Genesis 1:1-2:4 (NRSV)
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so.
8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 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.
10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
11 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.
12 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.
13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years,
15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.
16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.
17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth,
18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20 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.”
21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24 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.
25 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.
26 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.”
27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.
2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.
3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
I am not sure that, as Christians, we entirely believe those words. When I write “those words,” I am not referring to God’s act of creation of the world, but I am referring to the multiple times it states in this passage, “And God saw that it was good.” In today’s modern age, with our eyes enthralled and enraptured by the lust of modern technology brought about by a vastly over-industrialized world, we seem to have lost sight of what God has observed regarding his natural creation: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Whether God created this world in billions, millions, hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands, thousands, hundreds, or tens of years, or simply in months, weeks, or days, is not for us to know, and is simply a needless argument which causes unnecessary strife and division. Nonetheless, our small ability to grasp the wholeness of time, compared to God’s creation of time within the endless infinitude of eternity is, I think it is fair to say, rather limited. We cannot forget the astute words of 2 Peter 3:8: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (NRSV). Moving on, however, my point is to say that God’s labor of love in making this world is that this creation, and everything in it – human, beast, bird, insect, fish, tree, fruit, vegetable, and even the sea monster – was indeed, very good.
Yet, overall, Christians, especially in the “modern,” “western” world act as if we have forgotten these seven words: “And God saw that it was good.” And because we, even as Christians, act in a way that tosses the reality of these seven words into the perpetually growing landfills that litter our planet, it paints and foreshadows an even uglier world for future generations of people we must learn to love, with even more waste covering the world that God has inherently deemed as good. Now, I may get in trouble for writing what follows at the end of this sentence, but by the way we act, especially in the United States, in our over-consumption of natural resources in the wanton destruction of the earth in the pursuit of what can only be called greed, we might as well be giving God, the one who patiently took his time to create this world of sustainable beauty out of love for us to enjoy, the middle finger when it comes to his creation (Whew! Now that I have your attention….).
Yet, epitomizing the definition of irony, the majority of people who call themselves Christians living in the “modern,” “western” world will hike to the top of a mountain, or travel to the middle of a rainforest, or visit any of the other countless natural wonders out there, take a deep breath, and say, “Wow, this is beautiful.” We will then take a swig out of one of probably billions of grossly over-produced plastic water bottles, eat a piece of vacuum-packed processed food made with high fructose corn syrup, return to our manufactured steel vehicle, turn it on, pump pounds of toxic gas into the atmosphere, drive back on one of the countless paved roads in the nation, and return home only to realize that we accidentally left our plastic water bottle at the top of the trail while we were in awe of the beauty before us. We will then toss the wrapper of our high fructose corn syrup “trail food” in the trash, where it will go to a landfill and sit there in a vain attempt to decompose over what could be millions of years; meanwhile, it does not register in our minds that as long as we continue to produce such ridiculous amounts of garbage, that one day even that mountain view will become a landfill that future generations will not enjoy.
This picture is unfortunately a common reality, yet it is a common reality that many of us, including myself, are guilty of. However, it is a common reality that needs to change. The truth of the matter is that a hike to a beautiful mountain peak will often inspire people toward environmental conservation and awareness (sadly, I am also sure that there are some who are uninspired and take beautiful mountain views of creation for granted); I was simply pointing out the tragic irony of the situation (and also pointing out to be aware of where you put your trash during a trip outdoors and to please drink out of a reusable water bottle!).
One piece of trash may seem like a small, miniscule thing, but we often forget that even our smallest actions have consequences; each of those small consequences will build up to, and are currently building up to, environmental disaster. Even if we do not see these consequences in our lifetimes, our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will see them in their lifetimes. It is time that we put a conscious check on what is for many of us a selfishness that we are unaware of, and instead learn to be selfless in being a steward of God’s creation for future generations. Aware or unaware (most of us are aware – we just do not want to recognize how aware we are), selfishness, and selfishness regarding natural resources, is still a sin against God; if we do not change our attitudes and behaviors, it is a selfishness and a sin that will have drastic consequences for future people around the world whom we still have an obligation to show selfless, Christian love for today. We must learn to show future, unborn generations the same type of selfless love that we claim to have for current generations, family, and friends.
