The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
(From the opening of Psalm 24)
Imagine you were a Hebrew person living during the Bronze or Iron Age. There is no such thing as light pollution of course so one night you find yourself staring into the night sky and wondering why all those twinkling candles only come out at night, and even more amazingly, how is Yahweh able to hang them from nothing? Your mind marvels at the mystery and the beauty that comes from Yahweh’s hand.
I have written before about how ancient Israel had a creation story much like their pagan neighbours except for three important differences:
- Yahweh was the only god involved;
- He was intentional and intimate in the creative details;
- He found his creation to be both satisfying and good.
From the beginning one of the major themes of Scripture is the earth – the whole universe really – and how the people live and die within it. Mountains, valleys, rocks, water, skies, plants, animals of every kind are continually woven into the biblical narratives; you’ll be surprised how prominent nature is if you watch for it.
And always there is a reverence for the Land. The land is incredibly important, verging on sacred to the ancient people of Israel. They speak about the land, write about it, fight for it, live from it, care for it, pass it to their children. Stories of herding and agriculture abound and food and drink are everywhere in biblical life and celebrations.
I often muse that God must be pleased and entertained as he watches his creation ‘from a distance’, intimate with its details, understanding it in ways we can’t.
Imagine him enjoying the life and colours of earth and the seasons unfolding and re-folding, currents eddying the globe, winds, clouds, planets moving in unison. Creatures of all sorts burrowing, eating, flying, swimming, reproducing, participating around the globe in integrated cycles and patterns.
At the same time God is familiar with each snow flake, each emotion, each smell, each hair, each life.
I have been deeply saddened as I have watched the environmental wars during the past years. On one side are greens and ‘tree-huggers’ who are perceived as idealistic fools and on the other side are corporations and traditionalists who are perceived as heartless. They dig in and fight each other over our earth while we watch from the sidelines. This is the same earth that we all need to live in and the earth that is a majestic, living, gift from God.
So it was painful when I noticed a headline awhile ago that read, “Trump Removes Pollution Controls On Streams and Wetlands”. Not only does this allow higher pollution levels in important water systems, it also lowers safety restrictions for drinking water. Yes, drinking water. This rollback is expected to negatively affect 75 animal species and threatens the drinking water of 117 million Americans.
It is one of about a hundred environmental laws that have been repealed, reversed or weakened during the last three years at the urging of landowners and companies seeking to loosen controls on the land and its resources.
I honestly don’t know why human beings think that brutalizing the land and bashing their way through its resources is rational. It pretty much confirms my belief in evil.
But honestly this is not about politics. It is about what is best, what is right, what makes sense in light of our existence. Regardless of anyone’s political or environmental views, doesn’t it fundamentally make sense to protect our food and water and air and the earth’s glorious beauty? For ourselves, for our children, for creation itself?
More fundamentally, isn’t it also the right thing to do?
And even more fundamentally, shouldn’t Christians be the first in line to protect and care for this gift we have been given to manage?
Deuteronomy 20 is an interesting chapter given to Israel on the theme of going to war and it is a typically confusing Old Testament view of the subject. But this blog came about because I read it while ago and it touched my heart. Notice God’s instruction in verse 19:
“When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?”
To me, that verse contains a logic that is Occam Razor-ish in its simplicity: Don’t destroy things that can feed and take care of you.
But there is also a wonderful life principle in those words: Life is dangerous, but live as though the world around you is a gift.
How about this verse a bit later in chapter 22?
“If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days.”
Or how about this from the biblical Proverbs 12?
“A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal. But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.”
What a wicked person thinks is compassion is still cruelty. Hmm. No wonder there are some who willfully, ignorantly go about destroying the earth for profit and comfort. They can’t help it, they can’t know better, they are wicked.
So it falls to us: we who are not evil, we who claim to be God’s people … it falls to us to speak and to act for the earth. Our Heavenly Father loves his Creation, it is part of him. We who are his people need to respect what he loves and care for what he has given us.
As I have said before, every time I see a tree or a plant reaching their limbs to the sky I imagine them raising their hands to their Creator. I believe Christians should lead the way in participating with creation in that praise.