Being Easter Sunday, it is appropriate to post a piece about religion. Here is an edited version of something I wrote many years ago along with all the comments the original piece elicited.
Just before I wrote the original piece, the British Columbia Minister of Mines had been forced to resign over some silly comments he made. Included in his comments was this statement: “The Bible makes it plain that we are the stewards of the Earth, and as such, our obligation is not negotiable. However, we are not obliged to preserve the natural world in some kind of frozen inertia at arm’s length from human activity.” I asked a good friend whose religious credentials I trust and who works in the mining industry, just what the Bible says about mining. Here are his reply and what I found in e-bibles.
“I am not aware of the bible referring specifically to “mining”. However, there are a number of references within both the old and the new testament that refer to man/people being the stewards of the earth and its creatures, and charging them with using the earth’s resources wisely. Try this web site for further insight and references that provide an interesting perspective (from my viewpoint anyway).”
Next Bible tells us that the process of mining is described in Job 28:1-11. My editor dislikes me quoting poems in this blog, so I do not give the magnificent words of Job 28. But please take a look at the link I provide. Another good reason not to quote the poem is that it is only incidently about mining. Appears the folk who gave rise to the bible did almost no mining—they probably imported the mined products they needed from other countries—not unlike happens today in many places. Seems no traces of ancient mines have been found in Palestine or Syria.
A slightly more expansive view of mining in the bible is provided by The Church of God Daily Bible Study site, Genesis 2:10-12 refers to the land of Havilah where there is gold and onyx stone. Both presumably had to be mined and were not “created”. The promised land is, according to Deuteronomy 8:7-9, a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. Nothing very specific or exciting about that. And certainly no guidance about the moral and ethical implications of mining.
I am rather heartened by the absence of any specific biblical injunctions about mining. At least we can approach the topic afresh and unhindered by sectarian or philosophical constraints. I read the arguments about what the Bible says about our environmental obligations or absence thereof, but I submit we can leave those arguments to others for they are part of a much bigger debate in which mining is so small a part as to be for all practical purposes insignificant and irrelevant.
I submit we can now move forward with clear conscience and rational mind to apply reason (scientific, engineering, economic, legal, and ethical) to the debate about where to mine and how to mine. A precious gift indeed.
PS. This piece brought forth a number of comments – see below. I thank all who comment for adding to our store of knowledge and understanding. In particular, many thanks to Ian Hore-Lacy who has not only commented but sent a significant piece that you may access at this link.
A fuller and more recent approach to this issue than the paper you link to is in my 2006 book Responsible Dominion, published by Regent College Press, vancouver. See also Amazon.
There has been a lot Christian writing on environmental care in the last fifteeen years, but there is almost nothing about a Christian approach to resources, including minerals and energy (also land use isses and more). I have sought to rectify that on basis of 33 years experience in the minerals industry.
No tracks of mining in Palestine or Syria? What about King Solomon’s mines, and how many references made about precious metals in the book. What about some processing technics like “treated by fire,” almost an assay. What about jobXXVIII? In the “valley of the caves”: Wady Magharah, settlements of copper miners are there to witness. The ancient furnaces are still there to be seen, and on the coast of the Red Sea, are found the piers and wharves used for shipment like in the harbor of Abu Zelimeh. Refining processes such as oxidation by air of the fused metal, or use of nitrate on fusion,or mixing Lead with alloy than fusing and oxidizing with blown air are depicted in PsXII.6,Ezek.XXII,Jer.VI. The Aegyptian art of working Bronze is well known, and israelites must have picked up quite a few things from them other than the Kabalah. Seems no trace of Tin in Palestine, but Iron is still mined in Lebanon and I am sure that Hiram knew few things about it. Come on, don’t be ashamed for being the neo alchemists, the tradition goes back to Cain’s son and his smelters.
“There is a mine for silver and a place where gold is refined. Iron is taken from the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. Man puts an end to the darkness; he searches the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness. Far from where people dwell he cuts a shaft, in places forgotten by the foot of man; far from men he dangles and sways. The earth, from which food comes, is transformed below as by fire; sapphires come from its rocks, and its dust contains nuggets of gold. No bird of prey knows that hidden path, no falcon’s eye has seen it. Proud beasts do not set foot on it, and no lion prowls there. Man’s hand assaults the flinty rock and lays bare the roots of the mountains. He tunnels through the rock; his eyes see all its treasures. He searches the sources of the rivers and brings hidden things to light. But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell?” Job 28:1-12
On this latter piece, I wrote a further comment, which follows:
Is this piece telling us that neither wisdom nor understanding come from mining? Is mining here, just a metaphor for treasures, wealth, and material goods? The passage acknowledges that food and metals come from the earth. Gems too. But not happiness.
I puzzle over the phrase: he searches the sources of rivers and brings hidden things to light. Today the exploration geologist may search the source of rivers as he/she searches new ore deposits. But back then? Or is this just poetry again to emphasize mans’ ceaseless search and struggle to bring hidden things to light–although the passage seems to conclude that such searches do not produce wisdom or understanding.
Job, if indeed it is he who wrote this, thought of mines as distant from human habitation: far from where people dwell; in places forgotten by the foot of man. He seems to have had an image of a solitary miner, dangling and swaying. In truth, in those days, mines were worked by slaves, huge numbers if history is accurate. Some were close to cities–think of the silver mines of Athens. It could hardly have been a romantic undertaking. Rather, as now, it was done to produce goods for the commons and wealth for the powerful. Mining brought the means of making weapons and expanding empires–or of defending yourself from the rapacious and tyrannical–think of life under Sparta or North Korea and you will understand my meaning.
This is a beautiful passage, but not a reflection of reality then or now. It cannot have been intended to tell us what God thinks of mining. Its purpose was to warn that neither gold nor sapphires bring wisdom and understanding. That is surely true. Although when I reflect, I realize that my education and that of my kids was possible because of money made of mining. Poor Job; he got even that wrong in his attempt to write well–which he did.