’s original hope for how we would use the creativity he has given us to help bring redemption and transformation to the world around us.

Image attribution: Fuse / Thinkstock

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Kevin Kinghorn serves as editor of the Faith and Work Collective blog. He is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary. His undergraduate work (Emory) was in economics and political science. His graduate work (Asbury; Yale; Oxford) and current teaching has focused on topics within philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. He lives in Mt. Sterling, KY, where he and his wife Barbara work toward community transformation, providing music and art opportunities for children.

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