'I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and eco-system collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science. But I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don't know how to do that. We need your help.'
- Gus Speth
The Creation is God’s gift to all living things. An act of love. While many Christians have focussed on humanity’s role in loving God, our psalms in particular proclaim that all creatures participate in the praise of God. The liturgical traditions proclaim in communion, “with choirs of angels, and the whole Creation” that Heaven and Earth are full of God’s glory.
Many Christians have had to work hard to rediscover the Earth-affirming core of our tradition. In the scriptures we read that the whole Creation is very good; that humans were created to serve and protect God’s garden which exists to nourish all creatures. The psalmists rejoice that all creatures are caught up in praise of God. Proverbs and Job emphasise that other creatures are loved and sustained by God quite apart from their value to humans. In the prophets, all creatures are included in the much awaited Kingdom of God, which has a place for lions and lambs.
In the New Testament we read of Christ the Word and Wisdom of God through whom and for whom all things were created. We hear Jesus calling us to consider the raven and the lily as an antidote to greed and selfishness and closing our hearts to those in need. We are commanded to love our neighbour, even our enemy, to give to all who ask of us. We are warned against all forms of greed.
The resurrection of Jesus is a great affirmation of the whole created order as life triumphs over death, promising the renewal of all things. Paul hears all Creation groaning, waiting for the revelation of the children of God. In the twenty-first century, where every creature on Earth is affected by human activity, many Christians are expanding their concept of neighbour to include all living things.
Our current predicament
Creation is still groaning. Some of God’s children have made it worse. Western Christendom interpreted and elevated the verses in Genesis 1 to place us as lords over creation, given the right to rule and subdue, whilst ignoring the verses which outline the rights of all the other animals- to fill the earth and eat their fill. Genesis 2, the story in which we are created to serve and protect the garden, was either ignored, or interpreted to mean the creation of a garden suited to human convenience- a proper English garden, not one that sustained all creatures.
The focus on human dominion and subjugation of Earth underwrote the industrial revolution, which relied on the massive expansion of fossil fuel use, and led to the heating of the planet. We are beginning to suffer the consequences, especially those already made vulnerable by the powerful. Humans and ecosystems all around the world are already stressed by changing patterns of floods, droughts, heatwaves, and seasons.
We're not immune in Australia. We face hotter temperatures, worsening bush fire danger, and an intensification of the 'droughts and flooding rains' we've always known. 1.5oC of warming seems inevitable, and will destroy most of the Barrier Reef. If we reach 2oC, it will be completely and permanently desolated. Two degrees of warming is much, much worse than 1.5oC, so we must do all we can to transform Australias’ political and industrial landscape.
The scale of the problem and the slowness with which the world seems to be responding makes many of us feel anxious and overwhelmed, especially as Australia is amongst the worst offenders.
A way forward
Our Creator is faithful and is not about to give up on the garden, or us. God has always been at work amongst all creatures, even if our conceitful eyes hid that from us.
And not all humans have been as blind as those in the industrialised West. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia maintained a much closer, familial relationship with other creatures. After a long and violent colonial history of repression, the rest of the Australian church is becoming more open to receive these insights, enriching Australian Christianity with the eyes to see God amongst all living things, concerned not just for the salvation of individual souls, but Earth.
As Pastor Ray Minniecon says,
“The trees, and the animals, and the stars and the moon and the whole landscape... Are all part of our family- brothers and sisters… the loss of all these beautiful species which are part of our family has been part of our pain and suffering as Indigenous people… We are all related to everything. Every life form is a part of what [God] created back there in the beginning… that’s a better starting point for us…
Jesus came not just to save me from my owns sins… he dies to save the whole universe… salvation is not just how do we save ourselves, but the whole planet we’re living in?...
This particular voice of Indigenous peoples is marginalised, it probably won’t be heard, like our Creator’s voice is never heard… Not Genesis 3, but Genesis 1 is the starting point. If we can do that we might be able to save our little home, our little planet here. Our land, and our Mother.”
The people of the Pacific Islands also see deep connections with the family of Creation. The West, perhaps, is the prodigal of the Creation family, having lived wastefully and now is challenged to repent and return in full humility from our preoccupation with wealth.
Of course, not all Christians in the West lost sight of God’s love of Creation. A minority voice persisted,
“If people exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, they will deal likewise with their fellow humans” (Francis of Assisi)
And that voice even whispered quietly amongst the more famous words of prominent Christian leaders,
“God is entirely and personally present in the wilderness, in the garden, in the field” (Martin Luther)
Increasingly the western church has accepted that Jesus’ hope in God’s promise for the future, includes the renewal of all of creation.
As followers of the risen Christ, we are invited to be a faithful presence in the world, praying that God's will is done on earth as in heaven. As resurrection people, empowered by the Spirit, we are people of the raven and the lily, guarding against all forms of greed, sharing with those who need it, actively pursuing God’s justice, anticipating God’s kingdom coming and the end of Creation’s groaning.
So today, in the task of 'spiritual and cultural transformation' - we have a part to play!