Take care of creation

Nature's Calling!, by Bob Bryant

 

If you want peace on earth, take care of creation.

 

This Christmas, like shepherds long ago watching over their flock by night, many people all over the Upstate, across this country, and around the world are faithfully taking care of some portion of God’s good creation—in their families, yards, communities, regions, and throughout this orbiting globe. Whether caring for loved ones at home, strangers in the community, plants in the ground, or animals in field, forest, stream, or sea, many people know that life is precious and worthy of everyone’s watchful care.

Not everyone accepts this truth or acts upon it, however. Humanity’s inhumane treatment of humans, animals, plants, and everything else in creation persists. In addition to the different ways humans abuse and destroy one another, large numbers of people around the world are facing hardship and even death because of poor stewardship and maldistribution of the earth’s natural and material resources. Tidings of peace and goodwill fall flat for many.

The rest of the earth also suffers from our uncaring ways. The acidification of the earth’s seas and floating continents of pollution—some now thousands of miles across—have produced enormous dead zones in our oceans. Pollution of every kind is poured and piled in every land, jettisoned into the air, and rocketed into orbit. Habitats are being depleted at unprecedented rates, and the earth’s next great extinction is already underway. The self-centered fever of Cain is spreading around the globe and even the earth’s temperature is rising.

All life on this planet is affected by human activity. We’re creatures, after all, and are naturally and inseparably related to the world in which we live. We cannot live without impacting others and the earth that gives us life. Thus the ways we treat one another are not unrelated to how we treat every other living thing, and vice versa.

This simple truth is affirmed in the opening of the Bible’s ancient narrative where humans are created in the image of God—male and female. Of all the many remarkable affirmations of this declaration, a chief assertion is that human creatures are uniquely capable of relating to God, to one another, and to anything and everything else in creation, from whales and elephants to earthworms and gnats, from cells and quarks to planets and stars. Moreover, the text asserts that human creatures are created for the very purpose of taking care of God’s good creation.

It is no accident in the Bible that a revelation of God’s commitment to save the world comes to shepherds in the field watching over their flock night and day or that the shepherd trope is so common throughout the Old and New Testaments. God loves creation, made a lot of it, and cares that humans care for creation.

Fortunately, care for creation is not limited to those who profess faith in the Manger Child. People of many other faiths and of no faith have been and continue to be good stewards of creation. As Christians are watching for Christmas, Jews Hanukkah, Muslims Mawlid, Hindus Pancha Ganapati, and others simply a holiday season this December, there are matters of faith and reason around the world that give people cause to care for the earth and all its families.

Still, this Christmas, I cannot help but wonder how a nation so decidedly “Christian” can be so uncommitted to the work of protecting the environment. How is it that Christians, of all people, who believe in a God who created heaven and the earth the sea and all that is in them, and who profess to follow the Good Shepherd, can act, vote, and legislate with such disregard for the very earth their Creator made and Redeemer died to save? But we Christians are human, after all, and suffer from the same “I” trouble that keeps any of us from caring for every kind of life.

The caring shepherds camped near Bethlehem that glorious night long ago could scarcely have known that the Peace Child born that day would one day be crucified. But they knew that peace and goodwill were desperately needed, that the earth was worthy of care, and that caring and peace on earth are forever intertwined.

Would that more people today could know the same and act accordingly, even if God’s great gift of creation itself is one day crucified by a selfish and ungrateful humanity.

 

(Dr. Robert A. Bryant is the Kristen Herrington Professor of Religion at Presbyterian College and a member of the Laurens County Trails Association. He may be reached at rabryant@presby.edu.)

 

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