Monday, April 22, 2013

rethink Creation

I recently had a chance to read a really good little book, Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation, co-authored by Norman Wirzba and Fred Bahnson. Wirzba is a professor at my alma mater, Duke Divinity, where he teaches courses like "Caring for Creation" and "Food, Eating and the Life of Faith." Fred Bahnson is a writer, gardner, and cofounder of Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, NC.

Occasionally the books seems to drift from its biblical moorings, but for the most part Making Peace with the Land is a really fascinating and compelling attempt to take seriously Paul's claim in Colossians 1:20, that "through him [Jesus] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven." God's work in Jesus wasn't just meant to reconcile humanity to God, but all created things. All things were made through him and for him (1:16), and so all things are reconciled by him too. Wirzba and Bahnson make this point early and spend the rest of the book trying to help us think about what that might mean for our relationship to the planet and to show us what that might look like in practice - how the ways we live might "proclaim the good news to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15).
The ways these two draw out Paul's claim and the recommendations they make for Christian living in light of Paul's claim might surprise you, but it's a powerful message. If you really want to dig into, you'll have to check out the book for yourself. Today I just wanted to draw our attention to one part of the book that struck a chord with me.

In chapter 5, Wirzba (the duo trade off writing chapters) suggests that we need to recognize that God's different creatures on this earth all depend on each other for life - "creation forms a vast and indescribably complex and organic whole." And there's an implication here that we can't afford to miss:
Humanity is only one member within this creation. It does not all exist for our exclusive benefit. As God reminded Job, the earth is full of creatures that are of no use to us but are of intimate concern to God: "Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?" (Job 38:41) It contains creatures like the mighty Leviathan, which can kill us but is a particular delight to God: "I will not keep silence concerning its limbs, or its mighty strength, or its splendid frame" (Job 41:12). [p. 127]

"Creation," he concludes, "exists for our health and nurture, but it is not made for our exclusive enjoyment" [128] - or, I would add, for our exclusive use. God created this world and everything in it, and he takes joy in what he made, cares for what he made. Unfortunately, our standard practices with modern, industrial agriculture (a topic the book focuses on) don't consider the world as God's creation. Instead, the world is viewed merely as a resource: it exists solely to fulfill whatever purposes we deem fit. From this perspective, it's much easier to lose sight of (or ignore) the harm our agricultural practices do to the soil, water, plants, animals, and ecosystems of a place. There are similar effects when we simply don't spend time in nature - holed up in our cities, busy with work, distracted with gadgets - and don't have to recognize or face the consequences of our constant pollution, littering, our landfills, or development. But we don't live in a world created to hold our trash or provide nice locations for our homes and roads. We live in a world created by God for his pleasure, a world he called good (Gen 1), a planet that both manifests his blessings and love (Ps 104:10-18, 27-30) and offers back praise to him (Ps 96:11-13). Given the ways we often think about the world, and given the ways the Bible often describes the world, it seems that Christians need to start thinking about creation differently. Maybe Bahnson and Wirzba are right, and when God "took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it" (Gen 2:15), that was "an invitation to know and share in God's love for the whole creation" [p. 18] - an invitation that Christians in the 21st century need to take very seriously.

Today, April 22nd, is Earth Day. Christians haven't always seen this as a holiday for them, but we can, and we should. "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it" (Ps 24:1). We need to stretch our imaginations so that we do think of the earth as the Lord's and Earth Day, when people emphasize our responsibility to care for the earth, as a properly Christian holiday.

As we try to rethink Creation and rethink our relationship to this world, as we consider our task of caring for Creation on this Earth Day, I want to leave us with two questions Dr. Wirzba asks early on in the book - questions that I think are provocative in all the right ways. Take these with you and consider them well; or chime in below, and we'll talk about them: "What would it look like, practically speaking, to proclaim the gospel to rivers, redwoods, raccoons and roaches? Is our presence on earth good news for all the creature with which we live?" [p. 23]

1 comment:

Emily said...

Well, you know how much I am interested in this topic.

For your last two questions, if the "our" is referring to humanity as a whole, the answer is a definitive "no".. our presence (as least of industrial/consumerist Western and Western-influenced cultures) is bad news. But since combattibg that is an impossibly large task, one can best focus on the individual's actions.

I think proclaiming the gospel to Creation can look like things as simple as not killing all the ants in your yard (even though they'll bite you), tending small gardens to alleviate even ever-so-slightly the demand you make on the Creation-damaging industrial food system, rescuing a struggling earthworm from the sidewalk, or even just spending some time being with Creation to cultivate your appreciation of it, which will in turn bear fruit in more appropriate actions.

Any of our actions with reflect how Christians ought to treat each other (compassion, self-sacrifice, taking care of the defenseless) can be easily transferred to our treatment of Creation. We can make compassionate food choices (ie, no factory farmed meat); we can sacrifice some of our time to recycle our trash to prevent one more drop in the sea of landfills; we can tend to the needs of the defenseless by making purchases which reflect earth-respecting farming practices, being an advocate for the voiceless dirt.

But, none of this is a surprise to you. You'll recognize the examples, because they're all things you and I try to do, or discussions we've had.

But you have a comment now :)