We, in the “modern,” “western” world, are robbing the earth blind; today’s robbery has drastic effects on multitudes of people in terms of sustainable livelihoods such as fishing and farming. Already, there are huge dead zones spanning our oceans, bays, and rivers, brought about by over-fishing and the washing of chemicals into our waters via poor farming practices. Our robbery, our arrogance in what can hardly be called stewardship, will produce arid lands and dirty waters; famine and ensuing sicknesses will sweep across the land. If Christians are going to legitimately claim to love others, and consider the health and well-being of brothers and sisters living today and in the future, then we certainly do not act like it with the gluttonous lifestyles that we live today in the “modern,” “western” world. Consider the child who will be born in half a century, or a century from now, who will be forced to live with the consequences of our current actions. That child will look back in recent history to our over-industrialization and realize just how systematically and culturally selfish our generation was. I would like to think and hope that God will have mercy on us through his prevenient grace, but allowing his people to live with the consequences of their actions is not something new for God. If you have questions about that, read the Old Testament.
I belong to a denomination within Christianity called the Church of the Nazarene which emphasizes Christian holiness. Holiness means living in a way that is obedient to God, but holiness is also a word that is nearly inseparable from another word: love. Both holiness and love are not only meant to apply on an individual basis, but also meant to apply on a community basis. There must be community in order to show true, selfless, Christian love to another; a holiness and love without considering the well-being of others is a selfish view of both. Today, with the proliferation of technology, Christians find themselves in a global community. If we are going to profess to be a holiness people, then we must begin to recognize the consequences of even our smallest actions on people halfway around the world, as well as for the people who will live a century or centuries from now – such as buying a t-shirt made by low wage workers in China, or chocolate made with what is effectively slave labor, or a phone made with minerals that fuel ravaging wars.
Besides the negative impact on the people who are forced to participate in these systems so someone in the United States can buy a new item that they most likely do not need, each of these industrializing systems contributes to negative impacts on the environment somewhere in their production lines (economic growth is good for poorer places in the world, but it should be done in a way that creates jobs that are beneficial to the health and well-being of the people, and is friendly to the environment; one of the keys is education). A communal view of holiness and love is something that not only the Church of the Nazarene is called to, but all of Christianity is called to. Yet it is a view of holiness and love that is conveniently swept under the rug in places such as the United States, where a consumeristic, materialistic culture ravages like a disease, and where responsibility is not something we particularly like.
There is a reason for our (unnatural) nature to destroy life (human and non-human); it is caused out of selfishness and pride, and at the root of it all is sin. It is disobedience to God’s call on our lives for a humble love of all the life that God has breathed into this planet. In C.S. Lewis’ “The Space Trilogy,” the protagonist, Ransom, says we are “bent.” And without God, and the nature of God’s love, we are bent beings. To be bent is to be unnatural. It is to bend what was once straight. A human is now bent and unnatural as a result of sin. Genesis 1:27 states that we are created in God’s image – that image is holy love. That holy love is a human’s natural state, but as a result of sin, that image has been marred and removed. We become bent out of what was once a nature of divine love. There is no way to recover that image of true love except through the grace of God found in Jesus Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, unbending humans out of an unnatural state of sin, selfishness, pride, greed, lust, and gluttony, and returning us into our natural state of divine, holy love. Our sinfulness only destroys us, tears us apart, and dehumanizes us both internally and externally, from who we truly are – an identity that can only be restored in God. By the grace of God, each one of us must rip sinfulness from our lives and replace it with true, selfless love. Although God entrusted us with dominion over creation, it was a dominion meant to be exercised in God’s image of selfless, holy love.
Our “bent” sinfulness takes on a variety of forms; all too often, corporate and big-business America plays a part in promoting our “bent-ness,” primarily by putting the value of money in front of the incomprehensibly greater value of a human being, as well as by placing a higher priority on a dollar bill over the other forms of beautiful life that God has created on this planet. More-so, this plays out in the politics of our nation and other nations around the world, where Christianity is misused, manipulated, and made a mockery of, by politicians whose main motivation is also not the love of life, but the love of the dollar bill, and whose love of the dollar bill is cheaply veiled by the term “economic growth.”
