Part three of a series on reasons to care for creation.
Since early childhood I have had a particular fascination with the cat family, or Felidae. Of the 37 or so species I’ve had the great privilege to work with 17 of them in captivity, to see two in the wild and to hear a third: it’s a humbling experience to be sleeping outside and in the half-light of morning to hear a leopard calling close by!
During a university summer holiday I was working at a wildlife sanctuary, where, among other animals, I had to look after a tiger called Sonia. And after a few days I had the opportunity to go into her enclosure along with her keeper.
She greeted her keeper and then came up to greet me. Sonia was at least twice my weight, with paws the size of dinner plates. Her head was the size of a small fishtank and if she had lifted it slightly, she could have licked me on the chin. She could have outrun me three times over, and she could have snapped me in two with a flick of her wrist. She could have eaten me for breakfast and still had room for seconds. I felt very, very small. Such a magnificent animal.
So it brought tears to my eyes when I read some time later of the methods used in tiger poaching to kill cats like Sonia. Because fresher skins fetch higher prices a technique known as khatka is sometimes used. Khatka is a process of killing the animal slowly, ensuring that it sustains least injuries on its body and pelt. The process ensures that the animal will die only after their skin has been removed.
Such a terrible corruption of God’s created order. Of course it’s easy to say ‘bad people, good animal’ but perhaps it’s not that simple, perhaps the tiger takes the villagers’ cattle and either the tiger dies or their children die. But regardless of the moral intricacies of the situation, it’s one example of the effect of sin in this world. Sin corrupts all relationships, be they between God and people, between people and people, or between people and the rest of creation, including tigers.
But even when we see things like this, and all the other evils under the sun, we must not, we dare not, we cannot lose hope.
Because the greatest conservation tool for tigers, and, for that matter, the greatest environmental, social, political, economic, spiritual and cultural task that has ever been accomplished in the history of the world is this: that Jesus Christ, who was crucified, is risen from the dead.
Colossian 1: 19-20 puts it like this: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Richard Bauckham, in his book ‘Bible and Ecology’, discuses the cosmology of Christ in Colossians 1, and his quotation of Jurgen Moltmann sums up his conclusions too (p. 158):
Today a cosmic Christology has to confront Christ the redeemer with a nature which human beings have plunged into chaos, infected with poisonous waste and condemned to universal death; for it is only this Christ who can save men and women from their despair and preserve nature from annihilation.
The cross of Christ is not just about the individual forgiveness of sins, absolutely central though that is – don’t get me wrong: the correct God – people relationship is the most important of all. But it is also that the powers of sin and death and evil at work in the world have been defeated; that there is and will be structural redemption of all creation, liberated, as Romans 8 puts it, from its bondage to decay. Christ crucified and resurrected has the power to reconcile all relationships that have been corrupted by sin. He is the saviour of creation as well as ours, and if Jesus Christ loved all of His creation this much, then so must we.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
This is an edited extract from the Christians in Science Ireland ‘God and Science Lecture’, given on the 30th April 2012 at University Road Moravian Church, Belfast.