Looking after the environment should be an integral part of faith, writes Jonny Hanson, for one simple reason: it’s God’s, not ours.
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The opening words of Psalm 24 remind us that everything is God’s. Black holes, blue whales, Bentleys, beetles, bacteria – all of them are His. If this is the case then how we view and treat creation should not be founded primarily on economic incentives, cultural attitudes or even plain old tradition but on a careful consideration of how God views and treats it.
The Bible gives us that knowledge. From Genesis to Revelation God’s plan for His people is not divorced from the rest of life. The land, for example, was central to the Israelite’s story.
For our story, the first chapter of Colossians provides a good overview of how God views and treats all things. It sets out the relationship Jesus Christ has with everything else and in doing so helps us to understand our role as His disciples.
Jesus created all creation: The dominion we have as God’s children is not domination. Rather, with this great position of power comes great responsibility for what is His. What’s more, our authority is modelled not on earthy power but on Jesus of Nazareth, the servant king.
Jesus values all creation: You may never have heard of the Lesser Iron Gray Dwarf lemur, the angwantibo or the kipunji but God has. The value of creation is not based primarily on its usefulness to humans but on the fact that God values and delights in all of His works. Creation’s main purpose – and ours too – is to glorify Him by fulfilling its potential.
Jesus sustains all creation (‘in him all things hold together’ – Colossians 1:17). The economic value of nature’s services to humans, like pollination, is not just greater than that of the entire world economy, it is the foundation of the world economy. Creation is also an immeasurable source of inspiration and social benefit for us. God sustains all that He has made and has provided enough for everyone and everything, if it is shared fairly.
Jesus reconciles all creation: Sin corrupts the relationship between people and the planet, just as it spoils all other relationships. Christ’s mission of salvation will reconcile and renew all creation. And as part of this process, our Great Commission should involve creation care.
How do we respond?
It’s easy to think of creation care as something done somewhere else by someone else. In reality it starts right here with you and me, in our everyday lives and everyday choices. It starts right here in our beloved island, an emerald jewel in God’s golden crown.
St Catherine of Sienna, a 14th century church reformer, put it like this: “The reason why God’s servants love His creatures so deeply is they realise how deeply Christ loves them. And it is the very character of love to love what is loved by those we love.”
We need to engage with the fact that we are part of the 20% of the planet’s population that consume 80% of its resources. From childhood we are steeped in a culture of over-consumption and accept it as the norm. This consumerism saps our focus, our finances and our faith.
Over-consumption also negatively impacts the environment, using up more than our fair share of energy and resources and leaving little for the poor and the rest of creation. But it’s not just about the quantity of our consumption; it’s also about the quality. Cheapness often comes at a price. Generally speaking, when we buy cheap food, clothes and other goods, it’s not really cheap. The cost has simply been offset onto other people and things in the supply chain, through, for example, poor working and environmental conditions.
This can be difficult to hear when so many in Ireland are struggling to make ends meet. But the answer is relatively straightforward. If we reduce the quantity of our consumption we can afford to increase the quality: products and services that respect and care for people and planet, that are sustainable, humane and fair. Rather than have our values defined by our consumption, we must ensure that our consumption is defined by our values.
And a good place to start is to remind ourselves everyday that ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and those who live in it’.
This article first appeared in the May – June 2013 edition of VOX.