Written by Pastor Ed
God So Loved the World
June 11, 2017
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
To talk about the environment or creation care these days is perhaps to tread on dangerous ground, and yet it is also something that we shouldn’t shy away from, especially on a Sunday when the lectionary texts are taken from Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, the two passages that many people would think of first when talking about creation. And our recent Faith Studies series in Edmonton, led by Professor Randy Heluza-Delay, professor at Kings University in Edmonton and a member of First Mennonite, Edmonton, provided some helpful insight on a topic that seems to generate more heat than light these days. I will be drawing on some of his slides and ideas today.
Let’s be clear from the outset. We are living in the Anthropocene Epoch, that is, the time when “human activity is the dominant influence on the environment.” This chart shows 24 indicators of how human activity influences the environment, and you can see that since 1950, those indicators have increased sharply. While there are still those who deny that we humans are heavily influencing the environment, the broad consensus among environmental scientists is that we are. I don’t think we can deny that fact, nor can we hold these opposing views up as simply two opinions of equal value. The scientific evidence is quite clear, they say 95 to 100% accurate, and if you don’t believe anything is happening, go visit the Colombia Icefields. Global warming is real and we humans are a major factor in causing it.
So why should we care, or what does that have to do with the church? Well, back “in 1967, the historian, Lynn White, published a landmark article entitled, The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis, in the journal, Science. In it, he argued that Christianity’s understanding of dominion helped create the Western thought world that fueled modern environmental destruction. The article has played a significant role in discussions of faith and the environment ever since then.”
And he may have a point. Some of you may remember then Secretary of the Interior in the U.S. James Watt remarking that he wasn’t worried about what we did to the environment because Jesus was coming back soon and so it didn’t matter. And just recently I read another quote from someone who said that he wasn’t worried because God would take care of whatever happened, so again it didn’t matter what we as humans did – God would fix it.
After all, many argue, the passages we read this morning clearly give humans dominion over the rest of creation – interestingly the only two passages that use that language. So let’s look at the Bible a bit more to see what it says about our and God’s relationship to God’s creation.
We have tended to read the Bible as though God created the world just for us. But that is clearly not the case if we read the Bible through other eyes. As the Psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s” Genesis 1 is a carefully crafted statement recognizing that God created the world, bringing order out of the chaos and establishing clear boundaries between the earth and the heavens, the water and the dry land, and among the animals. Humanity is a part of that creation, and while humanity is given a special place as being created in the “image of God” humanity is still a part of creation along with all the rest. Let’s also be clear that Genesis 1 is not a scientific explanation of how things came to be, but a faith statement in contrast to other creation accounts of the time. And creation was good.
Creation was good, not because it fulfilled a purpose for humanity, but good in and of itself. And throughout the Bible creation is spoken of as proclaiming God’s goodness, even worshipping God. But the Bible also speaks of the fact that creation, along with humanity, is in need of redemption. Romans 8 speaks of “all creation groaning” and “waiting with eager longing” for redemption. (Rom. 8: 18-25) In numerous other texts we see of God’s concern that all of creation in involved in God’s plan.
I recall Mel Schmidt speaking of this years ago, beginning with the familiar verse of John 3:16 which in reality says, “God so loved the cosmos” not just humanity, but the universe. Paul writes in Colossians 1, in speaking about Jesus:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:15-20)
Note that all things were created by and for him. If you read the Bible with eyes to see, you will note that many times when we read passages, we tend to think they are only talking about humanity, when in reality they often refer to all of creation. For example, II Corinthians 5: 17 says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!”
The Psalmists and prophets speak often of creation giving glory to God. “The heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19) Clearly God is concerned with all of creation, not just with humanity. And in all the images of God’s future kingdom, oftentimes spoken of as the peaceable kingdom, it is not just humanity that is pictured as living in peace, but again all creation – the lion and the lamb, the rivers of sparkling water and the trees that are for the healing of the nations in Revelation 21. As Stanley Hauerwas and John Berkman say in their book, Good News for Animals?
