Plastic Righteousness image

Plastic Righteousness

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On Monday evening I put our carefully sorted recycling out for collection, came back in, put on the TV and found myself watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest campaigning series: War on Plastic.

Hugh’s outrage was the very on-trend concern about the ubiquity of single use plastics: how difficult it is to buy things that are not packaged in them, and how difficult it is to then recycle them. Most shocking was a trip to Malaysia in which he discovered vast mountains of plastics shipped from the UK, which British householders thought had gone to recycling. Instead, it is polluting Malaysian watercourses – and Malaysian air as the plastic is often burned in the open.

How disappointing – and shaming – that rather than recycling plastics usefully at home so much of it ends up being shipped to the other side of the world. We are literally dumping our problem on a nation we are able to take advantage of because of disparities in economic development.

This is a very apt metaphor for sin and righteousness. Everyone wants to be righteous and that desire is manifested in all kinds of behaviours, including recycling. Recycling is a badge of righteousness, especially in more prosperous areas of the UK. We feel guilty about our consumerism and the amount of waste we generate. Recycling makes us feel better – it means we are ‘doing our bit’. It is a visible, tangible, sign that we are good people: that blue bin at the kerbside full of carefully sorted recyclables is the evidence of our virtue. But if in reality so much of what we have offered up to the altar of the blue bin ends up in a polluting pile in Malaysia all our virtue is groundless. We are not righteous, but only appear to be. We are contaminated and contaminating. We are not righteous but sinful, and the worst kind of hypocritical sinners. It would be more honest to indiscriminately hurl our trash in the black bin and consign our shame to the local landfill site.

Jordan Peterson spoke recently about being asked if he believes in God,

People kept asking me that question, which I really don’t like. I don’t like that question, so I sat and thought about it for a good while and I tried to figure out why. And I thought, well … who would have the audacity to claim that they believed in God? If they examined the way they lived, who would dare say that?

Who indeed? But the wonder of the gospel is of course precisely the point Peterson hasn’t grasped – that true righteousness is not grounded in how I live, but in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is his righteousness that counts! And – wonderfully – he is able to deal with my sin and shame: it isn’t a problem that gets shunted off to someone else, but has been fully and finally dealt with at the cross. Dead and buried.

That’s good news. And it’s not plastic.

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