One of the big businesses whose love for money over love for life is vastly apparent is the monopolized agricultural industry. Corporate agriculture promotes cheap farming practices with produce that is forced to grow by harmful chemicals. The chemicals and fertilizer wash into groundwater, contaminating it, washing into rivers, destroying aquatic life in those rivers, bays, and oceans, further destroying coastal peoples’ ways of life. The reason is our dependence on products like high fructose corn syrup, an alternative to sugar whose cheap proliferation is directly contributing to our epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Another reason is our gluttonous desire for inexpensive beef; the cattle are fed unhealthy corn, leading to cut-rate beef in our food systems, and also contributing to the epidemics of obesity and various heart diseases. What can you do? Support your local small farmers instead of big-business agriculture. Do not buy products with high fructose corn syrup. Eat less meat products; when you do eat beef, demand grass-fed beef, where the cattle are allowed to roam freely like the wild beasts that God created them to be. One of the reasons for the Jewish Kosher law is so that animals are not systematically treated horrendously in order to feed gluttonous societies like ours in the United States. And if you reread Genesis 1:29-30, it is perfectly scriptural to become a vegetarian.
Just recently we have seen the introduction of “fracking,” a last-ditch effort to feed our (also gluttonous) energy dependence and addiction in the United States. Politicians again claim “economic growth,” but all it is is simply feeding a corporate and personal lust for money while the fracking process contaminates groundwater reserves with unnatural chemicals never meant to be introduced inside a human body. What can you do? Write a letter to your senator, congressional representative, and president, and tell them that we have had enough and that the cost of people’s health and environmental destruction is not worth it. Call your energy provider, complain, and tell them that the cost of people’s health and environmental destruction is not worth it.
Again, there is a horrible irony in this situation: we are destroying our clean water supply so that we can turn on the air conditioner when it is only 75 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Meanwhile, there are children struggling to get clean water around the world as their families sit in wooden huts with dirt floors with temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There is something wrong with this picture; what is wrong with it is Americans and our ridiculous lust for more of what we do not need.
Not to mention the destruction of rainforests, the abundant varieties of life that are being killed, and the indigenous peoples’ ways of life that are being desecrated, all in the name of making another dollar. Again, it is a horrifyingly ugly and blatant lack of respect for the life that God has blessed his creation with.
I realize that some may challenge that climate change is a myth; all I will say to that is scientists are not idiots, they are incredibly smart, and I think that they have got a pretty good idea of what they are talking about. A branch of Christianity known as fundamentalism has somehow spread this myth that climate change is not real and in the process, has hijacked American Christianity; little do they know that they are unwittingly being the pawns of the big-business corporations that are putting the value of money before the value of humanity. Nonetheless, even if you say climate change is a myth, you still have an obligation to care for this creation, if for no other reasons than that God has created it and God saw that it was good.
Fundamentalists spread a Calvinist influenced theology that says we do not need to take part in conserving and respecting this earth, because the course of history has already been determined down to the last minute detail until the end of time. The truth is, in fact, that in the pre-deterministic sense, the kingdom of God is much more liquid than rigid, and out of love God calls us to participate in the shaping of this kingdom; being considerate to all the life that is a part of this creation is not simply an option in being part of the kingdom of God, it is the fundamental (to put the word fundamental back in its proper definition) responsibility of anyone who claims the label of Christianity.
Moreover, many Christians, fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist alike, have fallen prey to gnostic influences on theology, an ideology the negates the inherent goodness of God’s creation, and states that the earth will disappear forever and only a spiritual realm will remain; it is an ideology that was deemed heretical by the Church within the very first centuries of Christianity. If you continue to study the New Testament, you will learn that scripture speaks of creation being made new again, and heaven coming down to this new earth at the end of the age. Just as God continues to sanctify us through the work of the Holy Spirit, making us into new creations, God desires the sanctification of all creation, seeking to make it new again with the residual effects of sin finally removed. This sanctification of creation is yet another absolutely critical aspect of the kingdom of God, which God, again out of love, calls us to participate in.
Imagine this scenario: you pour out your energy and your love in creating a masterpiece of art; it may be a painting, it may be a sculpture, it may be a carving, it may be a beautiful piece of handcrafted furniture, it may be a poem, it may be a story, it may even be a vibrantly colorful and exquisitely landscaped garden. Whatever it is, you put every last ounce of your creativity into it, even exhausting yourself to the point where you simply have to rest after you have finally finished creating it. But you did not just make it for yourself, you created this masterpiece of art for a loved one, so that they too may enjoy it. You give it to your loved one with the understanding that they will take care of it and that they will be a steward of it; they are in awe at how beautiful your creation is.
