Weekly Edgework #46 - May 16, 2005
…reconnection…is at the heart of true religion: we reconnect with God, with our own soul, with our neighbor and with all of God’s creatures…Modern men and women have lost their connection with creation (A New Kind of Christian, By Brian D. McLaren, 119).
He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation…all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15-17).
It seems to me that the new kind of Christians the twenty-first century needs are those who find a renewed connection to creation – that God-given environment within which we live. It would be a travesty if the church were to be the last defender of the now out-dated notion of “conquering the earth” for the benefit of human kind.
The idea of the “conquest of the earth” is often legitimized by references to the first chapter of Genesis where God tells Adam and Eve to …have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over cattle, and over all the earth…fill the earth and subdue it. It should be noted, however, that this mandate was given in the context of a pristine earth that had not yet been touched by sin. It must therefore be assumed that whatever “dominion” meant in this context it had to do with living within the world God had provided for humankind in some kind of a healthy and sustainable manner.
Indeed, the creation account in the Bible pictures a world in which men and women are at peace with God, at peace with each other and at peace with their environment. According to this account all three levels of peace were shattered with the introduction of sin which triggered the "Fall”. In this now twisted world, peace was lost between God and humanity – Adam and Eve hiding from a God who keeps looking for them. Peace was lost within the human community – starting at first with finger pointing and leading to murder within the first generation. And peace was lost between humans and their environment – evidenced both by a resistance on the part of creation to yield up its fruit and the sweat required of humankind to extract it.
However one reads this account – whether literally or figuratively – it is clear that something has not been right between humans and the world in which they have found themselves throughout much of their history. The human story is full of examples of exploitation of the environment without a thought being given to the long-term implications of such actions. And while the human population of the world was relatively small, it seemed as though the environment was able to absorb the insults it had to endure at the hands of humans.
But we are now living in the twenty-first century. And it is becoming abundantly clear that our environment is hurting badly. All the raping and pillaging of God’s earth is beginning to bear its sinister fruit. Deforestation has caused large portions of the earth to either turn to desert or to be washed into the oceans. Industrialization has polluted air to dangerously high levels in some parts of the earth and undoubtedly contributed to the global climate changes that will have wide-ranging effects. And it is said that the great wars of the future will be over access to clean water, since there simply will not be enough to go around.
In my early days it was considered to be a “liberal” sentiment to be concerned about the environment. Focusing on the long-term viability of the earth was a futile effort, were told. Our only task was to help save as many souls as possible before the earth was destroyed in the end of time, which was just around the corner. Such apocalyptic thinking made bad environmental practices appear almost saintly. And when combined with the twisted notion that to subdue the earth meant to suck everything out of it you can for short-term gain, the consequences were devastating.
It is time for all Christians to move to the forefront of the movement to protect the environment. We need to develop a theology of ecology based on the understanding that God’s purpose for the world is a reversal of the Fall on all fronts. Yes, God wants a restored relationship with people. Yes, God wants peace to return to the world of human relationships. And yes, God wants to redeem the created world for its intended purpose – that of giving life-sustaining support to all living things. God is envisioning both a new heaven and a new earth. And he wants his people to be fully involved in both.
Fortunately there are an increasing number of God’s people who see it as their sacred duty to participate in the redemption of the earth. That does not mean they no longer care about people or the peace they can find with God and their fellow humans. It simply means that they have expanded their understanding of the scale of God’s redemptive work and how they can participate in it.
Personally, I have been moving toward this understanding for many years. However, it is time for me to publicly declare myself as one who supports and participates in the redemption of the earth. I am not sure what that all means for me. Perhaps it will mean expanding my composting enterprise or lobbying for a composting program in my city. Perhaps it will mean being more aware of and reducing the amount of energy I consume. It might even mean challenging some of the earth-destroying practices of our culture.
Increasingly, I am coming to the understanding that any notion of spirituality that does not include “creation spirituality” falls significantly short of what God is calling us to. And it must be a spirituality that translates into real life on God’s good earth.