“In light of the scriptural witness that humans and other animals share in the ultimate end, which is God’s peaceable kingdom, we thus believe that each and every creature is created to manifest God’s glory. Animals do not manifest God’s glory insofar as their lives are measured in terms of human interests, but in terms of their end to manifest God’s glory… Finally, the ultimate end of our strivings, the peaceable kingdom of God, is where we shall finally live in true shalom with all creatures of God.”
So while White may have been at least partially correct in his indictment of Christianity as a cause of global degradation, the church is becoming increasingly aware of our role to care for the creation that God has placed us in. As Pope Francis said in his recent encyclical on Creation Care, we need to take care of this planet, because it’s the only one we’ve got. I believe it was Steven Hawking who suggested that we had better start preparing someplace else to live, because we’ll use up this planet’s resources soon. More on that in a bit.
There are a number of reasons that I think caring for creation in important. First of all, as I said, it’s the only one we have and we’re rapidly depleting its resources.
Secondly, I believe it is part of our mandate as humans, and as Christians. If God cares for God’s created order and sees all of creation as part of the plan for a future restored kingdom, then we should have as much care for the rest of creation as God does. The mandate given to Adam was not to pillage and destroy the earth, but rather to tend it and keep it for the glory of God. Much of what we have done to the earth is causing it to groan and cry out, rather than sing praise to its creator. Part of the concept of shalom is living peaceably with all of creation, not just with our fellow humans.
And thirdly, caring for creation is a matter of peace and justice. Several slides that Randy showed us have stuck with me, and he graciously shared them with us. The first says something about our North American lifestyle and the unsustainability of that lifestyle. I know it says US, but let’s face it, we don’t live that much differently here in Canada. If everyone in the world lived as we do, it is calculated that we would need 5 planets to sustain that lifestyle. And as you can see, given the current average, we still need 1 and 1/2 planets.
So clearly, we in North America and Eurasia, along with Australia have the largest ecological footprint, that is we are the ones who are having the most effect on the environment by the way we live. But the people who are feeling the effects of climate change the most are the people who are, in some ways, already the most vulnerable to the environment, namely in Africa and South America, as well as India and the Pacific. It is there that drought, rising sea levels, and other effects of climate change are causing or at least contributing to famine, disease, and many would argue war and displacement. Some islands are concerned that their entire land may disappear with rising sea levels. Some would suggest that the world is dealing with a refugee crisis as much because of climate change as any other factor.
So it is not just care for the earth that is at stake, but also the care for our brothers and sisters around the world, the least of these, the poor of the world, that should compel us to greater care. What does it mean to love our neighbours in a global society? As Pope Francis said in his encyclical:
“A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (Laudato Si, Para 49)
So what should we be doing? It’s very easy to throw up our hands and wonder what one person can do, or to acquiesce and say anything I do won’t make much difference. But the reality is that we should be doing what we can, because it’s the right thing to do, not just because it will make a difference. And the reality is that when each one of us makes a difference, the effect in cumulative, just as the destructive effects have been.
Reduce, reuse and recycle has been around for a long time and still is a good reminder of what we can all do in a small way. But we will also need to do more, and yes, it may cost us money but then again, what is God’s creation worth in terms of saving, or how can we value the lives of children who are starving in Africa?
The Mennonite seminary in Indiana recently installed an array of solar panels to begin producing some of their own electricity. I have read of churches that have installed docking stations for electric vehicles to encourage their usage. A few years ago we switched to high efficiency furnaces, and I’m glad for the effort we make to recycle here at the church and I wonder what else we could do that would increase our energy efficiency, like replacing the old windows with more efficient ones, which I suspect would also increase the comfort level in the sanctuary in both summer and winter.
Each of us will need to decide what we can do to decrease our ecological footprint. There are some interesting websites that allow you to calculate your footprint and compare it to others. The problem is that we generally tend to compare ourselves with those who use more energy, and then feel like we don’t really need to do more. But, I hope that in the future an author will be able to write that Christians led the way in saving God’s good creation and moving the whole world toward the shalom that the prophets envisioned so that all of creation can continue to praise the creator.