Now imagine that they do not take care of it, but take it for granted, misuse and abuse it for other things, and they tear and cut pieces off here and there so that they can use those pieces for other, less meaningful projects. You realize that your painting, sculpture, piece of furniture, or garden will soon be destroyed if they do not change their attitude toward it. Among the other emotions going through your mind, body, and soul, it makes you feel that this loved one does not care for you because they do not care for the gift you have given them.
We must learn to show our love for God by showing our love for the creation he has blessed us with. That begins with being responsible stewards of this world, its resources, and by being aware of the consequences that each and every one of our actions has on the environment and the people who live in the various parts of the world, today and in the future. It means exercising holy, “unbent” love over God’s creation.
If we are living in the United States, or in any other part of the world that could be considered “modern” or “western,” there is a good chance that we are guilty of taking part in the systems that contribute to the degradation of the environment and to the degradation of various people groups around the world, future and current; I am unfortunately guilty of contributing to these systems as well. However, we are not helpless to change; if we call ourselves Christian, then we are part of a kingdom where change, no matter how impossible it may seem, is possible – Jesus Christ, after all, rose from the dead. But it begins with you and me taking responsibility in our roles in God’s kingdom on earth. Christ gave us an example of selfless love through his death thousands of years ago; we are reminded of it every time we partake of the Eucharist. Perhaps we can start to embody that selfless love to all of creation and the future generations of people that will also inhabit this creation; we must give them an opportunity to enjoy it just as we have enjoyed it, give them an opportunity to be responsible stewards of it, and bless them with a healthier creation than what we even have. For many of us, it may mean changes in our lifestyles; it may be a sacrifice, but God calls us to sacrifice. There is no definition of love that does not include sacrifice.
Maybe it means driving the car less and considering other forms of transportation, such as your own two feet that God has blessed you with, or a bicycle, or public transportation, or carpooling. Maybe it means staying local.
Maybe it means putting down your devices that consume energy and electricity, such as your cell phone, computer, or television, and doing an activity that does not require the use of electricity, such as reading a book, or playing a game with friends, or going outside to enjoy what God has created. Maybe it means turning off lights when they are not in use.
Maybe it means being conscious of how much water you use during the day, and trying not to use so much.
Maybe it means being aware of how much waste and trash you produce, and consuming less so that you produce less garbage which will take up less room in a landfill. Maybe it means recycling and composting more. Maybe it means that you buy less plastic water bottles, and only buy one reusable water bottle that will last you for years.
Maybe it means not being consumed by an insatiable greed for more (of everything). Maybe it means consuming less material goods. Maybe it means that you do not need the newest technological product. Maybe it means buying refurbished or used instead of brand new. Maybe it means you should stop playing video games. Maybe it means not taking things for granted and taking care of the products that you have now so that they will last longer. Maybe it means learning to be more content with less.
Maybe it means that you choose not to consume products with high fructose corn syrup, which will tell the monopolized, over-industrialized agricultural businesses to stop destroying our land and water in pursuit of another dollar bill. Maybe it means supporting your local farmer instead.
Maybe it means becoming a vegetarian, or limiting the amount of meat products that you eat, or considering following Kosher law.
Maybe it means writing a letter to your politicians and telling them that as long as they are motivated by money, they will no longer get your vote.
Maybe it means that we really just do not need to rape our earth of its natural resources and murder its natural, God-given beauty so that we can satisfy our lust for more. Maybe that means that we really do not need everything, right now so that future generations can enjoy this earth.
Maybe we can slow down the mass extinction that we as humans are causing to countless species around the world.
Maybe it means rooting out every last selfish behavior, thought, and tendency from our lives.
Maybe it means that we as Christians begin to act as if we believe the words, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
*In writing and publishing this post to my blog site, I fully realize that there may be many who disagree with the words I have written. It is okay to disagree, but please do so respectfully and lovingly; I reserve the right to delete any response that may not be loving in nature. You may call me a hippy, you may call me a tree-hugger, you may call me what you like – but, please, call me a Christian; and I sincerely hope that if you call yourself a Christian, you will recognize the necessity of legitimately loving and taking care of this inherently good creation that God has made for us. To take care of creation, and to take a stand for the good health of our creation, is an act that will lovingly benefit humanity, show others the love of Christ in a real way, and is a beautiful act of worship that glorifies God’s name.