Genesis 1:9-12, 20, 22, 24-26
And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”
God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
Is your faith green?
The creation story in Genesis talks about the world as good. Everything that God placed into being, God considered good. Good, in this context, does not mean fine, or acceptable, but rather designed to be the way it was supposed to be – fully formed, fully functional, fully perfect. Then came Adam and Eve and a certain serpent and a piece of fruit and things were not so good anymore.
There was a time when the word ‘environment’ was a technical term used only in geography, when few people had heard the word ‘ecology’ let alone knew what it means – and to call somebody ‘green’ was not a compliment!
We live in a part of the world where technology and convenience are mostly taken for granted. We want to go somewhere, we hop in a car or on the bus, or grab a cab and go. We eat what we want, when we want, with little to no thought of how it came to our table. We heat our houses in winter, and cool them in summer without thinking of the consequences. We buy disposable products because they are inexpensive and easily replaced. And there are consequences.
In the Crying Indian ad, a First Nations man is canoeing along the river Please excuse the politically incorrect reference to First Nations peoples in the video. It was televised in the 70’s when issues surrounding the environment were still in their infancy. Things have only gotten worse.
We now know that the earth is suffering from massive pollution, depleted ozone, carbon emissions, habitat destruction, soil erosion, species extinction, climate change, and deforestation. We are in an ecological crisis. This actually should be more important to us as people of faith than it is to those who are not and this is why.
It has been estimated that approximately 1/3 of the earth’s population claim to be professing Christians. I think that might be high in today’s pluralistic world, but it’s probably not too far off The world’s three biggest religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) all have the same mandate in their faith – that we are responsible for the earth’s health. Most people think that their theology has nothing to do with the environment. Is our faith green? Or is the teaching of our faith part of the problem?
In the late 1960’s and 70’s, the secular world started coming to the realization that what the Christian church had been teaching for centuries about the environment, might actually be a large part of the problem of ecological devastation. When the bible was first translated into English, Genesis 1 verse 26 read: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
The problem comes when the word radah in Hebrew was translated to dominion in English The Hebrew word radah is a royal word. This is the dominating rule of a king. But let’s pause and think of the kind of king that God desires. The same word is used in Psalm 72, originally a coronation psalm for Solomon. Verse 8: “May he have dominion [radah] from sea to sea . . .” But if you look at verses 12-14 to see what that dominion, that radah, looks like it’s this: He delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. (NRSV)
A king is to protect, watch over, take care of that over which he has rule. Genesis 1 has never been a call to subdue or exploit creation, to take what we want at any cost. It’s our call, our duty to protect the environment for all the creatures that dwell on the earth. John 3:16 reinforces this: For God so loved the world that God gave his only begotten Son…. For God so loved THE WORLD – not just humanity, but everything in creation. The verse from Genesis and the verse from John have been perverted to be exclusively applied to humankind. And I think “How presumptuous of us!”
Our modern economy is changing the atmosphere on which life on earth depends. We have become so dependent on burning oil, coal and gas that it costs us more to find alternatives. Some proposed solutions have themselves proved to cause other problems. In North America, thousands of tons of wheat are being converted into bio-fuel as an alternative to oil. But the side effects have been an increase in the virgin forest being slashed and burnt to clear land for growing grain and a world wide rise in the cost of grain for human consumption has lead to food riots in some countries. It’s a harsh idea to consider but are we protectors or parasites of the earth?
Of course, from the 1960’s onwards, there have been people who have been calling the environmental destruction to our attention. Author Rachel Carson wrote a book called Silent Spring, which warned that if we kept on using pesticides on our crops, we may have wonderful looking apples, etc. because the agricultural pests would be destroyed, but eventually so would the birds who fed on the insects. The day would dawn when there would be no birdsong left and the trees would bud in a silent spring.
The bible teaches the very goodness of creation. God enjoys what was created and is not surprised by the fact that it’s good. Psalm 19:1 says: The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Christianity has lost the concept that the world is sacred – that a tree fulfills it’s purpose of praising God’s glory simply because it is a tree. Instead, a tree is something to be used or destroyed if it gets in the way of what we want to do. Later in the book of Genesis 2:15 we are told that: The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and take care of it. A gardener does not exploit the land. He or she cultivates it carefully, adds the necessary care and ingredients to make it grow what is needed or wanted. Gardeners are proud of the works of beauty they create. It is the same with curators. God designed us to be curators of God’s artwork and since the world is God’s creative art, we have charge over all of it. A museum or art curator may move things around, but always to show it to maximum effect and always with respect and appreciation for it. We live within creation, and not separate from it.
So what can we do right now to become responsible curators and gardeners of God’s creation? Here are some ideas
1. CHANGE YOUR CAR DRIVING HABITS. We don’t all have the luxury of walking everywhere, but vehicles are the biggest compromise to our air. Consider a world where you carpool, Uber, walk, or take public transit more often.
2. NOTICE HOW YOU USE WATER. We have a lot of water in Canada, but we also use a lot of water, and 65 per cent of what we use is in the bathroom. Have shorter showers. Don’t leave the tap running when you’re brushing your teeth. Buy an energy efficient showerhead. It all helps.
3. REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF PAPER IN YOUR LIFE.40% of the world’s commercially cut timber is used for paper. This endangers natural habitats and uses a ton of water. Since it has become inexpensive to print, we do it without thinking. And lest you think you are paperless, think about your bank statements, the paper towels you use to clean the countertops, the junk mail you haven’t opted out of and the way you wrap your Christmas presents.
4. USE A REFILLABLE WATER BOTTLE AND REUSABLE LUNCH CONTAINERS. Bottled water and throw away packaging is wasteful. Landfills are overfilling with water bottles alone. It is also estimated that 3 litres of water is used to package 1 litre of bottled water. It is time to splurge on reusable bottles and lunch packages that will last. Failing that, a mason jar never hurt anyone, except perhaps your desire to not be seen as a hipster.
5. BE MINDFUL OF WHAT YOU THROW IN THE TRASH. From kitchen scraps that can be used to make stocks to items that can be recycled, our trash should be less full the more aware we get. Channel your inner grandmother and see how many times things can be reused or repurposed rather than simply thrown away.
6. BORROW OR FIX RATHER THAN BUY.
Buying throwaway fashion is detrimental for the environment – 1 kg of fabric generates 23 kg of greenhouse gases! Start thinking about keeping what you own and become more discerning. Darn your socks and sew on new buttons. Borrow clothes if you find you are in between sizes.
Is your faith green? Look around at the world and your place in it. We are God’s gardeners and curators, responsible for the protection of God’s handiwork. May God help us to make the right decisions regarding creation.