For people of faith, the question of whether or not God cares about the Earth’s environment is a bit like asking if a parent is concerned with about their child’s future or if an artist takes pride in his/her own work.
The Book of Genesis begins with: When God began to create heaven and earth the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water. On the first day, God created a distinction between light and darkness; on the second, God created heaven by separating the the waters below and the waters above.
Over the next four days of the Biblical narrative, God creates the Earth, vegetation, the planets and stars, the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the land animals and of course, humankind. The order of this narrative is remarkably not dissimilar from the order of natural evolution outlined by Charles Darwin. If one can accept that the word “day” as used in the Genesis narrative is a reference to a period of extended time and not literally 24 hours, the two explanations for the origins of creation are not quite as contradictory as some would suggest.
Genesis 1:31 tells us that the Creator, was pleased with with his pristine new world: And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good.
In giving humankind dominion over the Earth (Genesis 1:28), was God giving the only life form created in the Divine image -that had the capacity to learn and make choices, permission to trash the place? Or, was God assigning humankind the responsibility to be the caretakers of this incredible ecosystem?
Other examples from the Pentateuch that call upon humanity to be good caretakers:
- The story of creation concludes with God, figuratively stopping to smell the roses and consummating the creation with a day of rest.
- The story of Noah and the flood concludes with a promise from God to never again destroy the humanity and the natural world. It is the rainbow that is assigned the task of affirming that pledge in perpetuity.
- One of the Ten Commandments enjoins the Children of Israel to observe a day of rest every week. By forbidding any manor of work, the Sabbath serves a perpetual reminder that people have permission to share in the work of creation for 6 days, but out of deference to the ultimate Title Holder, the people of the Covenant must desist from making changes in creation one day of each week.
- In Leviticus 19, God issues a commandment against the desecration of the human body. Judaism has traditionally understood this decree as a statement of propriety: the soul that learns, loves and makes wise and poor choices, is ours to manage and master. The human body though is a sacred vessel that God has provided to house the soul. It is not the prerogative of a person to adulterate this gift.
- The prohibition in Exodus an Deuteronomy not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk reminds us that God views all life as sacred, even the lives as animals. It is blasphemous to combine the lmilk a mother produces to sustain her young with her offsprings dead flesh. Traditional Jews to this day refrain from mixing dairy and meat products.
- In Chapter 25 of Leviticus, God commands the Israelites to desist from farming every 7 years to allow the Earth to rest and replenish itself.
- In outlining the rules of military engagement in Deuteronomy chapter 20, God makes it clear that the trees of the city being besieged are not your enemies and you should not destroy them!
Many people find God through the study of sacred scripture, through meditation and prayer, in moments of love and charity. Yet, it is probably the splendor and glory of God’s natural world that revealed the Divine presence to more people than any other experience. How many transcendent moments of faith have people encountered at the sight of a:
- breathtaking sunset?
- the majesty of snow capped peaks that tower into the heavens?
- the serenity of a mountain lake?
- the rumble of thunder and the flash of lightening in the still of a dark night?
- the solitude of a path through a deep forest?
- upon hearing the sweet laughter of a child being affectionally nuzzled by the family pet?
Is God green? Does God care about the environment? Does God want us to be good stewards of this world? Scripture clearly suggests that people of faith have very real responsibilities to tend to this world in which people are but temporary guests.
Is monotheism itself not a “spiritual” ecosystem in which humanity and God are mutually dependent on one another?
The microorganisms we cannot see that are so vital to this world, the vegetation, insects and the animals all perform their respective roles in this remarkable ecosystem we call Earth, by instinct. The question is, does the living being that has the capacity to learn and choose what he/she does, have the will to properly care for this fragile world?
Earth Day is April 22nd. What changes in your lifestyle can you make that will strengthen our natural environment?
Praised are you, our Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe who has given us the privilege and responsibility of partnering with You in the renewal of life and all creation.